Gmail Priority Inbox Puts Important Messages First

August 31, 2010

Just completed my first email sweep with Gmail's new "Priority Inbox" feature enabled, and it's a keeper. Over time, if this mechanism proves to be as good as Gmail's top-notch spam filtering, it could be the reason why you only check Gmail in the browser. (Well-played, GOOG.)

Priority Inbox adds an "important messages" section above your inbox. Initially, Priority Inbox decides what messages are important based on your email and chat patterns--a message from someone you often email with will get marked as important automatically. Like the spam filter, you can train it by manually marking messages as important and unimportant as well.

You can also add up to 3 other sections to your inbox. By default it's Priority Inbox, Starred items, and then "everything else." But you can define what's in each section using rules based on read/unread status, stars, and labels. For example, I keep all my unread stuff in the second section. Trusted Trio users could add a section of just items labeled "Followup." I don't love the idea of using my inbox as a to-do list, so I'm still experimenting with what works best for me.

Here's what the Priority Inbox settings look like in my Google Apps account.

As someone who empties my inbox regularly, I was dubious about my need for Priority Inbox. My email pattern is this: I respond and archive/delete messages as I can each day, and then once or twice a week, before the list of conversations exceeds 50 items and goes to the next page in Gmail, do a clean sweep. With a well-trained Priority Inbox, aspirational inbox zero folks have the option to redefine an empty inbox as an empty priority inbox, and just let the rest flow down into the regular inbox. After only a day, already I can feel my eye focusing on the Priority Inbox over anything else on the page, and I'm responding to messages there much more quickly than if they'd fallen down the list with the rest of the bacon and mailing list messages.

The only worry I have about Priority Inbox is the additional complexity it adds to Gmail. As I said this past week on TWiG, Gmail is just getting stuffed with new and more advanced features: phone calling, Buzz, Tasks, and now this, not to mention the (awesome, but huge) buffet of optional features in Labs.

I believe most vanilla Gmail accounts are in the process of getting Priority Inbox now. If you're a Google Apps user, opt your domain into pre-release features to get it sooner rather than later. (Simply opting in won't make Priority Inbox just show up today; just sooner than it would have if you weren't opted in.)

Email overload? Try Priority Inbox [The Official Gmail Blog]


Another “Where is Music Coming From…” BUG with this new feature from google.

More info here:

Luckily it only happens in chrome.

Great post Gina, can’t wait to here more about on TWIG tomorrow!

digideth [+6]
Aug 31 10 at 11:42 am

Funny thing is, I already had this feature… It’s called multiple Inboxes and smart filtering. Nice of them to try to make it even more automatic than I’ve made it myself though.

Jose Crosa
Aug 31 10 at 12:06 pm

Gmail is definitely getting more complicated, trying to incorporate more productivity tools as well as social add ons. Now that Wave is in a coma, lots of its features will probably be transfused into Gmail, making it even more complex and “professional.”

there’s a not at all hidden easter bunny that comes with the new Priority Inbox.
At some point a looney tune started playing out of the blue in my speakers. I started closing tabs, apps, the last thing I suspected was Gmail. I feared a virus, right in my livingroom :)

Then, I realised it’s gmail: Why is Gmail automatically playing music?

Aug 31 10 at 12:19 pm

I decided to subvert Google’s new toy for my own purposes. I’m not using the Important label at all; I even turned off the indicator. Instead, I’m using the new collapsible sections as a more elegant implementation of Multiple Inboxes for my GTD scheme. I’ve got them set up as:

- Unread
- Starred (needs a reply from me)
- Drafts (is getting a reply from me)
- Everything Else (waiting for reply from others)

I do wonder why it’s limited to four sections, and why they can’t be reordered, but that will probably come with time.

As to the worry, I couldn’t agree with you more, Gina. I have a sense that the Google suite is in the awkward, adolescent stage of its development. The new Gmail layout is someone’s vision of a Google where all of your apps are accessed by tabs from a common interface, and it has a strained relationship with the menu bar that’s already there on the top of the page. Meanwhile, other apps are shyly poking their noses into Gmail, like Voice (through the chat pane) and Docs (through the Labs search feature).

Somewhere in Google’s future, there’s a unified inbox page where new email, documents, calls, texts, voicemails, Buzz posts and RSS items are sent and received. But we’ll have to endure a lot of weird transitional mutations before we get there.

Kaelri [+1]
Aug 31 10 at 12:33 pm

Waiting for it to appear in my inbox (UK), can’t wait! Looking forward to the next TWiG.

savocado [+8]
Aug 31 10 at 1:32 pm

I don’t think I have a problem with Gmail adding lots of features as long as I can easily turn off the ones I don’t like. It would be kind of neat if each “feature” (voice, me?, buzz) could “plug in” to gmail but also have their own dedicated web apps/page.
Aug 31 10 at 1:32 pm

I like the new Inbox option but I agree that Gmail should not become a dumping ground or dashboard unless you have simple ways to turn things on or off.

Daryl Hunt [+6]
Sep 2 10 at 2:56 am

I’d love see Priority Inbox merged with the Multiple Inboxes lab. And soon. Their feature sets overlap pretty awkwardly.

As of writing, Priority doesn’t allow custom filters. Meanwhile Multiple has fewer resizing options, repeats the message options strip for each box (why?), and lacks Priority’s redundancy filter for the bottom inbox.

Jason Treit
Sep 7 10 at 11:07 am

Comments are closed. Thanks for reading!