Last week, the New York Times reported that Bit.ly lead scientist Hilary Mason had created a customized email classification system for Gmail that prioritizes her email by which she should read first. She said that she hoped to release the code for it this fall, so others could take advantage.
Now, Google has released its own new Gmail feature called Priority Inbox, also with the goal of prioritizing your email. This is in beta.
"Gmail has always been pretty good at filtering junk mail into the 'spam' folder," says Google software engineer Doug Aberdeen. "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."
With Priority Inbox, the inbox is split into three sections: "Important and unread," "Starred" and "Everything".
"As messages come in, Gmail automatically flags some of them as important," explains Aberdeen. "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.)"
This all sounds very similar to Mason's own system. Actually, MG Siegler notes that a reference to "Magic Inbox" in Gmail's code was discovered back in May 2009, which seemed to hint at such a feature.
Google says Priority Inbox will roll out to all Gmail users over the next week or so. You'll see a message about it in the top-right corner of Gmail when you have it.