Nine questions about Google's new Inbox by Gmail

No answers. Just questions.
Written by David Gewirtz, Senior Contributing Editor

Last week, Google announced its new restricted-beta Inbox service. Our Editor-in-Chief Larry Dignan took it for a spin. While I have only just gotten my invite and haven't yet played with the service or app, I have been thinking about the service and wondering how it will impact traditional Gmail. Below are seven questions I'd like to see answered.

1. Is the expectation that you're going to switch from Gmail to Inbox?

Obviously, Gmail stayed in "beta" for years and years, so it's unlikely that Inbox will pop out of beta overnight. Equally obviously, Google is comfortable getting what to any other company would be tremendous buy-in on a service, and then killing it if it doesn't meet Google-scale expectations.

That said, is Google expecting that users will permanently migrate from Gmail to Inbox?

2. Is this an indicator that Gmail will eventually be deprecated?

Here's a related thought: Does Inbox indicate that the tried-and-true Gmail interface is in line for a potential deprecation? Should Gmail users expect that Gmail will go the way of Reader at some point and just suck it up once Inbox is available to everyone?

3. What happens to the contents of your Gmail archive after using Inbox for a while?

Let's say you get an invite to Inbox and use it for a while. What is the impact on your Gmail inbox? Does it dump new categories and labels? Does it still archive (i.e., no labels) items? Is there duplication of content? How messy will your traditional Gmail library be once Inbox has been in use for a while? And, related to that, is it expected that you'd jump back and forth between Gmail and Inbox, or once you've gone Inbox, you never go back?

4. What about Gmail add-ons? Are they no longer supported?

Clearly, certain developers of Gmail add-ons will feel some pain. Inbox adds a snooze/reminder capability that's reminiscent of Boomerang. And built-in location-based reminders eliminates one of the selling points for Todoist.

But more to the point, Gmail has been quite tolerant of add-ons. Will Inbox? Is there an expectation that innovative developers will modify Inbox the way they have done so for Gmail, or is the expectation that it's Google's way or the highway?

5. What about ads on Inbox? How are they parsed and presented?

The screenshots don't show ads. Will they be unobtrusively off to the side or will they be embedded in the Google Now-like activity stream? If they're embedded in the stream, won't that defeat the purpose of a streamlined inbox that Inbox is meant to provide?

6, What does this do to "web bugs" and other email open tracking systems?

Google is using a "highlights" system where you see previews of email messages and — in some cases — don't need to actually open the message to derive value from it.

However, many vendors use "web bugs," little images that are retrieved when the email message is opened, as a way to indicate that the email has been read. By using the highlight system, Inbox could substantially reduce the number of measured opens. What impact will that have on commercial email senders? And is that bad?

7. Highlights for certain items are shown in a Google Now-like view. Will there be a formatting interface for mailers to optimize that summary presentation?

Basically, now that there is effectively a summary view with images, will Google provide any formatting "hints" so email producers can optimize their messages to work in the Inbox highlights dashboard view?

8. What about Google Apps users?

Inbox isn't yet available for Google Apps users (which may make them feel like paying, second-class citizens). Perhaps Google hasn't yet finalized how Inbox will work in enterprise environments, which leads me to this question: How will Inbox work in enterprise environments?

9. Where are all the Gmail settings, filters, and stuff?

I just spent about 20 minutes with Inbox for the Web and as a heavy Gmail user, I noticed there are no real settings for things like "send as," get mail from, filters, and all the other fine-tune settings Gmail offers. Will these be migrated to Inbox, or are you expected to use Gmail's interface to control all of this?

When we have answers, you'll have answers

We're in the very early days of Inbox. As we find out more, we'll let you know. In the meantime, these are some questions worth considering.

What do you think? If you get an invite, will you move to Inbox?

By the way, I'm doing more updates on Twitter and Facebook than ever before. Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz and on Facebook at Facebook.com/DavidGewirtz.

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