Google Priority Inbox Soothes Email-Overload Stress

We all get too much email. It's not just spam, either—that stuff rarely makes it past the front gates of email security, so lots of people hardly ever see it anymore. But many of us get dozens of emails per day, some of which can be ignored, some of which may need responding at some point later, and some of which should be answered as soon as possible. But it's all clumped together without care or meaning!

Google's new Priority Inbox for Gmail offers a solution. It uses some of the same algorithms used for Gmail's excellent spam filtering, but for the opposite purpose: to triage, to see just how important each email is. The Priority Inbox will be an item in the left-hand column, right above Inbox, and will be divided into three sections: Important and Unread, Starred, and Everything Else.

Important and Unread emails will include correspondence with people you always respond to right away, as well as emails that include keywords that usually grab your attention. Email sent specifically to you, and not to others as well, will receive preferential placement.

It's a thoughtful system, an easy way to quickly see what needs immediate responding and what can wait—provided the algorithms are effective. If users don't trust the prioritization system, the whole feature is useless, so hopefully Google has figured out a way to judge the importance of emails well. It's not a new idea—the redesigned Hotmail has a similar feature—but a welcome one, for sure.

Google Priority Email will begin rolling out today (Tuesday) in beta, after alerting users to the option. There's no timetable for a rollout to mobile, but there will be one sometime in the future. Maybe it's not the end of email after all, right?

Dan Nosowitz, the author of this post, can be followed on Twitter, corresponded with via email, and stalked in Brooklyn (no link for that one—you'll have to do the legwork yourself).

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  • ben

    Priority is so critical in this era of information overload! also does a nice job of prioritizing your tasks. Which also happens to have the effect of reducing email by making your digital life more streamlined. . .

  • Neerja Bhatia

    In my experience with Messagemind's Dynamic Prioritization a Microsoft Outlook add-in tool, the algorithms' accuracy is amazing. Not only does the technology address the prioritization, it also provides a workflow management component.

  • Francis Wade

    It won't work, other than to provide a bit of convenience, and it will probably increase the number of emails sent and received.
    Even if the algorithm is perfect, and the separation between high and low priority email is flawless, it doesn't save time because the low priority email must still be processed.

    Putting it off doesn't save time. Nothing in the tool (as it's described) saves time, and in fact it might make things worse because:
    1. the low priority items will become an increasing burden as the number of messages increases each day, and the user spends more time wondering exactly what they are putting off...
    2. responding quickly to urgent items might be smart, but it probably will lead to more responses back and forth, which end up taking more time.
    It might be a good tool, but without some new habits, it won't save time or reduce information overload, but do the very opposite. New technology + old habits = bigger problem.
    Did Google miss the point of Merlin Mann's presentation? Reminder -- software solutions don't fix time management problems.
    I expand on this theme -- Why Gmail Priority Inbox Won't Work -- - -- I can also think of some opportunities that they missed.

  • Lynne d Johnson

    This is great. I've already got otherinbox, that deals with all of my newsletter and eccommerce stuff, and then i've also added boomerang that lets me read or send email later. Add this to it, and maybe I won't spend so many hours purging email anymore. I'll really actually only get to the important stuff. great move Google.

  • rosejohn@emarketing

    Google always keep on adding new features to facilitate users and this is the reason why it is so popular among all.

  • Brian Smith

    You know what those Windows 7 commercials say... "That was my idea!" Only, I had to use filters and flags, and it wasn't as predictive as this sounds. I'm excited to try it out!