Unlike the person with a similar slogan, this one is highly accurate. Sanebox does indeed make email great again.
I’ve been using email since 1983. I started with MH and Rmail, then cc:Mail, then Microsoft Mail, with Compuserve mixed in. Eventually I ended up using Pine for non-Windows stuff and Outlook for Windows stuff. For a while. About seven years ago I switched to Gmail and never looked back.
Over the last seven years, I’ve tried a bunch of different add-ons and plug-ins and whatever you want to call them to try to clean up my inbox. As investors in Postini, I was able to eliminate my spam problem early on. But I struggled endlessly with bacn. I get 500+ emails a day so the bacn is intolerable in my main email flow and ends up getting ignored, rather than read later.
So I’d go through weeks of unsubscribe fits, where I’d try to mash out my misery by unsubscribing to things I didn’t want. Often, this just resulted in more bacn, sometimes from the same senders but often from others. I once again would go through another cycle where I’d try a different unsubscribe tool, but I’d always end up with better, but not good enough.
Over Memorial Day weekend, I decided to try Sanebox. My partner Seth has used it for a while and several other people I know swear by it. I tried it when it first came out (as one of my endless efforts to tame my inbox) but it didn’t satisfy me then.
This time – about a month later – I can definitively state that Sanebox is awesome. Not sort of awesome. Extremely awesome. It should consider running for president.
Magic trick #1: @SaneBlackHole: If I want to never see a piece of bacn again, I just label it @SaneBlackHole by typing v<downarrow><enter>. Gone, forever. Anything from the sender never ever shows up in my inbox again, kind of like how Ramsay Bolton will never show up in Game of Thrones again.
Magic trick #2: @SaneNotSpam: I trust Gmail’s spam filter so I never, ever look in my spam folder. But Sanebox does look there for me because it knows not to trust it as much as I do. It finds at least one piece of NotSpam every day – sometimes as many as five pieces. Some of the NotSpam is amazing – on Friday a distribution notice from a VC fund I’m an investor in showed up there.
Magic trick #3: @SaneLater and @SaneNews: Sanebox automagically figures out which things I can look at later. It also figures out which email is a newsletter of some sort. It’s easy to adjust these if it gets it wrong, or label an email in my inbox with one of these labels and it then becomes one of these forevermore. At least 20% of my daily email ends up in one of these folders which I can then process once a day.
Within 30 days, with almost no effort, the signal in my inbox has reached about 99%. I read through notifications and news once a day. The crap that I don’t really want shows up once in SaneLater or SaneNews, I relabel it SaneBlackHole, and it’s gone forever.
Suddenly, my inbox is remarkably clean, useful, and free of noise. Thanks Sanebox!
Let’s start with a brief history of my investment-led fight against the perils of spam and my never-ending love of SMTP.
We were investors in Postini and my partner Ryan sat on the board. It transformed my life – with one minor change of an MX record some time in 2002 all the spam in my inbox disappeared. Well – it disappeared before it got to my inbox. Or even my server. The awesomeness of Postini was that it was the first cloud-based email anti-spam solution. And it was a beautiful thing that Google acquired in 2007 for $625m.
One of the benefits of our investment in Postini is a life-long friendship with Scott Petry. Scott is the co-founder of Authentic8, which we are also investors in. Scott also sits on the board of Return Path, which is run by another life-long friend Matt Blumberg.
Scott worked at Google for three years after the transaction for Dave Girouard (who used to run all of enterprise for Google and now is CEO of Upstart and on the board of Yesware with me) integrating Postini into all of Gmail’s infrastructure. We continued to use Postini as our spam filter (in front of Gmail) until Google transitioned all of Postini into the Google apps service.
You get the picture. There’s a nice thread through all of this SMTP, email deliverability, and anti-spam stuff in my world, both in investment and relationships. So I generally don’t think much about spam since in the past it just disappeared, or well, never appeared in the first place.
When I came home from my one month sabbatical in Bora Bora, I archived all the 3200+ emails in my inbox. If you missed my vacation reminder during that time, it said:
I’m on sabbatical and completely off the grid until 12/8/14.
I will not be reading this email. When I return, I’m archiving everything and starting with an empty inbox.
If this is urgent and needs to be dealt with by someone before 12/8, please send it to my assistant Mary (email@example.com). She’ll make sure it gets to the right person.
If you want me to see it, please send it again after 12/8.
On Thursday, 12/4, Amy decided to scan through her email so I went to the business center at the St. Regis in Bora Bora with her and did the same. I simply started at the top and “read / archived” each of the around 3,300 emails (using the “[” shortcut). I’m a fast reader so I skimmed the emails I cared about. Mostly I just played a video game with the [ key.I might have had a tropical drink while I was doing this.
I didn’t respond to anything and just ran this drill again early Monday morning to finish up. I then turned off my vacation reminder, had Inbox Zero, and got started again.
