Not All E-Mails Are Created Equal; SaneBox Knows the Difference

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a column on ways we can work together to restore e-mail sanity. I argued that e-mail overload has a simple cause that’s often overlooked: we’re all sending each other too many messages. We can try all the time-management tricks and software plugins in the book to deal with the onslaught of incoming messages, I wrote. But the only long-term fix for the problem will be a collective agreement to send fewer outgoing ones.

Well, I stand by that opinion, but it’s not going to help anyone whose inbox is bursting right this second. So I’m still on the lookout for shorter-term technical fixes for e-mail overload. After my e-mail sanity column I got a tweet from a reader who recommended SaneBox, a cloud-based service that helps users filter out important e-mails from those that don’t need immediate attention. I signed up on July 16, and I’ve been using it in conjunction with Gmail for the last 10 days. And I’ve got to say, the results have been amazing.

Now, when I use the phrase “a cloud-based service that helps users filter out important e-mails from those that don’t need immediate attention,” astute readers are going to shout, “Wait! Isn’t that what Gmail’s Priority Inbox does? And didn’t you totally trash Priority Inbox in a column last year?”

Why yes, I did. And that’s why I was initially skeptical about SaneBox, which is the creation of a Boston startup founded by game-industry veteran Stuart Roseman. But at least from my early experiences, it’s looking like the team at SaneBox has found solutions for all three of the big problems that led me to abandon Gmail’s Priority Inbox. It works 100 percent better than Google’s solution. (In fact, Google should probably just buy SaneBox and turn off Priority Inbox. But that’s an article for another day.)

SaneBox's graph of my e-mail traffic this week. Only the green e-mails were important.

I’ll detail what my problems with Priority Inbox were, and how SaneBox has fixed them, in a minute. I’ll also share some tidbits from an interesting conversation with Dmitri Leonov, an executive at the startup. But first, a few words about what SaneBox actually does.

When you sign up for the service, you supply the credentials for your e-mail service. I use Gmail, but it also works with most other services (such as Exchange, Yahoo, and AOL) and clients (Outlook, Apple Mail, etc.). Optionally, you can also connect SaneBox to your social media accounts at Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook; if you do, the service will have a better idea of who your important contacts are. Then you let SaneBox go to town on your inbox. It sorts through all of your messages, figures out which ones you’ll want to see right away, and puts the ones that it deems unimportant in a separate folder called @SaneLater. The service costs $4.95 per month, or $55 per year.

That’s all there is to it—except for the training bit. If you find a message in your @SaneLater folder that really deserved to be in your inbox, you can move it back there manually, and SaneBox will learn not to detain future e-mails from that source. It works the other way too—a boring e-mail that stayed in your inbox can be moved to @SaneLater. (And if you never want to see an e-mail from that source ever again, you can banish it to another folder called @SaneBlackHole. It’s like unsubscribing permanently.)

There are other fun features, but the @SaneLater folder (in Gmail it’s a label, technically) is the key one. According to Leonov, 58 percent of the average SaneBox user’s e-mails go straight into @SaneLater. You do have to deal with those messages eventually—that’s why it’s called @SaneLater—but the immediate benefit is to make your inbox feel 58 percent less busy. That’s a huge bonus.

Now, if you’ve tried Gmail’s Priority Inbox feature, you know it follows a similar scheme: it divides your inbox into … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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4 responses to “Not All E-Mails Are Created Equal; SaneBox Knows the Difference”

  1. caseyjordan says:

    frigging hell you weirdo/idiot to want to write such a thung!

  2. does a similar thing for you for free :)

  3. Jack Sparrow says:

    Fat pigeons’ ability to fly relies on powerful farts!

  4. Jack Sparrow says:

    God knows what they’re eating round our neck of the woods because they are close to breaking the wind barrier!