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No More Clutter – Outlook's more 'Focused' approach

Aug 4, 2016 by Emma Robinson

In November 2014, Microsoft introduced Clutter – a feature of Exchange Online which used machine learning to sort through your inbox, moving any emails that were not spam but were low priority into another email folder called ‘Clutter’. From June last year, Clutter was automatically enabled for all Office 365 subscribers, and had to to be turned off by administrators if they didn’t want their users to have it (find out how to do this here). The idea was that it would sift through everything that arrives in your inbox, and leave you with only the most important emails – and you could go through your Clutter inbox later, safe in the knowledge that you hadn’t missed out on anything important, time-sensitive, or urgent.
That was the idea – unfortunately the reality wasn’t quite as straightforward. Clutter doesn’t get started immediately, it takes time to learn user preferences, and then begins to move emails based on what it has learned. Unfortunately, the tool had varying levels of success with this. While many users benefited from the technology, some didn’t receive enough email for Clutter to learn any preferences, or become effective, and others found that important emails slipped through the net and ended up in Clutter. The tool’s inconsistency was highlighted when half a workforce didn’t receive an important email from their CEO because it went straight into their Clutter folder.
Clearly the system needed a little more work, so last week Microsoft announced that Clutter would be removed and replaced with a tool called ‘Focused Inbox’. According to Microsoft, Focused Inbox aims to ‘cut through the noise and focus on what matters most’. The new feature is positioned as a refined Clutter, using similar but improved algorithms to make decisions on incoming mail. The noticeable difference is that Focused Inbox doesn’t relegate your emails to another folder, instead it uses two tabs, one called ‘Focused’ and one called ‘Other’ – which is where less important emails will move to. This way, you can simply switch between the two tabs, and anything that ends up in the ‘Other’ category isn’t as ‘out of sight, out of mind’ as Clutter. It is also possible to quickly and easily move your emails across if any items end up in the wrong place using the ‘move to Focused’/ ‘move to Other’ options.
As Focused Inbox begins to roll out, messages will stop being placed into the Clutter folder, but it may be a couple of months before you notice any changes. If you use Clutter, you will have to opt-in to Focused Inbox through an in-app prompt in Outlook. After you opt-in, messages will no longer be placed in the Clutter folder, they will be separated by Focused Inbox. As the same machine-learned algorithm used to power Clutter now operates in Focused Inbox, any emails that were set to move to Clutter will now be moved to the ‘Other’ tab.
Currently, the feature has been released on Outlook for iOS and Android, and Office 365 customers on the First Release program will start to see the feature in early September. Microsoft also emphasise that ‘Office 365 admins will have mailbox and tenant level control of the feature to stage the rollout in a manner that works best for their organization’.
If you want to know who has Clutter currently enabled in your organisation, you can find out using the Mailbox Clutter Settings Report in the Exchange section of Cogmotive Office 365 Reports. This could be useful for notifying any Clutter users who may not be aware of upcoming changes. Alternatively, you may want to set an organisation-wide policy on Clutter ahead of this transition, so that your users don’t encounter any issues.
mailbox clutter settings
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