One-Minute Email Triage For Those Kinda-Sorta-Useful Messages

A rundown of Unroll.me and other automated sorting services that keep your inbox primed for important stuff, without flagging everything as spam.

There is email you absolutely did not ask for or need, which you can filter, mark as spam, or "click here to unsubscribe." There is email you desperately need to see, about meetings on your project at 2 p.m., that you can ask to trigger a buzz or beep. Then there is, well, everything else.

"Everything else" includes those groups and lists that occasionally have news, but also generate a lot of noise. "Everything else" includes notifications about new Spotify tracks, coupons and deals from favorite stores, Goodreads reviews, and pretty much everything from Facebook. You want to acknowledge this stuff, but it's a pain to click and tap and type to dismiss it all when you're done.

Enter Unroll.me, a service that, in a sense, puts health monitors on your inbox, shows you how it's running, and asks you which email sources you can live without, or with. And "glimpsing" is the key word: Unroll.me shows you thumbnail images of the first page of all the emails caught in your "rollup" for the day.

As Unroll.me founder and CEO Josh Rosenwald tells it, marketing and click-through analytics have worked in an email fixer's favor. In 99 percent of the emails you see, one image of one page is all you need.

"You've got just enough subject line, and the call to action is usually right on top--the big deal this week, the news about gas prices, the new thing. You're either going to take it or not. And we think it doesn't require a whole separate email you have to deal with to see that," Rosenwald said in a phone interview.

You have to give Unroll.me access to your entire Gmail, Google Apps, or Yahoo Mail inbox. In exchange, Unroll.me compiles a list of all your email sources at its site. Your job (though it's a fun one) is to run through the list and choose to add an email sender to your rollup, to keep it coming straight to your inbox, or to unsubscribe from it. The app will try to legitimately unsubscribe you using the proper channels, but in the meantime, it will keep those emails from hitting your visible inbox. You can choose when your rollup arrives each day, and it tells you about new senders you filter.

Unroll.me solved a problem for its founder, who was working on a few different startup ideas with a couple friends before Unroll.me got rolling in early 2012. Even with a small team, emails about designs and features for a social-based T-shirt something-or-other were getting lost in the founders' stuffed inboxes.

Their meta-product started as a service mostly aimed at managing email subscriptions, then morphed into a more stern tool that unsubscribed you from everything, then let you opt back into certain emails. Unroll.me eventually reached a middle ground, while the bootstrapped team fired off multiple redesigns, gave their site a mobile-friendly responsive design, and worked on the back-end demands of filtering and taking snapshots of all your email.

It only takes a small bit of vigilance on your part to keep Unroll.me working as a bouncer for your inbox. You can visit the app's site and fix up your subscriptions, or forward emails to Unroll.me to have those senders or newsletters rolled up or unsubscribed. In the meantime, you should start seeing emails only from senders that you really care about, so your attention isn't stolen away by one-day sales or hilarious Justin Timberlake SNL videos--just the kind of stuff that does necessitate an old-fashioned email.

"We want to make email better, and that’s what our projects are about," Rosenwald said. "My firm belief is, email’s not going anywhere. There are pieces of it that are broken, but for most people it works."

[Image: Flickr user Calypsocom]

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