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Thursday 1 July 2004

Gmail [slim]

Whens the last time you changed your email habbits? It's been a while for me, probably when I installed the old rebecca mail client, which was the first I've ever seen with folder filtering. Filtering caused a small revolution in my email practice, but nothing much has changed since. Gmail, googles webmail service, might change that. There's two things that you've probably heard about gmail through the hype machine. First, it's got a 1gig capacity per user, so they say you don't have to worry about deleting shit. Second, it looks at your mail and links adverts to what you said, similar to the way the google search engine displays adds based on your search text. I'll take the second one first, as it's recieved the most bleating, but this isn't really a big deal. Sure, it has to read your mail to do that shit, but so does a spam blocker, and an email filter, so what? Second, as with google, the ads are very descreet text based things, and more often than not they're ! actually useful. I've picked up some links to bbc sites with background info to what I was discussing in email, and that's pretty cool.
It's the 1gb thing, which is gmails usp, that threatens to revolutionise email. That much storage is sweet, but won't it become a complete fuckaround to manage? Well, no, because they've written this very smart interface to make sense of it. What you do is create filters, kind of like you did with your old email client, but insead of sorting the emails, it just indexes it. Then when you click on your filters, you only view the mail that's been tagged as that type. Pretty smart, but then won't that take fucking ages? Well, I'd have thought so, but this is supposedly built with the quantum assmaster tech that google uses to search teh interweb, so they've probably got that sorted. Seems nippy enough so far, but I've only a few kb of email so far.
Next, and the really fucking smart bit is the way emails are displayed. They're chucked at you in threaded view, by subject. Big deal, even outlook does that right? Well no, this shows them all in sequence in one page, kind of like a forum, but it hides the ones you've already read. You can also nip into the thread and reply at any point, then it'll actually bung your reply in the correct place in the thread (not stuck away in the sent mail folder). It's really made reading mailing lists a fucking dream.
Oh, it's also got anti spam, a mail checker, and a typically google clean, fast and simple interface. The only shame of it all is that you've got to use google, and it's webmail only. You can't secure your mail yourself, or download it all to read offline, or back it all up. I'd love to be able to buy or download this software and run it against my own imap server, but I'm guessing it all needs some very evil shit running underneath it and isn't limited by shitty old mail protocols. Hopefully though developers will nob some of the ideas for implementation in existing webmail clients!


  1. I've been using it from work for awhile now and... it's pretty stunning. It's extremely fast. The threading is nothing short of a revolution and the spam filter works better than my elite quantum fluxor assmaster stuff at home. I'm guessing they manage that by having a global spam detector. If someone reports a mail as spam, it gets binned across the entire service. That's really cool.
    It's not perfect though. I'm very disappointed that you can't filter mailing lists based on hard stuff like reply-to - that leaves you open to get stung by assuming a private reply to you was on a mailing list because you're filtering on the subject line, for example.
    I also don't like the top posting and the simplistic quoting is a bit annoying after having gotten used to The Bat. Yet... these things are pretty minor really, for the massive convienience of the threading and searching stuff. Also, when you've got a vast quantity of mail in The Bat, searching becomes a major chore. This is going to zip through that stuff because Google rock and the guys that code The Bat are Russian crack whores.
    There's also some tools for gating pop to gmail and so on. I'll post some of those later, if I remember.

  2. oh sir, me sir, please sir!
    You've also got keyboard shortcuts. Which at first are a pain in the ringo-stingo, but I've got the hang of them now. So, a to reply-all, r to reply, f for forward etc.
    You have to turn it on in the options btwI guess it's Pop Goes the Gmail app he was mentioning...
    '..a program that sits between the web server and your email client, converting messages from web format into POP3 format that a program such as Outlook Express or Thunderbird can understand.'

  3. You know, GMail is a great idea, but is it really a whole lot of use to say, your average EED member?
    We run our own servers, we have our own webmail, in essence we already have Gmail, except with our own choice of domain name(s) and infinte space (well, way above 1GB).
    What I *would* be interested in is any GMail plans to offer a corporate service that could see for example, the end of the Exchange server; centralised globally accessible corporate email... yes please.

  4. I'm precisely in the market for what Gmail offers. I could do it myself, I run my own server at home. I've tried to do it myself. The web mail client for MDaemon is terrible and often my connection is hammered by other things on my home network, that slow down my web mail to a crawl. Ultimately the web mail is shite, absolutely shite compared to Gmail which is revolutionary.
    Also, Gmail allows you to set up your own reply-to. You can just forward mail off a domain you own and no one would be any the wiser that you use Gmail unless they inspected the headers. As for space, I never let my massive Bat mail archive get above 1GB because it slows down to a crawl.
    As I've said, Gmail searches mail faster and better than a local native mail client running on a 3.3GHz PC with a bloody 10,000 SATA Raptor holding the mail storage.
    Now I'm not saying necessarily that I'll use Gmail from now on. However it's pretty stunning for web mail and I would quite happily use it. I find myself just wishing there were some more advanced features, like multiple signatures and more advanced filtering. Slim points out backing up mail out of it, that's a biggy too.
    It's good enough that if they just added that minor stuff, I'd pay money for it.

