Hotmail declares war on graymail

Hotmail declares war on graymail

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In previous posts on our blog, we talked about how we’ve reduced true spam in the inbox to under 3% using SmartScreen™ filtering. But we realized that getting rid of true spam wasn’t enough, because 75% of the email messages that people reported as spam are really legitimate newsletters, offers, or notifications that you just don’t want anymore. We call this type of unwanted email graymail, and we’re excited to announce five powerful tools to help you take control of your inbox, get rid of graymail, and keep track of the email that’s important to you.

What’s in your inbox?

In the early days of email, most mail in the inbox was from someone you knew, but today’s email is used for much more, and so the inbox is different. More than half of the mail in a typical inbox is newsletters or deals, 17% is social updates, and about 14% is person to person email. The rest represents mail from group distribution lists, shopping receipts and commerce, and true spam.

Percentage composition of the Inbox

What is graymail?

The problem with today’s inbox is that it is easy for it to get filled up with mail you don’t want. It could be newsletters you signed up for and forgot about (but keep getting), or it could be newsletters you get when you join a new service (and forgot to uncheck that pesky box that says “send me lots of email!”). Or it could even be updates you get from a social network or website. 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.

Despite the drastic decrease of true spam in the inbox, we found that most customers are still seeing newsletters, product offers, and other clutter. In fact, 75% 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. And because of inbox clutter, it’s easy to lose track of the really important messages in your inbox that you want to get back to. So we decided in our upcoming release to add five new features that help customers take back control of their inbox.

New newsletter category

We’ve talked about categories for a while now – in our last release we delivered automatic categorization of social updates, messages that contain Office documents, messages with photos, and even shipping notifications. We’re now adding a special category for newsletters. We use the same SmartScreen™ technology that helps us fight spam – a machine learning engine that gets better over time. Right out of the gate, we’re 95% accurate with the mail we categorize as newsletters, and this will only get better as you help us build the feature by categorizing or un-categorizing your own mail. In fact, every time you categorize an email as a newsletter, you help make our filtering better for yourself and every other customer.

One-click unsubscribe

Sometimes you don’t want a newsletter, but it’s hard to find out how to stop getting it. Now with Hotmail you can do it all in one step. Click on unsubscribe, and we’ll do the rest – let the site know to stop mailing you, use Sweep to immediately clean up your mail and remove all the old newsletters from that sender, and finally send any new ones that come in to your junk mail until the sender takes you off their list.

One-click unsubscribe

Schedule Cleanup

There are other times you want to keep getting the newsletter, but only want to keep the latest copy. This is great for shopping sites or deals where the newsletter is really only useful for the first week and then the offer expires or a new newsletter takes its place. Today, we’re introducing Schedule Cleanup, a new tool, unique to Hotmail, that works behind the scenes to keep your inbox organized. With Schedule Cleanup, you can:

  • Keep only the latest message from a given sender
  • Delete messages as they get old (3 days, 10 days, 30 days, or 60 days)
  • Move messages to a folder as they get old

Here are some ways to use Schedule Cleanup:

  • Keep only the latest event calendar email from your favorite site
  • Keep only the latest deal from Groupon or LivingSocial, or any other deal vendor
  • Delete your newsletters after 10 days – that way, whether you read them or not, they are never clogging up your inbox
  • Automatically archive mail from your financial institutions to a folder after 30 days

Keeping important mail right up front: Flags done right

The war on graymail isn’t just about deleting things or moving them to folders. It’s also about making sure you can find messages quickly, especially messages that are most important to you.

This happens to our customers all the time: they get an important message and want to keep it right up front where they won’t forget it. How do you handle that? A lot of people mark the message unread. But, of course, as new mail comes in, that can get confusing. Some people forward the message to themselves so that it stays at the top of their inbox.

At Hotmail, we think the right way to track important messages is with flags, and our upcoming changes make flags even more powerful. Now when you flag a message, it gets “pinned” to the top of your inbox and stays there, even as new email comes in. This means it is easy to keep track of your most important messages, right up front, all the time. What’s more, you can even set up rules to automatically flag incoming mail from certain senders, so that your most important mail is always right there at the top of your inbox.

Of course, flags are a category, just like newsletters or social updates, so you can use Sweep or Schedule Cleanup on flags.

Have different types of email? Create custom categories

While we think these automatic categories work great for most customers, we recognize that some customers want even more control over their inbox, or they like using labels in products like Gmail. So we’re adding support for custom categories, powered by Sweep and Schedule Cleanup, so they are easy to set up and use.

