Wednesday, June 25, 2008

A Small Tip on Catch All Address and Spam Blocking in Google Apps

I've recently signed up for Google Apps, based largely on an article on Lifehacker. One interesting point was the idea of using a catch-all email address to block spam, as described in a comment or with somewhat more detail in a different article. Both explanations omit a relatively minor point that can lead to some frustration.

To summarize the method, you just set up filters in a catch-all address to identify email that matches a simple pattern, and forward it to your own account. The result is that you can give out email address "aliases" for, e.g., web registration forms, without inviting spam to your real address. If you start getting spam to one of the aliases, you can block it directly with a filter.

I set this up, and sent a test message to try it out. The message showed up in the catch-all account, but didn't get forwarded to my own account. The filter I used to set up the forward was identifying the messages correctly, but didn't send it on for some reason.

After a fair amount of web searching, I found the answer. Email for Google Apps is Gmail. Gmail does some modestly smart things to present a convenient interface; perhaps the best known is the way Gmail groups messages into "conversations." Something else it does is to hide messages that you've forwarded to yourself. This seems quite sensible in the context of conversations.

It's probably clear what was happening, at this point. I sent some test messages from my own account, which was then forwarded back to me from the catch-all account. Gmail sees a messages forwarded to myself, and doesn't show it. I'm left scratching my head in puzzlement.

After finding out about the hiding of self-forwards, I try sending a test message from a different account. It forwards without any trouble. Thus, for testing, you should always use a different account to send email than the account you want to receive it in.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Plaxo Synchronization Oddity

I've used Plaxo for a while to synchronize my address book across a couple of Macs and a web mail account or two. This was the original intent for Plaxo, and it has served me reasonably well as a replacement for the .Mac synchronization (which didn't serve me well, and was overpriced to boot). Today, I discovered a rather strange bit of behavior in the syncronization.

Since I started using it, Plaxo has added a feature they call Pulse. Pulse seems like an interesting variant on the social networking websites, focusing on allowing you to connect up feeds from the sites you actually use and centralize the social networking aspects (e.g., from Blogger, Flickr, and I set up Pulse today.

Without Pulse, I never had much reason to take a look at the online version of my address book. With Pulse, I could see my own address plainly while setting up my profile. It was wrong.

That was quite strange. The addresses at Plaxo came from synchronizing with the Address Book data on my Mac. Those were right! However, there was a chunk of my previous address showing up on Plaxo, mixed in with my current address.

Here's what happened. I now live in Vienna. The address format for my Address Book card is thus set to Austrian. Before coming to Vienna, I lived in Portugal. The Portuguese format has a field for territorial subdivision, while the Austrian one doesn't use that. The extra stuff showing up in my current address is just the old territorial subdivision. Switching the display format for my Address Book card back to Portuguese shows the territorial subdivision field again. The old data is still there, just hidden with the Austrian formatting. It seems that Plaxo doesn't handle this situation correctly, treating all the data as still relevant (to be fair, I don't know if it is even possible for Plaxo to handle it right).

Admittedly, the described case is a bit unusual. Regardless, it may affect others. The solution, fortunately, is simple: switch the Address Book card format back to the earlier country setting, delete the hidden, outdated fields, switch back to the correct country setting, and sync with Plaxo.

Update: Or maybe Pulse doesn't let you connect a feed from Blogger. Mine doesn't seem to be working, anyway.