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Microsoft updates Hotmail to deal with grey spam

Redmond strives to remake its web mail as (somehow) relevant

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Microsoft is making a series of changes to its Hotmail service aimed at cutting down the amount of old mail stuck on servers, falsely labeled spam.

Redmond reckons that only about two per cent of inbox email is actually bona fide spam, with the bulk unwanted newsletter deals and alerts that were signed up for and are now either forgotten or no longer of interest – what Microsoft calls "grey mail".

“What really characterizes graymail is that the same message that one person thinks is 'spam' could be really important to another person. It’s not black and white, hence the name,” Hotmail group program manager Dick Craddock writes in the Windows Live blog.

“Despite the drastic decrease of true spam in the inbox," he says, "we found that most customers are still seeing newsletters, product offers, and other clutter. In fact, 75 per cent of email identified as spam by our customers actually turns out to be unwanted graymail that they receive as a result of having signed up on a legitimate website.”

Over the next few months Microsoft will roll out new features to combat this problem. First, the company will apply its anti-spam engine to newsletters and set up a separate folder in users' inboxes especially for such content. A single-click unsubscribe function is also being added so that users can clean their own email, and the results will be fed back to other accounts to improve the service.

To clean existing mail, a Scheduled Cleanup function will delete emails older than three, 10, 30, or 60 days, and can scan through multiple emails from the same sender and just keep the most recent one. Important emails, such as bank statements can be automatically archived as well.

Email classification has been upgraded, so that users can select their own email categories and index to suit themselves, and file-management tools have been beefed up to allow in-file cleaning and folders within folders. Important emails can also be pinned on the main inbox page to stop them from getting lost.

All these changes should clean out some user’s inboxes, and will also coincidentally free up a lot of space on Hotmail servers, saving Microsoft money. But they come at a time when Hotmail is still seen as being yesterday’s web email service. Redmond is keen to get Hotmail back on people’s radar, and further improvements have been promised.

But unless El Reg is wrong it’ll take more than this to make Hotmail as respected as Redmond would like. ®

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