Several months ago, Google launched Gmail Priority Inbox. It was very well received. "Gmail has always been pretty good at filtering junk mail into the ‘spam’ folder," explained Google software engineer Doug Aberdeen upon the product’s release. "But today, in addition to spam, people get a lot of mail that isn’t outright junk but isn’t very important…"
The point of the Priority Inbox is to place priority on the "more important" messages. For those who have been using it, it would appear that a lot of time is being saved.
"Since then, we’ve heard from a number of you who’ve found it helpful in combating information overload, and we’ve seen evidence of this in aggregate too," says Engineering Manager Pal Takacsi-Nagy. "Looking at median time in conversation view, we noticed that typical Priority Inbox users spend 43% more time reading important mail compared to unimportant, and 15% less time reading email overall as compared to Gmail users who don’t use Priority Inbox."
Google is now providing users with more information about how it determines the importance of emails in Priority Inbox. Now when users hover over the "importance marker" they’ll see an explanation.
Google says it has also made the feature more responsive to manual corrections. This means the system will supposedly learn more quickly about user priority preferences as the user manually indicates them.
As it stands right now, users must activate Priority Inbox under Settings within Gmail. It will be interesting to see if this becomes a standard default feature of the service in the future. Facebook recently launched its own new messaging system, which employs similar principles in filtering/prioritizing messages it deems more important.
While Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg flat out said that his new product wasn’t a Gmail killer, others believe Gmail should indeed be worried. If Google feels threatened enough by Facebook’s service, it could very well implement Priority Inbox as a default feature so more users realize the similarities. Of course that’s not all there is to Facebook’s product, which brings in email, text messages, and Facebook messages into a single inbox.
One question that remains is how this shift to email prioritizing will affect email marketers and those providing legitimate opt-in email messages to users (newsletters, deals, etc.). As far as Facebook’s product, I’ve speculated that we may see a shift in businesses utilizing personal profiles more to actually become "friends" with customers and get into the highest-priority inbox. This would be easier said than done, because it would involve really becoming engaged with customers (which is what social media marketing is supposed to be all about anyway). That means more conversation and less one-way messaging. It also means authenticity.
As far as Gmail’s Priority Inbox goes, news of increased explanation and quick learning of user preferences could actually help legitimate email marketers, newsletter publishers, etc. Users want to receive these messages. That’s why they opted in. If the system better understands this, and users better understand how to make the system realize this, opens could increase. It should be noted that users should still receive the messages regardless, but if they’re not prioritized, they could get buried among other messages, depending on how much email users get.
That said, it’s going to take providing great content to keep users wanting to receive such messages. This has always been the case, but this should be considered a wake up call to email marketers. If the content isn’t quality, why would users wish to prioritize it?
You can likely expect more and more email services to offer similar features as Internet users continue to look for ways to organize an increasing amount of content consumption.
On another email-related note, Mozilla Labs has announced an early-stage Gmail-like conversations view for Thunderbird.