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How to manage in-box 'bacon'

'Bacon' describes the mass e-mail you want instead of the spam you don't.

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For example, Vallier used the "mail settings" in the top-right corner of his Gmail screen to categorize incoming messages as soon as they arrive. The website can automatically label e-mail based on who sent it, the subject line, and whether certain words are or are not included in the letter. E-mails from his wife get a bold tag, so he'll notice them right away. Bacon receives a light blue sticker, visual shorthand for "not urgent."

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In other situations, families hunting for a good deal on a new television could set their in-boxes to highlight any bacon that mentions "TV" or "plasma." Expecting parents can flag everything containing the word "baby."

If you're wary about handing out your e-mail address to retailers, Hotmail, Gmail, and Yahoo's paid Plus service each allow users to set up disposable e-mail accounts called plus addresses.

This lets you add the + symbol before the @ and then attach any term you want in between. For example, you might give one store anna6000+bestbuy@live.com, then give another retailer anna6000+sears@live.com. You can then filter your in-box based on these plus addresses. (This also lets you see who is sharing or selling your e-mail address to other vendors.)

If this all sounds like too much work, Gmail introduced an experimental Priority Inbox feature late last year. The service automatically sorts your in-box, placing friends or desired bacon at the top and nuisance mail near the bottom. How does it figure out which is which? Priority Inbox tries to learn by watching which letters you reply to, which you simply read, and which you ignore. It then ranks incoming messages in that order, so important letters always rise to the top.

Unlike spam, bacon often comes with the option to unsubscribe. So rather than his bacon and let it pile up, Siminoff initially tried removing his name from each mailing list. "But that takes time to do," he says, "about two minutes each."

Frustrated by this slow process, Siminoff and some business partners started Unsubscribe.com, a company that will keep your e-mail address off unwanted mailing lists.

Unsubscribe's software creates a new button in your e-mail box. Highlight any unwanted letter, give it a click, and Unsubscribe will jump through the hoops of ensuring you never get another message from that company. The service costs $3 a month or $20 a year.

"Spam may come from Russia and Nigeria, but bacon comes from legitimate companies," Siminoff says. "Even if they're not doing it properly, they know to stop bothering you if you ask."

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