Yesterday, I had a weird feeling that I’d missed something that I heard about in another email thread. I was procrastinating from working on the final edits to my new book Startup Opportunities (yes – I’m doing that some more right now, but I’ve got a nice empty day in front of me) so I randomly checked my Spam folder in Gmail. I never, never, never do this so I was suprised when on the first page I saw a legitimate email. I opened it, clicked on Not Spam, and scrolled to the next page, where I saw another one. And another one.
I had 5,500 messages in my spam folder since I got back on 12/8. I went through all off them – it only took about 10 minutes. I found 39 legitimate emails. Not notifications, not email newsletters – but real emails sent to me by people I often get emails from. Here’s a screenshot of the legit ones.
I did my dutiful work and hit “Not Spam” on all of them. I was perplexed and talked to my friends at Return Path who gave me some feedback.
This morning, I had 433 messages in my Spam folder. This time, they all looked like they should.
I’m hoping that this was only a temporary glitch in the matrix. However, I’ll be checking my Gmail spam folder on a daily basis for a while. Boo.
I woke up this morning to another wave of holiday email cards. I had over 50 of them this morning. Yesterday I probably had at least 50 – by the end of the day it was likely over 100.
I’ve never really understood the physical holiday card thing. I think it’s a secret ploy by the US Government to keep the USPS in business. I used to get a lot of Merry Christmas cards, which just annoyed me since I’m jewish and don’t celebrate Christmas. The world has become more politically (or religiously) correct so these are now Happy Holiday cards.
Amy likes these so you can keep sending the physical ones to us, especially if they have a nice photo of you or a story about what you did this year. But please stop sending the email ones to me.
Do a holiday video instead. Like one of these.
Brad “I’m only a little grinchy this year” Feld
In general, I love Gmail. While Amy likes to complain to me about how ugly it is, I don’t even see the UI anymore as I just grind through the endless stream of email that I get each day. My biggest struggle is figuring out how to keep up, without the email ending up dominating everything I do. In the past year, this has gotten a lot harder, but I continue to try new things.
Fortunately, spam is almost non-existent for me. We invested in Postini, which Google ended up buying, and it’s been a joy to have flipped a switch almost a decade ago and had spam go from “overwhelming” to “almost nothing.”
Every now and then, I get a flurry of spam from a new attack before Gmail figures it out. Today was one of those days – I had about a dozen things that looked sort of eBay notification like but with Arabic characters. So I hit ! and marked them each as spam as I was going through my inbox. Suddenly, my inbox reloaded and I got the following message.
I expect that by the time I finish writing this post I’ll have access to my inbox again. But stuff like this makes me physically uncomfortable – my morning routine was just interrupted and the machines decided I don’t get to access my email for a while.
While plenty of folks complain about the ambiguity and lack of precision around many of the issues surrounding Google apps, and more specifically the general lack of support, I usually don’t worry about this much. However, in the last month I’ve had two issues that caused me to remember that I’m increasingly less in control and the machines are increasingly more in control. This is one of them; the other was that I noticed an incredible slow down of performance of Gmail – just for me. After a week of pressing on it, the response from Google enterprise tech support was “you have too many things hitting IMAP – disable all of them.” A quick look at my Google Dashboard showed around 100 different apps that I’d authorized to access my account. I cut it down to about 30 – and got rid of several that I knew were high traffic that I liked, such as the awesome new Mailbox app – and things sped up again after 24 hours.
I recognize that if as we hand over control to the machines, they will make mistakes. That’s ok. But it’s jarring when one doesn’t have control over it, even for a little while. And yes, my Gmail is back up.
I hate spam. Over the years I’ve been an investor in a number of companies that address the spam problem, including Postini and Return Path. I’ve also been involved in lots of other companies in the email ecosystem and spam has always been something I’ve paid close attention to.
I’ve thought hard about Blam (Blog Spam), Spim (IM Spam), Skam (Skype Spam), and SMam (SMS Spam). A few times in the past I’ve thought about Twam (Twitter Spam) but Twitter has done a good job so far of dealing with most of the nasty stuff, the most visible being the porn-follower twam that they somehow managed to beat back (or that I’ve successful ignored).
Today, I got caught in a twam trap. I got a note from someone to try out a service. It’s someone I’d heard from before so I went to the new site and played around with it. I wasn’t terribly impressed and didn’t really get it. A few minutes later I got a DM from a friend that said “@bfeld none of the links on that page are active, fyi. tried Chromium + Safari”
I didn’t know why my friend was tweeting me that, but then it occurred to me that playing around with the software must have sent out a tweet. I took a look and lo and behold it did. I didn’t want that, nor did I set it up. But it did. Yuck.
Automatic tweeting from within applications is becoming commonplace. This is good in many cases, but unless the sender authorizes the actual tweet, it’s twam. There’s no opt-in dynamic around twam, so before a service sends out a tweet for the first time, it seems like good form is to make sure the user wants to tweet. Most, but not all, do.
When you develop a twitter integration, think this through. Don’t be a twammer.