Clutter in Office 365 (Part 2)

by [Published on 12 Jan. 2016 / Last Updated on 12 Jan. 2016]

Administration tasks for the Clutter feature in Office 365.

If you would like to be notified of when Rui Silva releases the next part in this article series please sign up to our MSExchange.org Real Time Article Update newsletter.

If you would like to read the first part in this article series please go to Clutter in Office 365 (Part 1).

PowerShell cmdlets

Additional controls are being added to help administrators manage Clutter. Currently there are two PowerShell cmdlets to report on and turn off Clutter for users.

This example turns off Clutter for users who have not already turned it on themselves:

Get-Mailbox | ?{-not (Get-Clutter -Identity $_.Alias).IsEnabled} | %{Set-Clutter -Identity $_.Alias -Enable $false}

This example provides administrators an easy way to see the use of Clutter for their users:

$hash=$null;$hash=@{};$mailboxes=get-mailbox;foreach($mailbox in $mailboxes) {$hash.add($mailbox.alias,(get-clutter -identity $mailbox.alias.tostring()).isenabled)};$hash | ft

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Figure
19:Retrieving the status of Clutter using PowerShell

You can leverage these cmdlets to meet your enablement and reporting needs. This example script in the TechNet Script Center allows you to obtain the Clutter status for a given list of users.

Bypassing Clutter

If you have critical email that should not be filtered, Administrators can now enable specific senders or messages to bypass the Clutter filters using a defined text pattern so that the message remains in the inbox. The process uses transport rules and is similar to how spam filtering can be bypassed today.

  1. In the Exchange admin center, navigate to mail flow > Rules. Click Add Icon and then choose Create a new rule....
  2. In the new rule dialog box (Figure 20), give the rule a Name, define a condition and then set the message header “X-MS-Exchange-Organization-BypassClutter” to true.

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Figure
20:new rule

  1. After you're done creating the new rule, click Save to start the rule.
  2. If you prefer to use PowerShell:

New-TransportRule -Name <name_of_the_rule> -SubjectContainsWords "Meeting" -SetHeaderName "X-MS-Exchange-Organization-BypassClutter" -SetHeaderValue "true"

Retention policies for Clutter folder

Since Clutter moves email messages out of the Inbox, you may be wondering how does that play with Retention policies. Well, the good news is that the Clutter folder supports retention policy in a manner consistent with other default folders. This allows you to manage the lifecycle of all messages landing in the Clutter folder. For more information, please read the TechNet article Default folders that support Retention Policy Tags.

Clutter Look-Alikes

Clutter is not really a new concept, over the time similar solutions have been tested in some of the more well-known consumer services.

  1. Outlook.com Sweep feature

Sweep is a feature that cleans up a mailbox in a retroactive fashion, it's different from Clutter that operates on the Inbox as messages arrive. Use Sweep to delete or archive email messages from your inbox or other folders. You can choose to delete or archive all email messages, or all but the most recent, from one or more senders. You can also choose to block, delete, or archive future email messages from those senders.

  1. Outlook.com Categories (Quick Views)

This is a feature introduced in 2010 which allows you to filter your messages, organizing them by categories. For example, click Social updates to see messages that come from social networking sites like Facebook, or click Newsletters to find and clean newsletters out of your inbox.

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Figure
21:Outlook.com Quick Views

  1. Outlook.com Clutter

This is not a look-alike, it’s the real thing. Microsoft already announced that Clutter will be brought to the Outlook.com service. This will happen as the company migrates Outlook.com in order to deliver a consistent user experience between the consumer service and the Enterprise offer.

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Figure
22:Outlook.com Clutter (still unavailable)

  1. Gmail Priority Inbox

The concept behind Priority Inbox is pretty much the same as Clutter. Priority Inbox attempts to automatically identify your important incoming messages and separates them out from everything else. By default, Priority Inbox splits your inbox into three sections: “Important and unread,” “Starred,” and “Everything else.”

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Figure
23:Gmail Priority Inbox

  1. Gmail Categories

Gmail Categories are similar to Outlook.com Categories. This feature organizes email messages in 5 different categories: Primary, Social, Promotions, Updates and Forums, displaying the messages in separate tabs.

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Figure
24:Gmail Categories

Frequently asked questions

Q. Will Clutter be turned on by default for my tenant?

A. Yes. Clutter will be deployed across all of Office 365 soon and should be available to any tenant who has plan E3 or higher, including Business Premium. Clutter is not a feature that you will see in the consumer versions of Office 365.

Q. Will new mailboxes created after Clutter is auto-enabled have Clutter on by default?

A. Yes, new mailboxes will have Clutter on by default. Administrators can turn Clutter off using the PowerShell cmdlet after the mailbox is created.

Q. What happens to existing mailboxes after Clutter is on by default?

A. Users who have already turned Clutter on will continue to have Clutter on and will receive the new notifications. Users who have not turned Clutter on will have it turned on automatically. Users who have initially turned on Clutter and later turned it off will continue to have Clutter turned off. And finally, users whose admins have turned Clutter off on their behalf will continue to have Clutter turned off.

Q. Can a user turn off the use of Clutter?

A. Yes. Users remain in control and can elect to disable the Clutter feature when they choose, through the options page in Outlook on the web, Outlook 2016, or the link at the bottom of each notification.

Q. Can I stop Clutter processing a message?

A. At a personal level, mail processing rules have higher priority than Clutter. At a central level, Administrator can create transport rules to bypass Clutter.

Q. What about retention policies and compliance?

A. Clutter folder supports retention policy in a manner consistent with other default folders. For more information, please read the TechNet article Default folders that support Retention Policy Tags.

