Mark all as read in Outlook – and why the long tail means that web search engines beat Office help

Cameron Reilly found my post on keyboard shortcuts in Outlook while trying to figure out a better way to do “Mark All As Read”:

Oh, and Jonathan, don't worry about getting this tidbit into Who needs it! Your blog came up as the #4 result when I googled <"mark all as read" shortcut>.

A year ago I’d tried entering “mark all as read” into Outlook’s online help, with no luck. What’s instructive is that I tried it again just now, and it’s still not giving me any useful results.

Now, Office online help has a great web-based system that takes into account dynamic user ratings to get better over time. The problem is that this only works if you already have a help topic written on a subject! With no topic to begin with, and no obvious way to suggest one, Office help is never going to come up with a good result for “mark all as read”.

This is where web search engines really come into their own. Sure, maybe “mark all as read” is an esoteric power feature that only 0.1% of Outlook users will ever want to automate. That puts it way out there in the long tail of potential topics about which it’s probably not worth writing official help articles. But someone, somewhere will blog about it, web crawlers will rank those articles, and suddenly people start trusting search engines instead of the official help system.

Also, only #4? Let’s see if this pushes it to the top of the list 🙂

Comments (5)

  1. Thanks again Jonathan! #4 is good enough to make you "above the fold".

  2. Bob says:

    I don’t know if you can advise me on the following but here goes.

    Junk mail is driving me crazy!

    I use Microsoft Outlook.

    I try setting up rules with the Rules wizard and it does not stop the junk mail that does not have my name and e-mail address, all it does is stop me from receiving some e-mail I want to receive.

    Example of junk: (a stock report on penny stocks with A FAKE UNSUBSCRIBER ADDRESS OR A FAKE TO: ADDRESS. They use different senders names so the only alternative I have is suspect junk mail and delete it)but to no avail it still gets through.

    I can’t figure out what I’m doing wrong in the setup

    My question I guess is, where can I find an easy to follow rules to set up my Microsoft Outlook to stop or automatically delete the junk mail.

    I have tried Thunderbird and it does stop the junk mail (but it doesn’t have the calender and the ability to forward e-mail without the previous e-mail receivers included) which I use daily.

    Why can’t Microsoft do the sorting like Thunderbird, or does it and I haven’t found it.

    Looking forward for your answer even if you can’t help.



  3. Bob – if you’re using Outlook 2003, use the built-in Junk Mail Filter. It gets regular (monthly?) updates from Microsoft Update to catch the latest spam patterns, and you can also add individual message patterns to it. See for details. If you’re using an older version of Outlook, I’m not sure what your options are – probably 3rd-party add-in software exists.

  4. Ed says:

    It would have been nice to know the setting for this.   I was taken to your site for this topic, adding it would have helped.

    BTW, I suspect a lot more than .1% of population don’t like the default setting for this.  Those who take the time to change it would be less I’m sure.

  5. I kinda sorta deliberately underestimated the 0.1%, so that the Office team wouldn’t get too pissed at me for pointing out the error of their ways… 🙂

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