You can quickly create a new category and apply that category to all related messages at the same time – no searching for mail, no complex rules to create. You can categorize messages right in the message list with the new categories column. And categories show up as QuickViews right next to folders, so it’s easy to find what you’re looking for.

Folders for filers

Now if you’re a filer and use folders, you might be wondering how all of this helps you. Categories, Sweep, and Schedule Cleanup work great for folders. Simply click on a message, click Sweep or Schedule cleanup, and move all messages from that sender (or in a category), including future messages, to a folder. And of course, you have the same ability to create your own folders and sub-folders. But we didn’t stop there – we’ve added advanced folder management tools: nested folder with drag and drop, creating new folders right inline, and a new right-click menu for folders that lets you mark everything in the folder as read, or rename, empty, or even delete the folder.

And we’re still just getting started

Whew! That’s a lot of new features for fighting the war on graymail and keeping track of your important messages. And we’re just getting started. We’ll have more on these features and others as they roll out in the coming weeks. So try out our new tools when they hit your inbox and let us know what you think!

Dick Craddock - Group Program Manager, Hotmail

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  • controlz
    145 Posts

    Still not seeing the new features... it's nearly been a month! I'll just have to keep waiting...

  • G-UK
    2 Posts

    I dont know if this is the correct place to suggest a feature request but is it possible to add a command to the right click menu in hotmail so that you can 'Add to Blocked Senders' direct from your inbox page without having to copy their email address to clipboard and then navigate through options etc?.

  • Suggestion: to  help with your ongoing war on SPAM, might I suggest allowing users to "sweep" their inboxes of spam based on the FROM address and not merely the domain or full email address ?  I'm getting spam that uses different email addresses & domains but uses the same FROM address.  If I could block messages based on that it would help a bit.  :-)

  • @Huggs, I just sent you a request to be friends. Once you accept it, I'll send you a private message to get more information so we can help you.

    @Others, Stay tuned. You'll start seeing the new Hotmail features very shortly!

  • Huggs
    1 Posts

    Hi I am having a problem here

    I can not give you a email address that i have sent to cause ost of the stuff that i reply back on where from people i sent messages to where from kijiji for appartments so i am having a problem with getting my email account back cause i can not give you the emails that i sent out  how cause i get my account back please help me i have had the account for many years now PLEASE HELP ME

  • Sevy
    2 Posts

    Question: I don't yet see the updates mentioned in Dick's article.

    Will they be implemented in the near future?

    By when can we expect to receive those new features?

    Can I do something to receive them earlier?


  • Will these changes be "populated" within the mobile Hotmail solutions on Windows Phone, iOS, and Android?  It'd be most useful if these features were functioning on devices (not just within desktop browser views), especially for users whose primary method of retrieving email is via smartphone email clients.

  • Hi.

    good work but i want to ask you about "email verification" through mobile phone number, when i hit that option Hotmail asks me to choose my country first then enter my phone number, the problem is that my country "Yemen" isn't listed in the countries list, how can i verify my account ?, because when i try to send a letter for 15 or so of my friends i got slapped with the message that i have to verify my email first, would you please reply me.

    Note: don't tell me to reduce recipients list, i want the verification method.

    thanks in advance.

  • @hotmail team : Beware Hotmail team!!! Google is overhauling Gmail UI and making it more intuitive and customisable. So, you need to buck up and fix hotmail UI bugs instantly. Moreover, I think you should also overhaul Hotmail UI to make it more intuitive and classy.

  • Has this update rolled out? Do I have to go anywhere to accept the changes? As of 10/24 my inbox still has the old style.


  • spring
    14 Posts

    @Paul- I just sent the source code of three spams received recently to you. Thank you.

  • Good work guys! Can't wait to test all these new features! I hope you also solved the cookies/credentials issue that happens so many times a day with Firefox 4+! I always have to manually delete all the cookies and signing again to get my Hotmail to work normally.

  • spring
    14 Posts

    @Paul, Thanks very much for your information. I deleted those spams immediately as soon as I saw them. From now on, I'll keep them for a while and then send to you altogether, which may be better than a single email.

    Thanks for the explanation on confirmation email issue. Hope the problem can be solved soon.

    I am very happy with the current Windows Live Hotmail and it's my main personal email address. I have a good ID, and the service is fast and reliable. Really appreciate your great work and service.

  • So... every morning I'm loading my Hotmail...and every morning... I see my account has not been upgraded yet. When do you guys plan to roll out those new features ?

