Gmail's Priority Inbox: Auto-filtering system brings important messages to the top

Gmail's Priority Inbox: Auto-filtering system brings important messages to the top

Summary: Google today is launching a Gmail enhancement called Priority Inbox, an auto-filtering system that puts important messages into a window of their own.

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For a while now, I've been on the Google Apps bandwagon, not necessarily because I'm a big fan of Gmail and Google Docs, but more because I like the way the folks at Google think out of the box when it comes to re-thinking online communications.

E-mail is broken and has been for some time. Not to say that others aren't working on new forms of e-mail but Google seems to be taking some of the boldest steps to enhance the inbox experience - and rock the boat among Internet users who resist change.

Today, Google is rolling out another enhancement to Gmail, one that could actually end up being a real productivity enhancer. It's called Priority Inbox and the idea behind it is to filter the emails that are most important to you out of the general inbox and place them into a separate window for quick attention.

In the beginning, users can "star" a message or even mark it as "more important" or "less important" with a single click and Google will start understanding which messages are important to you. But, over time, Gmail will also pick up on the user's habits, recognizing things such as every e-mail from your boss, your spouse and your kid's coach gets opened immediately or that some newsletters are opened daily while others stack up unopened in the inbox.

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Eventually, Gmail knows what's most important to you and puts it in front of you when you need to see it - immediately. On its enterprise blog, the company highlighted some productivity metrics to emphasize the productivity gains. It wrote:

When we tested Priority Inbox at Google, we found that people spent 6% less time on email after enabling this feature.  This translates to a week’s worth of time saved each year for information workers who typically spend 13 hours per week on email today!

The new feature, like all of Gmail's enhancements, is free and will automatically be added to Gmail inboxes.

Topics: Collaboration, Browser, Cloud, Google

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42 comments
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  • That's fine, but please add sorting capability

    ... and stop telling G-App customers that they don't need it. If they say they need it, then they need it.
    LBiege
    • They are not going to muck up gmail for people that are going to keep using

      Exchange anyway. Not much you can do for the brain dead. You would just keep asking for more of the features from last century's email clients, and in the end, it would be a huge mess if they kept adding.

      So, go back into your cave and fire up Outlook to sort your messages.
      DonnieBoy
      • A junior college student can sort

        ... but apparently it's monumentally difficult for Google and it's sorrow apologists to figure out. Fine. I guess customers are really asking too much from Google.

        Sorting is very useful when periodically re-organizing or reviewing a long list of mails. It's just too hard for you to realize with your head a mile deep in Google's behind.
        LBiege
      • As one that has never sorted email, I do not think you have a point at all.

        I search my email. I put labels on email to group them. But, I find no need to sort email. Sorting is like searching, where the last part of the search is manual. It makes no sense.

        Google wants a clean, new, uncluttered email interface. They will NOT try to duplicate the rats nest we call Exchange / Outlook. That would play right into Microsoft's hand.
        DonnieBoy
      • RE: Gmail's Priority Inbox: An auto-filtering system that brings important messages to the top

        @LBiege

        You're never going to see Gmail incorporate a sorting function. Why? Because they made a decision a long time ago that sorting isn't the best way to organize e-mails. Sorting is a way to keep things organized so you can find them later. But Google rejected that whole premise when they released Gmail. The whole idea was, "Don't sort. Search." If you fundamentally reject that idea, Gmail's probably not the e-mail for you.
        bhartman36
      • Searching is not a replacement for sorting.

        "Sorting is like searching, where the last part of the search is manual. It makes no sense."

        No, it's not. Searching means you already know which words you are looking for. Sorting means you don't know what words you are looking for, but you have some idea of when it might have been sent or who might have sent it.

        Even if you don't know enough about the sender to actually find the right search term (happens to me all the time), you can do a sort by name and browse until you find it.

        Sorting also means you're looking through all of your emails, in case search MISSES some message that has something you want. Searching is imperfect and returns imperfect results.

        Yeah, that's BS. searching is not a subset of sorting.

        Playing "guess the right word to find the email I want" just does not work in all situations. Sorry, it just doesn't.

        Sorting is also perfect for re-organizing, as it allows you to create natural groupings without a lot of effort. Searching does not do that.

        Sorry, but the reasoning for search is simply for the birds. It won't expose all emails, it fails when you don't know the search terms, and it's a complete disaster when you want to re-organize your tags.

        I'm not saying it's a complete fail - but it certainly does not replace sorting, not by a long shot.

        "If you fundamentally reject that idea, Gmail's probably not the e-mail for you."

        If you can find another online service that offers IMAP for free, I'm all ears.
        CobraA1
      • RE: Gmail's Priority Inbox: An auto-filtering system that brings important messages to the top

        @bhartman36

        Wrong. It has nothing to do with Google seemingly made a visionary call or anything. Supporting sorting would cause an overhead to their system that would slow their searching down so they sacrificed sorting for searching. That's all there is to it. All this "you don't need sorting" talking is just weasel words. Funny how you apologists hang onto that sorrow excuse.
        LBiege
      • RE: Gmail's Priority Inbox: An auto-filtering system that brings important messages to the top

        @LBiege

        Whether you consider the call they made "visionary" or not, it's the decision they made. From early on, their motto in regards to Gmail has been "Don't sort. Search." They decided to play to their strength, in that regard.