Q. How frequently will users receive notifications from Clutter?

A. Users will receive one summary notification per week and up to one message per day when new message types are moved to Clutter, i.e. the first time a message from given distribution list is moved.

Q. Why are the notifications delivered to my inbox?

A. The notifications are delivered to your inbox to ensure you can stay informed across the range clients you might use, including Outlook desktop and mobile email clients.

Q. Can a user or administrator opt-out of the Clutter notification messages?

A. These notifications are an important part of the Clutter feature, because they keep users informed about which messages are being moved to Clutter. No option to deactivate them exists at this time.

Q. Can the Clutter notification messages be customized?

A. Yes, for details please read Change the branding of Clutter notifications.

Q. Does Clutter work for shared mailboxes?

A. Clutter does not process shared mailboxes.

Q. If a user has several mailboxes connect in Outlook, does Clutter process all mailboxes in the same way?

A. Clutter will only process the signals it gets from the user’s personal (primary) mailbox.

Q. I turned Clutter on but nothing happened?

A. Clutter is still learning so that it can provide strong predictions and will only begin taking actions once it has a learned your work style. You can expedite Clutter’s learning by moving messages into the Clutter folder to help train it. The more you move, the faster it will learn.

Q. How to train Clutter that items are or aren’t Clutter?

A. The easiest way to train Clutter is by simply completing your work. You can explicitly train Clutter by moving items to or from the Clutter folder. In OWA, Clutter-specific actions are available as a right-click commands to mark items as Clutter or not Clutter.

Q. Are clutter items automatically deleted after a specified time period?

A. The Clutter folder does not apply a specific clean-up action. The default policy for a new folder is applied to the Clutter folder at time of creation, and can later be changed. Users in OWA are provided Clutter specific quick clean-up tools to expedite the deletion of the Clutter messages.

Q. Does Clutter work in Outlook desktop clients?

A. Yes. Once turned on by the user, the Clutter folder is available in Outlook and is automatically added in your folder Favorites. In Outlook, users interact with Clutter by moving items to/from the Clutter folder, which trains Clutter for your inbox. You must use the OWA options menu to turn Clutter on or off.

Q. How does Clutter filter the messages?

A. Clutter and junk email are both filtered out before they reach your Inbox. Junk email is evaluated and filtered first, then Outlook processes the rules (if you have set up any). Next, Clutter analyzes the remaining messages and filters out the types of messages that you usually ignore or don't respond to, based on your past behavior.

Messages from certain people will never be identified as clutter:

  • You
  • Anyone in your management chain
  • Your direct reports

Clutter looks at various aspects of messages to understand what you don’t typically read, for example:

  • The sender
  • Whether you’ve participated in the conversation
  • If you’re the only recipient
  • The importance

As your reading habits change, Clutter learns and adapts.

Q. Will everyone benefit from using Clutter?

A. Clutter is best suited and most effective for those of us who deal with high volume of email (more than 50 messages per day) and tend to pile up messages in our inboxes.

Q. Does Clutter work for all kind of users? 

A. If you receive a small amount of email or you keep your inbox clean by deleting or archiving immediately the messages received, Clutter won't have sufficient information to make good decisions.

Q. Do rules interfere with Clutter?

A. Clutter respects your existing email rules (rules have priority over Clutter), so if you have created rules to organize your email those rules continue to be applied and Clutter won’t act on those messages.

Q. What’s the difference between Clutter and Junk E-mail filtering?

A. Clutter and junk email are both filtered out before they reach your Inbox. Junk email is evaluated and filtered first, based on the massive collection of known spam that Microsoft has built over time. Messages classified as Junk can, most probably, be deleted since they don’t have any value to the end user.

Clutter filtering is a machine based process, based on personal behaviors and some message aspects. Messages classified as Clutter can have some value to the end user, and are worth a brief review before being deleted.

Q. Will Clutter be available in Exchange Server on-premises?

A. Clutter is not included in Exchange Server 2016. According to Exchange Marketing manager Brian Shiers "Clutter requires rapid feedback to fine-tune the machine learning which isn’t possible in an on-premises deployment and also requires additional server processing resources that would impact the sizing for the on-premises server."

Q. Does Clutter work in a hybrid environment?

A. Yes, but the learning and actions only occur for the cloud mailboxes.

Conclusion

I am a huge fan of science fiction movies (duh!), and although I don’t believe we’ll have an apocalyptical scenario like the ones in Terminator or Matrix, I must confess I’m not that comfortable about machines becoming “intelligent”. Hey, even Nobel prize Stephen Hawking has some fears about this subject: Stephen Hawking says artificial intelligence will become self-aware and ‘could spell the end of the human race’.

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Figure
25:“A Business Report – Big Data Gets Personal,” MIT Technology Review, May 2013

It’s really impressive to witness the benefits of machine-based learning applied to features like Clutter and Delve in Office 365. Several studies show that only a very small percentage of email is important so, regarding the theories of machines becoming self-aware and turning against humans, I think that, for now, they will be very busy processing the 154 billion e-mails sent per day (Figure 25).

If you would like to be notified of when Rui Silva releases the next part in this article series please sign up to our MSExchange.org Real Time Article Update newsletter.

If you would like to read the first part in this article series please go to Clutter in Office 365 (Part 1).

The Author — Rui Silva

Rui Silva avatar

Rui Silva specializes in Unified Communications and Enterprise Cloud solutions, using Microsoft technologies, with a proven track record of 15+ years experience working with some of the biggest companies in Portugal and Western Europe. Rui can often be found in the cloud or on-premises contributing to the Technical Community through blogging, writing articles or with a presence in the social networks.

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