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Do you enjoy email? Do you want to spend more time managing your inbox? Do you look forward to sorting through lots of messages each and every day of your life?

If you answered yes to these questions, then you'll love bacon.


That's right, bacon. You're probably already bringing home plenty of bacon, and the future holds more. Don't worry about a thing, just keep on doing what you do and you'll collect more bacon every day.

If, on the other hand, you find your email inbox cluttered and sort of overwhelming, then you may be interested in learning more about bacon. You may benefit from understanding what it is, why it's so insidious, and what you can do to reduce it.

What is bacon?

Bacon is email you kinda sorta want. At least you thought you wanted it once upon a time, and maybe you still do. Perhaps you signed up for an electronic newsletter from your favorite musical act, or political cause, or health and wellness blog, or the latest social media site. Electronic alerts and notifications of all sorts can be classified as bacon.

It's not spam, not quite. After all, you asked for it.

It's bacon. It's been a round for quite some time, but the term "bacon" originated a few years ago, at Podcamp Pittsburgh in 2007. NPR covered the story then, including speculation that "it won't sizzle for long." Au contraire, mon frere! Check out this Mashable article from March, 2011, and be sure to pay special attention to the accompanying infographic.

The trend has only gotten stronger since then. There's more bacon flying around than ever before. More and more people are putting content out there on the net. More and more people are discovering email messages are a cheap way to reach an audience. The number of electronic newsletters and semi-automated messages is ballooning. The competition for your attention is increasing.

Insidious bacon

Spam filters have become pretty effective. You may not even be aware of how much spam they catch. Personally, I couldn't operate without spam filters.

Bacon is insidious because, unlike spam, you may actually feel a desire, a compulsion, even an obligation to read these messages.

Nevertheless, the amount of bacon you're getting can gradually increase until it's just as overwhelming as unfiltered spam.

At some point, you may need to ask yourself if all this bacon is becoming a problem. Is it distracting you from other tasks? How much time in each day is getting tangled up in bacon?


I recently took stock of my personal and professional email situation. I discovered I was getting about twenty bacon messages per day. I decided to take action.

With any given source — let's call it a baconstream — there are two options available. You can create filters so that you keep receiving the bacon but file it away for future reference. That way you don't see it right now, and it doesn't distract you. You'll read it later, on your own terms, when you get around to it.

Yeah, right.

The other option is what we might call the nuclear option: unsubscribing.

Many people do not unsubscribe because they think it will take too much time or too much effort.

I took some time on a recent Friday afternoon to try it myself. I let the bacon pile up for a day, then I went on an unsub spree. I simply looked for an unsubscribe link at the bottom of each message.

It took me 21 minutes to unsubscribe from 18 baconstreams. That averages just over one minute per unsubscription effort. So yes, it does take a little time. But now that a couple weeks have passed, I can report that it was time well spent. My inbox is less clogged than before.

New tools

Email programs are offering new tools to help you manage your bacon. For example, this summer Gmail has been rolling out a new tabbed inbox which automatically classifies your mail into categories such as Promotions, Social and Updates.

Gmail Inbox Tabs

These tools are pretty handy. Though users have pushed back, and marketers are panicking, some experts believe it's a helpful innovation. By separating messages into defined categories, cognitive overload may be reduced.

In the final analysis, though, it's up to each individual user to decide just how much bacon they want in their lives, to decide what's truly useful and what's a distraction. My recommendation: Develop your own personal policy and enforce it through judicious unsubscription.

It's working for me.

Note: Some services allow more sophisticated tools for managing your bacon; you might be able to tweak some settings and turn a daily notification into a weekly, for instance. But in most cases, it's all or nothing.

Photo credit: Bacon! /