        @Cobra1:

        Can you give me an example of where you wouldn't be able to find an e-mail by search, but you [i]would[/i] be able to find it by sorting your e-mail? In order to find an e-mail at all, you'd have to know [i]something[/i] about its content or its attributes (e.g., a date). I'm having trouble picturing an e-mail you could find by sorting, but [i]couldn't[/i] find by searching. The key difference is that sorting leaves all your e-mails on the table, whereas searching returns only e-mails that fit the criteria you search for. Searching, therefore, returns a smaller subset of e-mails that you're interested in. I can't picture a situation in which this wouldn't be more efficient than sorting.

        As far as another provider who allows free IMAP, I have no idea.

        Clearly, searching through e-mails isn't going to be for everyone. I'm not saying it's the be-all and end-all, necessarily. All I'm saying is that if you're a sorting type of person, rather than someone who wants to search, Gmail's never really going to make you happy.
        bhartman36
      • ROTFL!

        @DonnieBoy, the boy who never needed/used anything that Google didn't make!

        You'll come up with excuses everytime to defend Google's lack of insight or inability to make something work.

        You can stop with your silly "If Google doesn't have it then people don't need it" mantra. ;)
        John Zern
      • RE: Gmail's Priority Inbox: An auto-filtering system that brings important messages to the top

        @CobraA1
        You can search by person who sent it. It's pretty magical.
        hoaxoner
      • re:

        "Supporting sorting would cause an overhead to their system that . . ."

        Nearly all of the functionality of the client is not on Google's servers - it's in the JavaScript code your browser downloads. This is why they can add offline support so easily. It would add no overhead, since it's essentially running on your system anyways.

        "Can you give me an example of where you wouldn't be able to find an e-mail by search, but you would be able to find it by sorting your e-mail?"

        Sure, not a problem: My college sends me an important email. Problem is, they send me lots of junk and non-important emails as well. I wouldn't know what to search for, but if I had it all sorted out, I could easily ignore all of the other mailing lists they throw me on and it would appear in my inbox.

        "The key difference is that sorting leaves all your e-mails on the table"

        Which I sometimes want.

        Sometimes I catch things I wouldn't have otherwise caught when I do it that way.

        "I can't picture a situation in which this wouldn't be more efficient than sorting."

        Wow, you are so out of imagination these days.

        Let's say I'm sorting a lot of emails simultaneously, rather than just searching for a specific email - for example, I'm redoing my labels based on different criterion.
        CobraA1
  • Pretty impressive the time savings, but, I would like to see that verified

    by a third party. Looks like Google will slowly make the existing email paradigm work about as well as possible.
    DonnieBoy
  • Hey Sam, you know what this sounds like....

    SORT!!! Grouping your emails by "WHO IT'S FROM!!" I thought sort was "old and ineffecient. SEARCH is the way to GET IT!" I guess when google adds an old feature it becomes new.
    Scubajrr
    • Yes! Very good point. Google IS sorting where it makes sense!! Sorting by

      priority DOES make sense. Actually, any sorting that brings the things of most interest to the top makes sense. Sorting where you then have to look through the list to find what you want does not.<br><br>So, any sorting that tries to bring the most relevant to the top - that is good.
      DonnieBoy
      • Searching does not always succeed.

        @DonnieBoy

        "Sorting where you then have to look through the list to find what you want does not."

        Bull. It makes sense when you don't know exactly what to search for, and have only a vague idea of what you're looking for.

        It also makes sense when you are dealing with actions that involve large volumes of emails. Instead of repeating a bunch of searches, do a sort and deal with groups of emails from a single screen.
        CobraA1
    • Another thing, you inbox IS sorted by date. That makes a lot of sense,

      since that is one way to bring the most relevant things to the top. They also sort search results by date, which also makes sense since the most recent hits are typically the most relevant.

      So, Google DOES sort, but only automatically where they think it makes sense.
      DonnieBoy
      • RE: Gmail's Priority Inbox: An auto-filtering system that brings important messages to the top

        @DonnieBoy

        I'm not sure organizing by date counts as a "sort". If I take a deck of cards, and stack the cards on a table one on top of the other, as I pull them out of the deck, in what sense is that a "sort"? I haven't really changed anything. If all you're doing is adding e-mails to the list as they come in, that's not sorting.

        Obviously, putting high priority e-mails on top [i]is[/i] a sort. It'll be interesting to see how well Gmail accomplishes this automatically. If it doesn't do well without user tweaking, then it's not much different from using filters and labels.
        bhartman36
      • bhartman36: I basically agree with you, but, sorting by date IS sorting.

        Maybe the oldest way to get most relevant the top, as more recent typically = more relevant. And, if Google can make the self tweeking of priority painless and fast, this could take off. Google IS innovating on email, at the same time trying to leave behind the legacy crap from last century.
        DonnieBoy
      • So why not generalize it?

        @DonnieBoy

        So - why not generalize that, and make sorting more generalized? Why does GOOGLE have to tell people what's important, rather than letting people decide for themselves?

        It makes sense, frankly, in many situations. Not just when Google says so.
        CobraA1
      • RE: Gmail's Priority Inbox: An auto-filtering system that brings important messages to the top

        @DonnieBoy You made my point for me Donnie. You say "So, Google DOES sort, but only automatically where they think it makes sense." Did you catch it there? Let me bring it to the front, "where THEY think it makes sense." I think it makes sense for you to group emails first by who they are from then by date. That way I have all the emails from my boss in one group, then I can look at all the ones from co-workers. I wish I could sort by originating domain. It would be nice to weed out all those from .ru.
        Scubajrr