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Vox Pop: Sell me on manual email filing

tow.com » MsgFiler

Lots of the kids are excited about the arrival of MsgFiler, which is a neat litte app for helping you file away your messages in Mail.app:

MsgFiler is a plug-in for Apple Mail which quickly files emails into existing mailbox folders. MsgFiler’s fast searching means you just have to type a few characters to find the right mailbox. Move selected messages with a click or open a mailbox without having to navigate the mailbox folder pane. MsgFiler is optimized for keyboard-only usage, perfect for Apple Mail power users.


But I'll just play devil's advocate on this one: if you find yourself inordinately excited about the arrival of this (admittedly clever) application, there's an excellent chance that your email archiving system is unnecessarily complex and, in fact, is in need of a major streamlining. Discuss.

Me? Here's my own folder hierarchy (and the Mail Act-on key I use to send selected messages there.):

  • To Respond (CTRL-R)
  • Archived (CTRL-A)
    • Receipts and things I Bought (CTRL-B)
    • Passwords and account info (CTRL-P)

That's it. Personally, I abandoned the byzantine filing system quite a while ago, and so far -- given a mindful combination of Smart Folders and Spotlight -- I've yet to find a compelling case for manually filing beyond a depth of more than one folder.

So, my larger question for you guys with more than, say, five or so archive sub-folders:

How often are you using your archiving hierarchy to retrieve old mail? In other words, give me your success stories and best practices by which the time spent on meticulous manual filing has paid outsize rewards in finding stuff later. Or, perhaps better put: what are the limitations of Smart Folders, and what would need to change about them to get you out of the manual filing routine?

Because, I gotta tell you, it kinda seems like a lot of busy work given what seems like modest functional pay-off. But you school me...

jrk's picture

I strongly agree, though I...

I strongly agree, though I do find some categories (which could easily be expressed as smart folders) indispensable -- namely, folders related to projects (could be tagged) and certain groups of senders/lists (could be queried directly).

The problem I have is that Spotlight just doesn't work nearly as well as e.g. Google:

  1. Expressiveness. I want to be able to enter moderately complex queries quickly. Google's 'predicate:' query syntax (used to great effect in Gmail) solves this very effectively. Being forced to start a search, then click around with my mouse on the different search mode buttons (all boxes vs. current box, from, to, subject, ...), and STILL not being able to get a complex query just prevents me from doing 90% of the search-fu I intuitively do when trying to find something.

  2. Speed. Spotlight is frustratingly slower than browsing real folders on my MacBook Pro (!)

  3. Bugginess. Spotlight returns ghost messages, intermittently fails to find some things tagged with MailTags, and regularly deadlocks Mail in some vague "sorting" step when viewing smart folders.

Between (1) and (2), switching to Safari and running a Gmail search shortcut (though I don't use Gmail, except as an archive) is still much faster, overall, requires less thinking (Google has trained me to think in complex queries), and returns more targeted results (since I can express more precision much more quickly in their query syntax), than trying to do the same thing through Mail's built-in search.

Hopefully most of these issues will be remedied with 10.5 (some keywords have been explicitly mentioned, but as a whole all of this remains to be seen).

All that said, the reason why I'm excited to see MsgFiler is because I've wanted a way of quickly navigating between folders (filing aside) using only my keyboard. The Thunderbird plugin cited as the ostensible inspiration for MsgFiler lets you do just this, and MsgFiler seems to, as well (though I haven't successfully tested it, since v1.0 throws Applescript exceptions so fast on my machine, I can't even execute a single move). I live on cmd-[1,3,4], and have even made triggers+applescripts to have equivalent shortcuts in Outliner/kGTD and elsewhere, but Mail doesn't make it even a little bit easy to keyboard-navigate to any other folders than the standard Inbox/Outbox/Drafts/Sent/Junk.




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