  5. I'm running SuSe Linux Openexchange server on a box at home.
    The webmail is OK, not all that flash, but much nicer than say Squirrelmail.
    It boots and installs the entire OS and mailserver from a single CD, all admin is done through a top notch web interface that allows you to do all kinds of queue monitoring and management (via mrtg). It has a good calandering, auto-responses, a messageboard, task scheduling, projects and all kinds of groupware goodness.
    It has integrated Spamassassin. I have two shared IMAP folders that all my users see in their folder list called spammed and not-spammed, they drag the spam and false positives in there for bayes learning.
    I use an Outlook connector to sync my calendar to my Nokia 6600 over Bluetooth, works a treat.
    Whats more, its free for up to 10 web users in unsupported mode (with unlimited SMTP/POP/IMAP connections)
    Integrated backups that dump archives that can be used to rebuild an entire server in minutes after a reinstall, the list goes on, very cool product.

  6. The spamassassin plug in on my mail server doesn't catch much these days. Quite annoying. Running own mail server with webmail etc is, in some sense, preferably but if you're basing it off a domestic broadband connection - it's a bit dodgy.
    With regards to gmail, I'm going to chuck all my mail at it. Not to necessarily use it as my main mail client - it's really just not good enough for that - but just to easily search stuff to find it, since it happens rather a lot more efficiently than The Bat.

  7. There is a new anti-spam product that looks to be the go these days, it's called D-SPAM. It uses statistical hybrid classification.
    Claims to have a peak accuracy of 99.991% (1 in 7000 misclassified)
    The stable version of the current code got a relase a couple of weeks ago but I haven't had a chance to have a play yet.
    It's at...
    If anyone gets it going please let me know what results you get.

  8. It's unix shit so... that aint gonna happen any time soon.

  9. It eats spam alright, but sadly it eats the fuck out of genuine mails even when it 'learns' them. My stats suggest 93.566% accuracy, but there's a 26% false pos rate... so its basically eaten 148 mails that it shouldn't have out of a total of 9217.
    Currently re-evaluating whether its worth going back to resource-munching SA, which at least is able to whitelist properly.

  10. Makes me think. Is not the solution here something along the lines of what gmail does? Generate a signature for an email. If someone reports that as spam, it's communicated to a server. If enough people do, it's automatically blocked by your server which does a look-up per mail.
    Distributed human beings must surely be a better solution that writing scripts...

  11. If you want a distributed realtime blacklist you could look at Vipul's Razor or DCC, both of which plugin to SA.
    I'm currently getting about 95% accuracy on both my home and work servers and not enough false positives to even bother checking the discarded mails, every now and then I get a newsletter from some drongos I gave my email address to eons ago, but thats really spam anyway as far as I'm concerned.
    And Lurks, Spamassassin started off as 'unix shit' so it may well happen yet :)

  12. For sure, I just meant in terms of anyone else here actually testing D-Spam now. Of course I didn't count on Beej's sandals and was rapidly proved a liar.

  13. - The other thing about realtime distributed blacklists, based on ip, content or both, is that other people get to decide what mail you receive.
    Maybe I'm in the market for a fake wristwatch, someone sends me an email for quality reproduction watches, it's not spam anymore.
    Maybe I get the latest newsletter from xyz website, I'm jack of it so I pump it into the spam folder, all of a sudden no one else gets their eagerly awaited newsletter.
    Maybe I decide I don't like a certain company, their email servers become blacklisted for everyone else.
    These are serious issues when you start allowing other people to filter your email for you.

  14. That makes no sense at all. If you're in the market for a fake wristwatch and someone sends you an unsolicited email offering you that, I'm afraid it's still spam. Your anti-spam script would kill it on the same basis automatically.
    The other thing you've got wrong here is that one person has the power to define something as spam. That's not how it works. What happens is that these systems count how many people decided something was spam, versus how many probably/possibly/definately (depending on whether you report accepted mail) ended up accepting it.
    These systems also don't blacklist servers, they blacklist emails. Typically they're just flagged anyway, and not automatically deleted.
    You need to see gmail to see it in action. Right out of the box it has around the highest performance anti-spam I've ever seen.

  15. - Also, Beej. I'm sure you have followed the docs correctly, but incase you missed the FAQ, I remember reading about how you have to feed it non-spam as non-spam, if you only feed it spam as spam you get a skewed database which leads to very high false-positive rates.-
    Some great docs on this subject, it has a fairly comprehensive section on distributed notification systems, their advantages and disadvantages. Its a well written academic document, 18 months out of date though.

  16. You'd think the button marked 'THIS IS NOT SPAM!!!' should make it pretty fucking clear to learn the mails it wrongly ate.

  17. Button? What product are you talking about here? Can you give me url and a screengrab just to avoid any confusion?