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May 28, 2004

Trust the Octopus

I've been using POPfile for a couple weeks so far, and it's doing fairly well. The built-in filter in Apple's free Mail.app had served me well for a long time, but I check my mail from multiple computers. For me to benefit from Mail's junk mail sorting while on the road or on any computer but my desktop Mac, the Mac has to have already seen the mail -- which isn't always viable. Like, say, when you're in Colorado for a summer vacation and the Mac isn't even plugged into an outlet.

I had used SpamAssassin in the past, but its rules-based system started failing me a while ago. Valid advertising mail was being flagged as spam, and spam was making it through unscathed. I wanted something that would learn from my mail what was valid and what wasn't.

POPfile does just that: like the junk mail filter in Apple Mail, you teach it what's junk and what isn't, and eventually it gets good enough to pluck out the good stuff for you. Unlike Mail's filter, you can stick it at a point in the retrieval process that it will filter (or more accurately, mark) out junk for wherever you may be.

"Trust the octopus," the POPfile site proclaims below their orange tentacled mascot. After a month of using it, I do.

In a month, POPfile has reportedly attained a 98.73% accuracy rate. 67% of my mail is in the "general" bucket (good mail), and 33% in the "spam" bucket (spam). A measly 9 messages have stumped POPfile.

Those numbers are actually misleading, as they represent my total mail, and I'm subscribed to numerous mailing lists. Of the mail that actually goes into my inbox, it's probably closer to 80% spam and 20% valid mail -- but POPfile has successfully tamed the unruly hell that is my inbox.

The Windows version of POPfile needs some work before it's ready for the masses (stability issues, mainly), but detailed instructions exist for getting it running on Linux, Mac OS X, and the like. For a freak like me who downloads all his mail from his ISP, sorts it using procmail, and stores it on a local IMAP server, POPfile's an easy step to drop into the process. And makes it painless to read your mail, no matter where you may be.

Posted by Colin at May 28, 2004 11:29 PM

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