Today, Google will begin rolling out Priority Inbox for Gmail, a new feature for managing massive amounts of e-mail. Your inbox will never be the same again.
Priority Inbox is Google’s (Google) attempt to solve the e-mail woes of Gmail (Gmail) power users. At its core, the feature is an algorithm; Priority Inbox uses information such as keywords, the people you e-mail the most and your e-mail habits to select the most pressing e-mails in your inbox. Those e-mails are brought to the top of your Gmail and marked as important so you deal with them first.
Priority Inbox is also an adaptive algorithm. Marking items as important or unimportant teaches the system what types of messages you deem the most urgent. You can also use Gmail’s filters to automatically mark certain messages as important (for example, from your boss or your spouse),
The new feature appears as a new menu item just above the “Inbox” link. Instead of indicating how many unread e-mails you have in your inbox, Priority Inbox only displays how many priority e-mails still require your attention. These appear at the top of Gmail as “Important and unread.”
The second layer of the new layout is your starred e-mails. These messages appear in their own section under the Priority Inbox. The goal is to get users to star important e-mails they have read but for whatever reason still need in their inboxes. Under the “Starred” section is “Everything else,” which contains the rest of your unarchived inbox.
The Impact of the Priority Inbox: During the many months of testing the feature internally, the search giant found that users spent 16% less time reading insignificant e-mail. If you do the math, that’s about a full week’s worth of time saved. According to Google, once someone switches to Priority Inbox, he or she never needs or wants to go back.
We can see why. We’ve had the chance to test out Priority Inbox for the last few days and discuss the new feature with Gmail Product Director Keith Coleman, and we’re impressed. Our inboxes get filled with hundreds of e-mails daily, but only a few of them require our immediate attention. Even with dozens of Gmail filters, important messages often get lost in the pile, leading to lost opportunities or missed meetings.
Priority Inbox, while not perfect, is a dramatic step toward solving that problem. Important messages bubble to the top, while e-mails that still require attention can sit in the Starred section until they’re addressed. It basically takes the Gmail Multiple Inboxes feature and adds a smart algorithm for cherry picking the threads that require your attention.
Coleman says that the company has been working on the feature for 18 months, but the original version of Gmail had something similar to this before it launched, but was removed because it simply wasn’t ready for mass consumption. Now it is refined enough for use by all.