Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Taming the Wild EMail!

Anyone who knows me knows that I love information. Doing research and figuring things out is FUN! The problem is, how does one cope with an overabundance of information? Specifically, way too much email? I receive several hundred email messages a day (no, I won't admit in public how many), besides the multiples of hundreds of messages from the RSS feeds I follow. Every few weeks I archive my email as my mailbox is getting too large for our system, and in six months the email I've kept ends up as a file of about 3 gigabytes. There's a lot of great information in there, but how is one to get at it?

Here's what I'm now doing, and I must say it's working phenomenally well. You need to know that I am doing this on a Mac. I would imagine there may be similar solutions for the PC (and the first part of my process works on PC, Mac, or Linux), but I'm not aware of them - if you are, please share these in a comment.

I have 14 years  worth of stored .PST files. My first task was getting these into some format that was open and not proprietary. The most standard format is probably the .mbox or .mbx (mailbox) format, which is used by quite a few mail programs. What I found is a treasure called Emailchemy from Weird Kid Software. It takes many different proprietary email formats and converts them into many other more open formats. (It runs best, from what I see, on Mac, but Windows and Linux versions are available - they simply require Sun Java 1.5 or higher to be installed.) That was a pretty painless process - I pointed the software at a folder of .PST files, and it created another folder with .MBOX files. At $30 for a single user (and if you ask nicely, you might qualify for an education discount, as I did) it was a steal! Yes, there's a demo version available.

Then comes the heavy lifting: creating easily searched, fully accessible databases of all those emails. The tool for this is something called MailSteward. There's a demo version of this as well (limited to 15k emails), along with $20, $50, and $100 versions, the last of which requires you to set up a MySQL database. I went for the $50 version (alas, no discounts...) and it's serving me superbly. I fed it my individual converted PST chunks, created searches that let me extract all the info on bikes, scanners, photo gear, bass guitars, etc. that I had been collecting, and created much more easily manageable files from which I can now retrieve the specific info I need. It keeps the message format pretty well intact, and can either keep or discard attachments, depending on your preference. MailSteward also can be set to archive current email from Mac Mail, so that your mailbox doesn't bulge too much and choke your system. It can do this automatically, delete the original after it's been archived, and a bunch of other stuff.

Yep, I'm an info geek, and maybe this doesn't thrill you at all. That's okay: this has made me so very happy, to quote Blood Sweat and Tears, one of my favorite bands in my teens. Maybe it'll be of use to you as well...