Making Facebook Email Notifications More Useful
Let me just start this post out by saying that I love my sister. She’s very close family for me, and even though we don’t see each other as often as I’d like, I’m always interested in knowing what’s going on in her life. All that being said, I’m having some trouble with that last part, and the culprit is one that so many of us are familiar with – Facebook.
As I’m sure is the case for many of you, I have a lot of friends on Facebook. There’s the people I went to school with, the people that I’ve worked with in the past, the people that have found me from some of the websites I run, and, of course, all the other friends I’ve run across along the way. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention one last group – my family… and oh boy is it a big one. My grandmother on my dad’s side had quite a few brothers and sisters, and once you follow that family tree down from there, it just keeps going… and going… and going. All of them are important to me, and I love being able to keep up to date on what’s going on in their lives, but with so many updates flying by all the time, I’ve had to narrow down a select few that take priority over the others.
This is where Facebook’s ‘Close Friends’ feature actually comes in handy. They added it as a special kind of list a while back, and it lets you covertly add people to it that you want to pay closer attention to. No one actually knows if they’re on your Close Friends list, but when those people post anything at all, you get an email notification about it (at least by default). Once you’ve setup the list, you’re all set to get an email if your mom posts about how your dad’s shoulder surgery went, if a really good friend gets a new job, or if your sister and her husband won a trophy at a car show. Since only the people you select go on this list, you can avoid the same onslaught of posts that flood your news feed and not worry about missing something really important.
There’s just one problem, and that problem’s name is ‘Sharing’.
Everyone likes to use Facebook a little differently. It’s a pretty versatile tool that way. Some people use it to post only the biggest of events in their lives, and others… well, others like to re-share every funny picture or phrase they find amusing. My sister falls into the latter category.
A good number of people out there get really annoyed with people like my sister for posting way too much information to their feeds. Often times it can result in ‘unfriending’ or in quietly using Facebook’s ability to hide all posts from a particular user. I tend to disagree though. At the beginning of this post I did what a good writer is supposed to do, and I identified the problem. That problem isn’t my sister at all, it’s Facebook.
You see, my sister isn’t doing anything wrong when she ‘likes’ or shares another post she sees. In fact, she’s doing what she does for the best reason there could possibly be. She wants to give her other friends something to smile at, the same way she did when she saw that post herself. I don’t want to hide all the posts my sister makes, because she put time and thought into what she chose to share with all of her other friends. If I don’t even have the chance to glance at what she posted, then I’m just dismissing all of that work as completely meaningless. Yet, I’m still stuck with a bit of a dilemma. My email box has been getting flooded by all the things she’s choosing to share, and since I keep my email open all day while I work, it gets a bit frustrating to constantly have to deal with having to sort out if that new message notification I just got is something I need to take action on right away, or if it’s just a funny picture my sister shared on Facebook.
It might be tempting at times, but I’m not going to ask my sister to change her Facebook habits, for the same reason I don’t think it’s fair for me to hide everything she posts from my news feed. I’m also not going to remove her from my ‘Close Friends’ list, because there are times when she posts things personal to her that I definitely never want to miss getting. On the other side of the coin, though, is the fact that I just can’t keep getting all of these email notifications about her shares. What I really want is a way to separate everything that my sister re-shares from the posts that she makes herself. If she posts a status update, if she posts a picture of her and her husband, and if she changes her employer status, I want to get an email about that, so that I don’t accidentally miss it when scrolling through my news feed. But, what I don’t want to get an email about, is all of those witty pictures she shared from the ‘No Hope For the Human Race’ page. Those can wait until I have free time to scroll through my news feed on Facebook’s site. Unfortunately, Facebook just doesn’t give me this option.
This is where I get mad at the site and not at my sister. Facebook knows that people get annoyed by this. They get complaints about it all the time, and there’s countless others like myself that have ranted about it repeatedly, but they refuse to listen. It’s not hard for them to tell the difference between something that people like my sister are posting directly themselves and the content that they’re sharing from other people and pages, but they make it very hard for us to sort that on our end. Yes, you can select to see ‘Only Important’ updates from your friends, but it’s a big mystery exactly what ‘Only Important’ really means. I can’t afford to miss an important post from my sister because Facebook’s algorithm didn’t flag it the right way.
Luckily, there is a solution for this problem. It’s just not one that you do through Facebook; you do it through mail filters.
Mail filters are a little known secret that techies like me have known about for a long time now. Don’t let that scare you though. They aren’t hard to set up at all, and once you’ve got them going, you never need to touch them again. The filters just do their thing in the background, and you get to continue living your life. Here’s how you can set this all up.
Before we setup mail filters, we have to set up our ‘Close Friends’ list on Facebook. Everyone you add to this list will have their posts sent to your email box by default. There are actually other ways to handle this, but I’ve found that the Close Friends list is the easiest for me.
