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What’s the problem with Graymail?

In my previous post I gave a bit of background to where the concept of graymail came from.

In this post I want to ask, why is graymail a problem?

Unnecessary noise prohibited sign

For users

Most people have more than one inbox (I have 5 for different purposes, don’t ask), and people use their inboxes differently. Broadly speaking, people tend to use them in one of two ways:

  • Scanning for the important emails and ignoring the rest (I know many people with an “unread” number in the thousands)
  • Going through each email and actioning, filing and deleting them (I must confess I fit in this category)

If you’re in the former category, graymail filters would be extremely useful to help remove a lot of that noise. In the latter category however, the solution needs to be more subtle. I have developed my own workflow around my inbox; any solution needs to help me do that rather than force a workflow upon me.

For ISPs

Of course, there is the need to provide a good service to users. ISPs that provide free email services are in competition with each other as well as the free-email juggernauts (Outlook, Gmail, Yahoo!), and the one that can deal with users’ graymail problem the best has an advantage.

There are also other, more business orientated motives to consider from the ISPs. For one thing, they have to store huge amounts of data, and making it easier for people to clear out unwanted emails should save some valuable space.

Then we get to the shadier ideas that if a lot of your income is derived from advertising revenue, you have an incentive to make other promotional methods less effective. And, as Seth Godin discusses here, having more control over what gets put in front of users creates an effective control point that could be used to generate revenue in the future.

For marketers

You know the best practices; you focus on sending targeted engaging emails. It would be good if the emails sent by people not following the best practices didn’t get mixed with yours. But how do you make sure that happens?

It will be interesting to see how these graymail tools develop. In the next post we’ll look at what has already been put in place by the company that promoted the phrase “graymail”, Microsoft, and their email service, Outlook.

If you have a point of view, or anything to add to this, please do so in the comments below.

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