Is your inbox flooded? Try the cloud-based tool SaneBox that helps filter spam and unimportant mail, so you can see only the important ones. Geeta Padmanabhan tells us how this is done

Are you sorting your e-mails efficiently? I tried out SaneBox on the recommendation of a smart Mac-user. “SaneBox will keep your email in check,” he said. A web service, it keeps an eye on Gmail (or other IMAP) inboxes, makes intelligent choices about which messages do and don’t belong in your inbox and reroutes them to special mailboxes. Like a good housekeeper, it de-clutters your mail-box without losing a message.

Once you sign up, your inbox gets a SaneBox makeover. You'll notice SaneLater, which is for general stuff that SB has decided I can open later. SaneBulk is for messages sent to mass-mailing lists. E-mail newsletters are forked into SaneNews. If you drag soliciting mails like those from African countries into SaneBlackHole, any other mail from that sender will automatically descend the chute into Trash. “It's a question of training SB initially,” said the Mac-guy. “Just remember to scan the SaneLater box once in a while and move messages you need back into your inbox.” His mail is a desktop client, so his SB shows up there, he said.

Good at guessing

SaneBox is good at guessing. It follows your preferences over messages, the history of correspondence, and then starts retaining messages from that sender in your inbox. It sends you an audit report of what it’s been doing, on a schedule you've given. You can forward messages to SaneNextWeek and SaneTomorrow, and they’ll be redelivered at dates customised by you. You can program SaneBox to remind you when a message you’ve sent hasn’t been replied to in a specific period of time. It can automatically save email attachments to your Dropbox account. Well, you may not use all these at once, but that is the whole point. There are choices you can pick from, depending on your need.

Mails get organised into “SaneArchive,” “SaneCC” and “SaneNews” as well. Sanebox’s daily digest shows you the messages that bypassed your inbox. But if you are listed on a CC line in a group conversation, you might miss out on messages going into the SaneCC folder. It was beta when I checked it, so I couldn't turn it off. A good feature is SaneAttachments that keeps attachments from clogging your inbox. They can go directly to Dropbox/IBM Smartcloud. Instead of an attachment, you see a link to the cloud storage service.

Here is the catch: SaneBox charges for its services — monthly rates starting at about $6 and moving up to $20 and beyond, depending on what you need. There is a 14-day free trial. That's how I got hooked, said the Mac-man, and “I read the impressive voice endorsements from people I know.” SB does the weeding-out job for you, leaving you to focus on the must-read-now mails. “SB is a time-saving lifeline for those drowning in a flood of mails.”

You still can't shake off the “privacy” apprehension. “We realise that email contains your most personal and private data,” SaneBox mailed me. “By design... your email never resides on our servers, except for the moment we send your SaneRemindMe email back to you.” Four layers of security are in place — physical (building access) network (VPN using data encryption), data (master passcode, engine looks at mails, not people), trusted personnel backstopped by others, SB assures me. Just don't click on a phishing e-mail!

Other tools

I checked out some other new e-mail tools to manage the inbox chaos. FollowUpThen is a “snooze button” for messages you are not yet ready to face. Forward an e-mail to an address like “twodays@followupthen.com,” and you’ll see it later. Smartr Inbox, a powerful Gmail tool, integrates your e-mail and social networking services. Outlook.com has a lively interface and integration with FB/Twitter. It leverages SkyDrive cloud storage service to help users send file attachments as large as 300 megabytes. OtherInbox Organizer does quite a good job of automatic sorting. When you let Organizer log into your e-mail account, it scoops up the messages, and begins sorting them. The category folders appear in your browser next time you check your webmail service.

SaneBox double-checks spam. For one, if it spots a message that looks legitimate, it plops the e-mail into a “not-spam” folder. It also reminds you that you haven’t heard from someone you’ve e-mailed, and can resend incoming messages at a time you have specified. Together, FollowUpThen and OtherInbox’s Organizer offer SB's best features for free, but SB is a one-stop-shop, said my Mac-friend. It gates your inbox, bringing order to the overflow.

How is it better than Priority Mail, I asked SB. Michael (Support Center) wrote back: “SaneBox includes smart filtering for any email client/service/device, stores attachments in the cloud (not e-mail space), has one-click unsubscribe, smart reminders, and snoozes non-urgent emails.”