To get there, you’ll want to look on the left hand side of your Facebook news feed, under the ‘Friends’ section. If you don’t see that section, you should be able to get to it by clicking on the ‘More’ link at the bottom left.
Once you’re in the Close Friends section, you’re going to want to add people to that list. To do this, just start typing the name of the person you want to add in the ‘Add friends to this list’ box at the top right, and select them from the list once you see the right one show up. You can also use the ‘Add’ buttons next to suggested friends if Facebook has guessed correctly on who you want in this list. Continue doing this until all of the people you want to get email updates from are in the list.
Now that you’ve finished adding your friends to the list, it’s time to move to the fun part – setting up your mail filters. I’ll cover how to do this in Gmail, Yahoo! Mail, and in Outlook.com. For other services, you’ll probably need to look around a bit to find it, but mail filters are almost universally available, so even if those services aren’t what you’re using, the one you are is very likely to have the feature.
Gmail is probably the easiest for setting up filters, and the process really only takes a couple steps to pull off.
You’ll want to start by going to the arrow all the way at the right side of the search bar above your inbox. When you hold your mouse over it, it should light up with ‘Show search options’.
Once you’re here, fill in the ‘From’ box with ‘facebookmail.com’ and for the ‘Subject’ box use the name of the person you want to filter, followed by the word ‘Shared’. If ‘Brenda Badger’ was the name of your frequently sharing friend, you would want to use ‘Brenda Badger Shared’ for the Subject box.
Once you’ve filled this out, hit the ‘Create filter with this search’ link at the bottom right hand corner of the box. This should take you to the next set of options for your new filter.
You can actually do quite a number of things here, depending on your preferences, but the choice that works best for me is to just delete these messages completely and not have them send me any kind of unread notification at all. To pull this off, just check the boxes for ‘Skip the Inbox’, ‘Mark as read’, and ‘Delete it’. Hit the ‘Create filter’ button at the very bottom, and you’re all done. Repeat the process for anyone else that tends to share a lot, and you’ll never see emails about their re-shared content again.
Setting up Yahoo! Mail for filtering is a couple more steps than it is for Gmail, but it’s still not a difficult process to get through.
Start out by going to the gear menu at the top right of your Inbox and selecting ‘Mail Settings’ from the drop down.
Once you’re in the Mail Options screen, select ‘Filters’ from the ‘Advanced Options’ section on the left.
Now comes the fun part. Hit the ‘Add’ button at the top left area of the options that show up.
You can use anything you want for the ‘Filter Name’ box, but I chose to call mine “Brenda’s Facebook Filter” so that I could identify it easily. For ‘Sender’, you’ll want to fill in ‘facebookmail.com’ next to ‘Contains’, and for ‘Subject’ use the name of your frequently sharing Facebook contact, followed by the word ‘Shared’. For mine, I’m using ‘Brenda Badger Shared’. Under the next section, set ‘Then deliver the email to the following folder’ to ‘Trash’ (unless you’d prefer to send shared messages to another folder), and you’re all set. Just hit the orange ‘Save’ button along the top, and you’ve finished the job. Repeat this for any of your other ‘Close Friends’ Facebook contacts that tend to share a lot, and you’ll be ready to live life without seeing any more re-shared content from them in your Inbox.
Microsoft’s new Outlook.com email is a little less refined when it comes to filters, but you can still use it to get the job done.
You’ll want to start by going to the gear icon at the top right hand corner of your screen and selecting ‘More mail settings’ from the drop down.
From there, you’ll be presented with a huge number of choices, but don’t worry. We only need to worry about one of them. Head to the ‘Rules for sorting new messages’ link under the ‘Customizing Outlook’ section. (It’s on the right hand side – in case you get lost.)
On the next screen, hit the ‘New’ button, and that will take us to where we want to be.
Here’s where we get to fill out the form with all the fun parts.
For the ‘Step 1’ section, choose ‘Subject’ for the first box and ‘contains’ for the second. Then, in the third box, type in the name of the Facebook contact you want to filter, followed by the word ‘Shared’. In my case, I’m going to use ‘Brenda Badger Shared’. In the ‘Step 2’ section, use the ‘Delete these messages’ option, and from there hit the ‘Save’ button at the bottom. Repeat this for anyone in your ‘Close Friends’ Facebook list that likes to re-share a lot of content, and you’ll be all set. Never again will you have to see massive amounts of shared content from Facebook in your Inbox. Your life is now safely yours to live, with just a touch more sanity to it.
Sadly, I can’t solve all the world’s problems with blog posts like this, but hopefully I managed to make it slightly easier for you to keep up with your close friends and family without being quite so overwhelmed.
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