One of the scourges of the information society is the vast amount of email messages many people receive during the normal course of a day. Google is unveiling new technologies it hopes will make that mass of information more manageable: the new Priority Inbox for Gmail, now in beta, aims to pay attention to how people use email—set labels, read, leave unread, flag, star, and delete—and use those behaviors to help bring important messages to user’s attention, while letting less important stuff slide.
“People get a lot of mail that isn’t outright junk but isn’t very important—bologna, or ‘bacn,'” wrote Google engineer Doug Aberdeen on the Gmail blog. “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.”
Priority Inbox separates a user’s Gmail inbox into three horizontal sections: Important and unread, “Starred” and “Everything else.” Important mail is identified using a number of criteria, including information about messages users open and reply to, messages from frequent correspondents, and other traits. Priority Inbox learns as it goes: users can flag messages as important or not important as they use Gmail, and Priority Inbox will use those ratings to refine its processing of individuals’ messages. That means the more Gmail users rely on Gmail, the more effective the filtering becomes. On mobile devices and other services with limited screen real estate, Priority inbox could be a real boon for people who rely on email—and expect more from an email service than spam filtering.
Gmail and Google Apps users should see the feature roll out over the next week.