In Developing A Personal Email Management Strategy I discussed the sorting, filtering and processing of the seemingly endless flow of email I receive. Recently, I took the plunge and converted my non work email to IMAP in preparation for converting work email to the same. The goal is to be able to see important direct email on my iPhone without seeing all the list traffic, commercial communications and other solicited bulk email.

First, Some History

I’ve had GAFYD (Google Aps For Your Domain) for my domain for quite a while.  I used multiple aliases for different types email traffic, travel@ for example for when i signed up for travel related services and lists, buy@ for commercial email and receipts after making purchases. This made sorting and filtering the incoming email really easy, just set up a message filter in Thunderbird based on the To: address. But all of these email addresses were just aliases delivering the mail to my primary account. Thus when checking email on the iPhone, sifting through all the solicited bulk email for the personal messages was like finding a needle in a hay stack.

Step 1: Decouple Email Aliases from Primary Email Address

The first thing I had to do was get all those aliases pointing at a different address. In GAFYD domain administration I created a new user. I then deleted all the aliases from my main user/address and recreated them for the new user. Now this new address will start receiving all the solicited bulk email. I could set this up as IMAP, but I don’t need to because for the most part they are not “conversations” or two way communications, their just announcements and offers.

Step 2: Enable IMAP for Gmail and Archive All Old Email

Now I logged back in to my original Gmail account, the one that people know to send email to, and that no more solicited bulk email will arrive to. First Archive all “old” mail, lets say everything older than one month. Run a search in Gmail, then click “select all”, then look for the new link that appears at the top of the subject column that says “Select all ### conversations that match this search” and finally select the “Archive” option either by clicking the button or choosing it off the drop down. Archiving the mail is very important, especially if like me, you had 18,000+ messages in your inbox (I didn’t use Gmail’s web interface much). Go to account settings, then the “Forwarding and Pop/IMAP” tab and enable IMAP.

Step 3: Create New Thunderbird Account

In Thunderbird an “account” is independent from an email account. You can change the email account, and all the mail, filters, folders, etc… remain tied to the Thunderbird Account. I have a very old email “account,” the earliest email I sent was from 2005, this account will remain as the one I use for solicited bulk email address (the new address created above), its got all my filters and all that legacy email that I’ve popped from Gmail, and Dreamhost before that. Edit the account settings and replace the email address and server credentials with those of the new Gmail account you created. Now create a new profile for the IMAP address. The reason it is important to archive the old mail in Step 2 is because Thunderbird will try to read messages in your inbox into your desktop inbox and if like me you enable offline access to mail in Thunderbird (which is essential as far as I am concerned) then you don’t want to download those 18k messages, I’ve got the important ones in the older Thunderbird profile anyway, and they are archived on Gmail. Your Thunderbird profile will automatically get the “Labels” from Gmail and turn them into folders, if you have any. If you don’t have any, you might want to add them.

Step 4: Add email addresses to Gmail and Google account

You can have multiple “from” email addresses with each Gmail accounts, and they can overlap (meaning two different Gmail accounts can use the same “from” address). This means that from my personal address I can send email that appears to be from my work address, or the other way around. You’ll want to do this on both of your accounts (or all of your accounts) so that you can “redirect” a conversation if necessary to the right email address (like a personal email going to your work email). Click on “Settings” in Gmail and then you will see “send email as,” when you add a new address, Gmail will send a confirmation email to that address, check your mail and confirm that you control the address. Repeat as necessary. So now you can send email through either of your Gmail Accounts from any of your aliases. There is one more setting with Google that I found to be important, especially (and maybe only) if you subscribe to Google groups. You can associate multiple email addresses with a Google groups account (which I guess is the same as you Google account for search, webmaster tools and analytics, but different than your Gmail account.) It’s confusing, I choose not to think about it too much. Log in to groups.google.com, click on “My Account” (upper right) and you can then add multiple email addresses AND set up a profile. This will allow you to change the subscription email address for different groups. Unlike Gmail which lets you have the same “send from” for multiple Gmail accounts, each email address can only be associated with one Google Account.

Step 5: Add Identities to Thunderbird (Optional)

In order to send email from your various email aliases from Thunderbird, you will need to add them as “Identities.” Identities can be accessed across Thunderbird Accounts, so there is no need to create them multiple times, and if you never want to send a message from the aliases you are using for solicited bulk email, then you can skip this step. Right click on your Thunderbird Account, click manage identities, add the identities. Repeat as necessary.

Step 6: (re)Setup Your iPhone’s Email

Follow Gmail’s IMAP instructions for the iPhone. You may want to delete the current account you have set up if it was not set up as an IMAP account. So now, when I check mail on my iPhone, I no longer see the torrent of solicited bulk email, I can see just the email that humans have sent directly to me. Next up, tackling a similar setup for my work email! It will be similar, but not the same, probably involving forwarding all email that is sent directly to me, rather than an email list, to a new Gmail address, and checking that on my iPhone, it won’t be as sweet or clean as what I have described above, because conversations I reply to from the iPhone will get split, but it will work for checking in on the road without having to wade through Trac notifications and dozens of email list messages. Was this helpful? See Bevan Rudge’s post on Synchronized Mail, Contacts, Calendars Across iPhone, Google, Mail.app, iCal.app.