SiliconFilter

Hotmail Launches Improved Email Flagging

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Managing email is something very few people enjoy. Over time, though, a few tactics for keeping the steady flow of messages under control have proven quite useful. Using flags or stars to mark important messages, for example, has become one of those tactics that most of us use to keep our inboxes in working order. With the latest release of Windows Live Hotmail, Microsoft thinks it has found a way to improve email flags for its users – though most Gmail users will likely be familiar with this system already. Now, when you flag a message in Hotmail, the email will be pinned at the top of your inbox. This is quite similar to Gmail, which also allows you to create a section for starred messages (and provides you with a bit more flexibility for setting up your inbox, too).

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As Dick Craddock, Microsoft’s group program manager for Hotmail, notes, until now, “flagging a message still leaves it in the message list, which can keep your Inbox cluttered.” The new behavior, which moves flagged messages to the top of your inbox, should make it easier to keep track of important messages without adding clutter to your inbox.

For those who aren’t interested in this behavior, Microsoft also offers a way to turn this feature off by simply closing the area with the flagged messages at the top of your Hotmail inbox.

Some New Features for Power Users

While this new behavior for flagged messages isn’t too exciting as it mainly copies existing systems, Microsoft is also introducing some new features for power users that are pretty interesting in their own right: custom Quick Views and customized Instant Actions.

For a while now, Hotmail has offered Quick Views as an easy way to see emails that include pictures, documents or shipping notifications. These features allow you to quickly create new categories like “For Review” for incoming emails. Once you have these features set up, it only takes one click to pin these emails with custom categories at the top of your email list or to find them in your custom Quick Views inbox. The Microsoft Blog features a detailed description for setting this up.

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6:55 pm


Smoke Signal: Smart Gmail Hack Lets Your Contacts Know How Full Your Inbox Is Right Now

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Email can be a blessing and a curse. For those of us who get a lot of messages every day, it’s often the latter, as keeping up with the constant stream of things that need our attention can be hard. There are lots of systems for managing your inbox, but what if you could easily let people know how full your inbox is and maybe keep them from sending you that unnecessary message when you’re already busy? Smoke Signal does exactly that. Thanks to a smart hack, the service automatically updates your email signature in other peoples’ inboxes throughout the day and lets them know whether your inbox is pleasant, tolerable or unbearable.

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Smart Hack

Typically, adding this kind of information to an email and having it update automatically throughout the day isn’t really possible, as virtually all email providers don’t allow dynamic content in emails (Microsoft has been working on this problem with a few select partners lately, though).

What Smoke Signal does to get around is, is to append an image to your email signature that reflects the current status of your inbox. You simply add an image with a URL the service gives you to your signature and Smoke Signal will automatically pick the right image to display every time somebody opens your email, no matter which email client they use.

The status message that’s added to your email signature depends on how many unread emails you have in your inbox (0-10: pleasant; 11-19: tolerable; 20+: unbearable).

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Smoke Signal is similar to Courteous.ly, a service we looked at a while back. Courteous.ly, however, doesn’t automatically update your signature and instead asks those who want to email you to click on a link instead. Unlike Smoke Signal, though, Courteou.ly features some smarter algorithms to figure out what your regular email load is and adapts its message accordingly.

Useful?

Whether you want to use this service, of course, is another question. Some people may prefer to keep their inbox status private. Others will feel queasy about giving a startup access to their inbox and others will simply doubt the value of this service (at least, that’s the reactions the folks over at Hacker News have exhibited so far).

For the team behind Smoke Signal, this is just a first test of a bigger idea. The team wants to figure out how to combine email and the idea of availability in smarter ways.



8:56 pm