Can Google Revolutionize Email Again?

Chris CrumTechnology

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Ten years ago, Google revolutionized email with Gmail. It set the standard for webmail with a high capacity of free storage, its search-oriented interface, and conversational message view. It even pioneered the use of Ajax. Gmail was a huge deal when it came out, and is still incredibly popular. For Google, it was a homerun.

Now, Google has announced a new email service called Inbox. While it's "by Gmail," Google makes a point to note that it's "not Gmail," but is a "completely different type of inbox."

Can Google revolutionize email yet again? Let us know what you think in the comments.

The problem Google is trying to solve with Inbox is that people simply get too much email to the point where it's overwhelming. We're not just talking about spam here. We're talking about everything. We live in an age where roughly every action we take online beyond looking at a webpage, as well as actions others take that involve us (via social media) results in another email in our inboxes. Combined with notifications on our smartphones, email is more in our face and dominating our lives more than ever. Sure, there are settings you can adjust with various services, but even dealing with those can be a hassle.

Inbox's goal is to simplify all of this, and make things easier on users while also combining the information users need or want to see from their email with helpful additions.

For one, Inbox bundles similar messages and gives you "highlights" at a glance.

"Inbox expands upon the categories we introduced in Gmail last year, making it easy to deal with similar types of mail all at once," explains Sundar Pichai, SVP of Android, Chrome & Apps at Google. "For example, all your purchase receipts or bank statements are neatly grouped together so that you can quickly review and then swipe them out of the way. You can even teach Inbox to adapt to the way you work by choosing which emails you’d like to see grouped together."

"Inbox highlights the key information from important messages, such as flight itineraries, event information, and photos and documents emailed to you by friends and family," he adds. "Inbox will even display useful information from the web that wasn’t in the original email, such as the real-time status of your flights and package deliveries. Highlights and Bundles work together to give you just the information you need at a glance."

google announces inbox by gmail

Adding web content is a pretty interesting concept. On one hand, it seems a bit counterintuitive to add additional content when the point is to solve the problem of being overwhelmed. On the other hand, if it's executed well, it could add a new, useful dynamic to the email experience.

Inbox also lets you add reminders. Google describes it as "a centralized place to keep track of the things you need to get back to," which would seemingly put it in line with other Google products like Google Now. It even provides "Assists," which are described as "handy pieces of information you may need to get the job done." This sounds very Google Now-ish.

inbox by gmail and google

"For example, if you write a Reminder to call the hardware store, Inbox will supply the store’s phone number and tell you if it's open," explains Pichai. "Assists work for your email, too. If you make a restaurant reservation online, Inbox adds a map to your confirmation email. Book a flight online, and Inbox gives a link to check-in."

This appears to be an interesting example of Google using its various product offerings to bring together information in a useful way. Again, that's on paper. We'll see how it's executed.

There's also a snooze option for emails and reminders. You can temporarily dismiss them, but have them come back later.

Is Inbox what people want out of an email experience? Is it what they need? Will it be received as well as Gmail was a decade ago? Can the tech giant do it again? We'll see. Right now, it's available on an invitation-only basis, much like Gmail in its early days. You can request one by sending an email to inbox@google.com.

What Inbox means for marketers and publishers who rely on email newsletters for a portion of their readership obviously remains to be seen. There were varied opinions on Google's categorization of email types, referenced above, which will be extended to Inbox. Of course it won't mean a whole lot if user adoption isn't there. Gmail is pretty popular, so content users might not be so eager to switch over to a new experience. Even when Google launched the category-based Gmail redesign, a lot of people elected to adjust their settings to keep the old style.

Gmail itself, by the way, is also getting an update for the new Android, which will be released to consumers on November 3rd.

One thing above all else is clear. Email is as big as it's ever been. Remember when social media was just starting to come into its own, and people wondered if email would survive? The fact that Google is launching an entirely new email product in 2014 should answer that question loud and clear. It's not going anywhere, and in fact, it's still one of the most effective marketing channels.

What do you make of what Google is trying to do with Inbox? Does it sound appealing to you as a user? Do you think it will harm your marketing and newsletter efforts? Share your thoughts with us.

Update: I got my invitation, and have tried the service out briefly. While I'm going to give it some more time before I completely dismiss it, I have to say I'm not impressed so far. They're clearly going for something different than traditional email, but when I use it, I just feel like I'd rather be using Gmail. I wasn't a big fan of the tabbed interface Gmail introduced last year either (I changed the settings to the original style), so I guess I'm just stuck in the past.

Images via Google

Chris Crum
Chris Crum has been a part of the WebProNews team and the iEntry Network of B2B Publications since 2003. Follow Chris on Twitter, on StumbleUpon, on Pinterest and/or on Google: +Chris Crum.