  • @spring - if you could send me the raw message source (from "view message source" option in the Hotmail web interface) from the spams getting to your inbox i'll see if there's anything we can learn from them.

    regarding the registration confirmation from this site (inside windows live) it is a known problem with the way the site sends email (the message fails authentication, there's nothing else wrong with it). we're working with the folks that own it to correct the problem but it's somewhat out of our control. we're complaining too though, so i know how you feel. ;)

  • @gorzko - looking into it, team is very busy right now so no promises on when the test will run, but it would be a shocker if you picked the two with issues. ;)

    @jimbo123 - there are a couple of things here. first is the ability to wildcard the domain portion of a list entry. you can kind of fake it with a rule that says "move all messages from sender containing to the trash", but it's kind of a hack. we've seen intermittent requests over the last few years for subdomain wildcarding, if folks reading this blog really wanted that feature it would help to hear from them.

    we'll see what we can do about the suggestions you make for the sweep option. it would be several months until we could do it, and no promises that it will make the cut, but i really appreciate the suggestion!

  • spring
    14 Posts

    Although I have kept my carefully, everyday I receive several emails from address like, which are obvious spams. Some of them are put into Junk folder, some are in Inbox. It is very interesting when I created an account at this site, I received a notice email from, and it was sent into Junk folder and showed something like "This message looks very suspicious ...".

  • I'd like to see an improvement when I mark JUNK MAIL as SWEEP + BLOCK.

    On the next page after I click BLOCK FROM... could you please create a page to list each address and, with a radio button, allow me to choose to block the specific sender or block the entire domain.   So if an email is from you would have a radio button to block AND A SECOND RADIO BUTTON to block

    Now there is a caveat - what if the sender is ... I've seen many of those sub-domains.

    What I do now [and it is a pain] is that I copy-paste all of the blocked addresses to notepad, and then manually manage my blocked list ... so the system will block

    I then manually enter & block and also

    This has GREATLY reduced my junk mail and spam - but you smart folks at MSFT could certainly help us users out with more automated blocking of entire domains and sub-domains.

    Ah well - that's my 9-cents for today.

    Thanks for listening.


  • I've been a subscribing member of hotmail for a few years now, but I am disappointed on their support for anything other than POP3 on the OSX platform.  I even have Office for Mac 2011 and Outlook for Mac only supports POP3, which is not only annoying (because read mails don't synchronize, folders do not come in, etc. etc. etc.) but it is only of the only providers that has this platform underserved (and this is the only one that I actually pay for since I have the same account since 1995 when Hotmail was a startup company).  Are there any plans to support more than POP3 in OSX?  The iPhone support is via Exchange is pretty good.

  • Rickkee
    1 Posts

    Great improvements, great article, I would use it more if the Live Messenger was not so F A T.  Compared to other IM clients, it hogs up too much of my screen.   When you look at AOL, Skype, Pidgeon, Trillion, Gmaxx, Yahoo any other chat client Messenger looks so bloated and I can't shrink it down.  This is why I no longer use Hotmail.  Please put the chat client on a diet.

  • @langware, responded to you offline

  • langware
    154 Posts

    @Krish Vitaldevara:

    I've sent you several private messages with information on the false positives that have recently (since this blog announced Hotmail's newest war on graymail) appeared in my Junk folder.

    Previously, you indicated that your interest in looking into these false positives .... waiting to hear back from you.

  • How has Windows Live Movie Maker been coming along?

    If the developers could take a read here:

    And shed some light on those subjects it would be appreciated.

    You can contact me here, over at that link or through email.

    Thank you.

  • riseagn
    28 Posts

    great love the new feature

    how about provide THIS security feature: Add your Phone Number to the rest of the world

    like the Arabic world to enjoy this feature is it possible to add it

    in gmail you can have this feature

    but i want it in Hotmail in the country i live in

  • gorzko
    24 Posts


    Great! If it's not a problem, please check polish and czech characters.

  • JohnCz
    204 Posts

    Generally I love the direction Hotmail / SkyDrive is going with these improvements.  Questions... Any chance you folks will promote custom domains more?  Frankly I don't think a sole proprietor or non-profit organization are aware that its even a option.  I like Office 365 but its overkill and requires some time to learn.  Not to mention Hotmail is superior to OWA in many ways and Messenger reaches abroader segment of users than Lync.  A sole priopriertor or non-profit organization is not concerned with robust management capabilities that is Office 365's forte.  Ideally, on the Windows Live ID sign up page the domain selectbox should include "your domain"  and some tooltip to advertise and indicate to select this option if you are sole proprietor or club organization.

  • @gorzko - confirmed, non-ASCII characters should work just fine in this release. we've tested with japanese, arabic, and other character sets. if you want us to double-check yours just indicate which one you're using and we'll try it out.

