Microsoft Rolls out a New Feature that may remind you of Gmail’s Promotions Tab

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Microsoft’s ‘Clutter’ feature for Office 365 users was officially announced in March 2014 as an aid that learns from each user’s email habits and activities; its ultimate goal is to improve efficiency by de-cluttering (pun intended!) the busy inbox.  Microsoft has stated that their Beta users have saved an average of 82 minutes per month thanks to the new feature.

On June 15th, 2015, the ‘Clutter’ feature will be turned on for all Office 365 users.  This means that a few days from now, they will see a “Clutter” folder when they log into their email accounts. The folder will be designated for emails that Microsoft’s algorithm has deemed “less important” based on each user’s interactions with their inbox.  A soft release of this feature occurred in November of last year for those who volunteered to test-drive the new functionality, so the Beta testing has been going on for some time now. 

Microsoft Office’s blog provides a neat little video that introduces the concept of ‘Clutter’ and briefly explains how the user experience will change with the new feature.  The video specifies that ‘Clutter’ will use machine learning to draw from each individual user’s unique actions and determine what is and is not inbox clutter.  Users will also be able to move messages to their ‘Clutter’ folder and teach the system what emails fall into their definition of inbox clutter.  Alternatively, emails users actively open, read, forward, or reply to - will be considered important and stand clear of the ‘Clutter’ folder. 

Clutter vs. Microsoft's Exchange Spam Filter

This new feature works differently and, arguably, more efficiently than Microsoft’s Exchange spam filter.  Until now, if enough people mark a message as “spam”, or the creative content is flagged as “spam”, that email will land in the spam folder.  Microsoft plans for the new ‘Clutter’ feature to operate separately from the spam filter, so users will have their primary, ‘Clutter’, and spam folders in their inboxes.

The 'Clutter' folder will be designated for emails that may be of low priority to users and are not identified as spam. For example, a newsletter that a user has been receiving for months but has not engaged with.  The spam folder will continue to be a place for potentially harmful and suspicious emails.

Office 365 users will receive a daily email that summarizes what has been moved to their ‘Clutter’ folder, similarly to the way an email quarantine program works.  Any messages a user chooses to move from the ‘Clutter’ folder will be restored to the inbox.    

It is still unclear where the line will be drawn for emails that become classified as “bulk” messages, especially in cases where the user has previously engaged with an email from that sender’s sending domain/IP address. “Bulk” messages may be diverted into the ‘Clutter’ folder right off the bat, similarly to the way many brands’ marketing messages were directed to the “promotions” tab for their Gmail subscribers.

How Will it Affect Engagement?

As a reference, when the Promotions tab was introduced, we witnessed a small drop in open rates, peaking at an average of 1.5%.  Based on how users engage with this new mailbox, it is likely that we see a similar drop in engagement rates.  Again, this change will only impact Office 365 users with primarily corporate accounts who are generally a smaller audience than free email users with addresses @hotmail.com, @msn.com, etc.

While this change is only being rolled out to Microsoft’s Exchange Office 365 users, it is important to keep in mind that the plan is for Office 365 to eventually replace Windows LIVE mail – those are your users with @hotmail.com, @msn.com, and @outlook.com accounts.

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