If, like us, your inbox is a hideous, sprawling, disorganised mess stuffed full of assorted emails of wildly varying importance, then hope may be at hand courtesy of Google’s new Priority inbox system.
Currently in beta, Google’s Priority Inbox is billed as ‘an experimental new way of taking on information overload’ in Gmail, and aims to clear the clutter by automatically filtering your email based on what it believes are important and less important emails.
Gmail has always been pretty good at filtering junk mail into the “spam” folder. But today, in addition to spam, people get a lot of mail that isn’t outright junk but isn’t very important—bologna, or “bacn.” So we’ve evolved Gmail’s filter to address this problem and extended it to not only classify outright spam, but also to help users separate this “bologna” from the important stuff. In a way, Priority Inbox is like your personal assistant, helping you focus on the messages that matter without requiring you to set up complex rules.
The system automatically takes a sniff at incoming mail and intelligently tries to work out which ones need your attention, and which ones can wait:
As messages come in, Gmail automatically flags some of them as important. Gmail uses a variety of signals to predict which messages are important, including the people you email most (if you email Bob a lot, a message from Bob is probably important) and which messages you open and reply to (these are likely more important than the ones you skip over).
And as you use Gmail, it will get better at categorizing messages for you. You can help it get better by clicking the or buttons at the top of the inbox to correctly mark a conversation as important or not important. (You can even set up filters to always mark certain things important or unimportant, or rearrange and customize the three inbox sections.)
In the labs
Google say that they’ve put this feature through a lot of internal testing, so now they’ve inviting you to have a go.
Priority Inbox is currently rolling out to all Gmail users (including Google Apps users) over the next week or so. If you fancy giving it a whirl, click on the “New! Priority Inbox” link that will appear in the top right corner of your Gmail account (or you can select it in your Gmail Settings).
It’s not showing for us yet, but worth clicking on the ‘labs’ icon in GMail as there’s loads of other goodies to try out, including canned responses, mouse gestures and loads of nifty gadgets.
Update: TechCrunch have had a go and they’re impressed!
Inbox Hero: Gmail Priority Inbox Has Doused My Raging Email Fire — For Now
That said, the filtering is still pretty killer when you first open your inbox each day. To me, the most impressive thing about it is how quickly it learns. On day one it was fairly hit or miss. But now, on day five using it, it’s scary accurate. And I suspect it will keep getting better. Part of that is me creating new filters for things to absolutely not tag as “important” — but most of it is simply hitting the “important” or “not important” buttons.
…Priority Inbox isn’t a rewriting of the rules, it’s simply an organizational tool that makes everything seem better. But believe me, I’ll take it.