    @jules daniel - if a message flagged as a newsletter doesn't contain unsubscribe metadata, we use the sweep functionality to provide the same experience as if something like list-unsub was present and successfully executed, so the user experience will be consistent regardless of what the sender does.

    if the message is not flagged as a newsletter, this pseudo-unsubscribe behavior is unavailable, but users can still use sweep, rules, scheduled cleanup, etc. to manage the content from that sender.

  • langware
    154 Posts

    @Krish Vitaldevara:

    I've accepted your friend request.

    Please let me know what information you need re the false positives I am now receiving.

  • @langware looks like what you are referring to are false positives in the personalized filtering we shipped a while back. I will friend you to get more information and followup on the exact nature of FPs.

  • langware
    154 Posts

    I've been getting more false positives (i.e., valid email that is sent to the Junk folder) in the past two days. These are recurring emails based on my subscriptions at various sites. Previously, they appeared (correctly) in my In Box. Now, they appear in my Junk mail (where I must move then to my In Box).

    I appreciate your efforts to stop spam, but in my case your greymail algorithms are a bit too aggressive.

    Once I tell Hotmail to move a specific recurring email from the Junk folder back into my In Box, will the algorithm be "trained" to place all future recurring email from the same sender into my In Box?

  • Great !!! Great !!!

    I realy made the right choice when i came back from Gmail to Hotmail And many other people certainly will now do that.

    But, as you are still just getting started, please add  photo rotating feature to skydrive albums.


  • langware
    154 Posts

    I agree with @trulyindian .... Microsoft needs to address known bugs in Hotmail's UI .... some of these bugs have been around for more than a year!

    In addition, Microsoft needs to address the poor Hotmail support currently provided by the Windows Live Solution Center (WLSC).

    Bright and shiny new features may attract customers to Hotmail, but in order to keep those customers Microsoft needs to fix known UI bugs and improve support provided by WLSC. I'll be glad to provide examples of both known UI bugs and WLSC support problems if needed ..... but I suspect Microsoft is well aware of both.

  • I agree with @ronald comment in so far it relates to following suggestions:

    -Enable dragging and dropping attachments in and out of a message (when composing and receiving mail)

    -Option to request a Delivery Receipt / Read Receipt

    -Make it possible to send password protected Office files (and maybe other file types). Now it is impossible (This file couldn't be scanned for viruses and wasn't added to your message.)

    Also, you should first fix the bugs in the hotmail current UI which are very annoying.

  • @paul midgen - thanks for the response :) just wondering...what's the expected behaviour for emails with headers that _don't_ include list-unsubscribe info?

  • Fontguy
    1 Posts

    Right controlz.  I can do a bunch of this today on my iPhone using SpringClean, and it works with Gmail and Yahoo! Mail too.  The Schedule Cleanup stuff sounds interesting, though, I'll take a look at that when it's available.

  • controlz
    145 Posts

    Is there a better timeframe than "in the coming weeks"?  That can mean months, and it can mean a fortnight.

  • @jules daniel - just include an RFC2369-compliant list-unsubscribe header in the message. it will also be in your best interest to be enrolled in JMRP and ensure your messages are correctly authenticated at Hotmail using SPF 1.0, SPF2.0/PRA, and DKIM if your infrastructure supports it.

    @jader3rd - the social information widget is a cool idea, i'll make sure some other folks on the team hear that.

    regarding your two accounts for different mailstreams, that's one of the reasons we're investing so heavily in graymail classification - we don't think users should have to set up separate accounts for that, we think it's a much better experience to get all the mail you care about in one place and have awesome tools to manage the different streams. so keep an eye on these features and the new stuff we introduce down the line, it would be cool to hear if you're able to move to a single account.

    @gorzko - i think we have a workitem somewhere to resolve this issue, i'll check on that and get back to you.

  • Ronald
    22 Posts

    Thanks for your great work and the ever improving Hotmail! I would like to give the team some suggestions to make Hotmail even better:

    One really handy feature currently lacking in Hotmail is using an ISP's SMTP servers for sending mail from that particular account. Now mail is being sent through Hotmail servers, but some recipients see something like On behalf of.

    Push mail support for Hotmail using Outlook (Connector) and Windows Live Mail

    IMAP (including idle) support

    Enable dragging and dropping attachments in and out of a message (when composing and receiving mail)

    Option to request a Delivery Receipt / Read Receipt

    Notification (sound and visual) when new mail arrives even when hotmail no browser is currenly running. Now you only see Hotmail (x new messages) or when pinned to taskbar and IE window is opened, the number of new messages

    Right next to folders (for example Deleted) an empty button (as the x in Windows Live Mail desktop)

    Collapse/expand folders/subfolders

    Make it possible to send password protected Office files (and maybe other file types). Now it is impossible (This file couldn't be scanned for viruses and wasn't added to your message.)

