Over the last several weeks, I’ve been battling a problem with Gmail filters. For reasons that were not readily apparent, some (but not all) of my filters suddenly stopped working. I started noticing the problem about two weeks after Google decide to shove the new “categories” down our throats by default.
In the process of rolling out the new category “feature,” Google broke the filtering mechanism in a very subtle way. And I’m betting that was deliberate — for the purpose of getting a bigger piece of the action. The part that was broken is something that most individuals would probably not find as important as most large organizations. I strongly suspect that getting that filtering problem fixed will require a paid Google Apps acount.
The filters that no longer work properly are the ones that specified “skip the inbox” and “mark as read,” which I use for certain newsgroups that I mainly want to archive for searching offline.
After battling the problem for several weeks, I decided I probably had some bug (maybe a “race condition,” or perhaps a circular dependence) in my filters, so I just deleted them. All 200 of them. Then I put just a few back to test them.
After a few hours of testing just those few filters for my most active newsgroups, I noticed a really strange occurrence. I got an email in my inbox which had been labeled appropriately for the contents of the email, but I did not have a filter which would have applied that label. Google had not removed all of the filters as I had requested. Google remembered a filter I had previously. That memory nicely explains why, no matter what I did to those filters, they simply would not work properly — and there is probably no way for me to fix that.
Since that point, I have added back several more of my filters — and the same ones that were broken before were still broken. It’s been 3 days, so it’s not just a propagation delay.
Those filters all work properly when I apply them manually, but don’t work on incoming mail.
I am now actively weaning myself off of dependence on any Google service, including Gmail. I have already downloaded the several gigabytes of archives, and I’m about to set up POP accounts on my hosting to use with Thunderbird, thereby bypassing Gmail completely. BTW, the filtering features in Thunderbird are somewhat trickier to set up, but they actually work. Now comes the much longer process of changing the signup email on all of the accounts I actually care about. It will be a while before I find all of them, since I’ve been using Gmail for over 10 years.
But I’ve learned my lesson. Do not depend on Google for anything important.