28 November, 2007

Using Gmail to Filter Spam On Existing Mail Accounts

Spam sucks. We all know that. The question is how to stop it. Those of us who use Google’s Gmail have very little spam problem. Google’s spam filtering is VERY good. When I was using Outlook as my mail client, I was using the paid Cloudmark plug-in to defeat spam. It beats the hell out of the built-in spam filtering on ANY mail client. But, since moving to Gmail, my spam problem has been even less than with Cloudmark. And I don’t have to spend a dime for it.

But, what if you don’t want to use a gmail.com email address? Perhaps you are using an address tied to your own domain name or from your ISP. You might not want to switch. Well, I have good news and no, it doesn’t have to do with my car insurance. But, I did save a boatload of money on my spam problem by switching to Gmail. And I didn’t have to change my email address.

Gmail as a Go-Between

Gmail is not a self-contained, web-based mail service. They have opened it up to POP3 access and, most recently, to IMAP as well. But, that’s the download side of things. What if you already have an email account elsewhere? Well, Gmail also has the ability to log into an EXTERNAL mail account and fetch the email, bringing it into Gmail.

So, how can you use this to filter out your spam?

Get a Gmail account if you don’t already have one. Then, set it up to get email from your external, existing mail account. If you don’t know if you’re going to like this yet, you can tell Gmail to leave the email on your server so that you don’t split your email up among two servers. Now, with your email coming into Gmail, you can enable POP3 or IMAP access on the Gmail account and then point your email client to download email from Gmail. So, what you have is the exact same email, coming from the exact same account, but via Gmail.

And what do you know, all your spam is being filtered out by Gmail in the process!

If you use POP3 access, all the email will be removed from Gmail servers and downloaded to your client. If you use IMAP, your mail client will simply mirror what is on the server - a great option if you want fully portable mail that looks the same regardless of what computer you are using.

The Gotcha

If you happen to have several email accounts, this system might not be perfect for you. While Gmail will allow you to bring in email from more than one external account, once it gets to Gmail it is all in one place. That means that Gmail will act as a funnel, sending all your mail accounts through one single mail account. Likely you can just use filters on the client side to split your mail up according to the address it originally came in on, but if you actually send your different email address to different physical email files, that will be hard to pull off.

Otherwise (and for most of you), this is a very workable, free way to fight spam on your existing email address.