  • As someone who has used the same Hotmail account for 14 years, I can say with certainty that Hotmail just continues to get better and better. Looking forward to the new tools. Keep up the good work guys.

    BTW, I'll echo some of comments. Metro interface please. :)

  • AFAIAC, i'm looking forward to see a real Metro interface applied onto Hotmail. Please do away with the outdated gradients

  • Oh, and while I'm off-topic requesting features unrelated to 'graymail,' for which I apologize  :-)  how about:

    3) for security concerns (for one of the most hacked providers in the world, Hotmail) I'd suggest you increase the upper password limit (16-characters is the shortest of any provider I use; my Gmail and Hushmail passwords are over 25 characters !) as well as allow special characters for the security question's answer (as Gmail does) to make THAT more difficult for would-be hackers, and

    4) stack conversations like Gmail and the new myOpera mail: oldest at the top, or at least allow users to choose whether they want them that way.  :-)  I'd rather read messages individually than have to scroll to the bottom of the page, then scroll up to find the beginning of the first message, then scroll down through that message to read it, then scroll up past it to the beginning of the second message, and scroll down through that one, etc., etc.  

    Thanks !  :-)

  • Anything that makes the online Hotmail/Live webmail more like my Outlook/Windows live desktop experience is (for me) a good thing.  I'm looking forward to the categories, for example.  (I have ALL my Outlook mail in one personal folder and each mail is categorized, so that it feels a bit more like Gmail's label set up.)  

    Also, Dick said, "new right-click menu for folders that lets you mark everything in the folder as read, or rename, empty, or even delete the folder."  Another plus !  Although my Outlook 2007 doesn't have the following item, Windows live mail desktop does, namely: a 'link' to the right of the deleted items folder allowing one to empty it WITHOUT first going to that folder. I'd like to be able to empty 'deleted items' without having to open the folder first. And it would be nice if this were a one-click function in Hotmail eventually.  :-)

    A couple additional things that would make my Hotmail experience a bit more enjoyable: 1) auto-correct while typing (with the ability to ADD auto-correct items, as in Outlook) and 2) ability to edit a received email (too many emails come from people who may use font uncomfortably small or large, or too light in color, so being able to edit and save as with Outlook would be great !).

  • winter
    15 Posts

    Thanks for your great work! Now Live hotmail is better than gmail in my view.

  • EvilEls
    4 Posts

    Want! :)

  • winter
    15 Posts

    Good work.

  • I really appreciate these features as they are going to make our lives much easier. But I would like to see more improvement in its UI especially when reading pane is turned off. Keep up the updates on fast pace.

    @ Brian H. Madsen: I completely agree with your view that why this blog does not support LIVE ID when Bing Blog does?? Also, why there is no email for comments recived from other users?? We have to Login again to see if there are any new comments.

  • gorzko
    24 Posts

    Good work guys, these features seem to be really great! :-) But are you planning to make old-fashioned tools, like simple filters, available to everyone? When you want to set-up a rule to sort incoming e-mails and you use non-latin letters, Hotmail says that this is not available for your language.

  • controlz
    145 Posts

    I'm looking forward to getting these features in my account! Hotmail rocks!

  • hdw
    25 Posts

    For a moment I read this as 'Hotmail declares War on Gmail' .lol Awesome improvements .Keep up the good work !

  • I really like these new features. I am just waiting to see when hotmail is going to get the metro look. Hotmail metro-style couple with all these features that are annouced wil definitely make hotmail the killer web-based mail service.

  • From the perspective of an ESP/email marketer - how would the one-click unsubscribe feature work? What extra steps would need to be taken (ie list-unsubscribe headers, JMRP program sign-up etc etc) to ensure that the unsubscribe request reaches the correct 'person' as it were.

  • jader3rd
    24 Posts

    Given that I have a Live mail account for newletters, etc, and a Live mail account for person to person (and bills) I don't see any of these really helping. What would make my Live Mail experience better would be a little part of the screen which would show the latest social information of whomever is part of the email. Say like what the Hotmail Outlook connector does. People won't try out the social features of Windows Live if they don't know they're there.

  • Awesome guys - i'm an avid Windows Live user and have been so for years..

    Very much looking forward to seeing what else you can dish out to make Hotmail even better for helping manage our e-Life.

    something did just occur to me tho - why on earth doesn't the this blog support LiveID? it's the Inside Windows Live blog after all!?!?!?

  • That's all very cool but my inbox still looking the same  way. MICROSOFT WHY U NO UPDATE MY HOTMAIL?