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September 22, 2010

Behind the Scenes of Gmail's Priority Inbox

Ario Jafarzadeh, Experience Designer on the Gmail team, gave a great talk about Priority Inbox at the Google Zürich headquarters. "Priority Inbox, to me, typifies what I hope will be a much larger trend in online consumption... one that gives users more control over what can grab their attention vs the pure chronology based world that has dominated the web for so long," says Ario.

Priority Inbox started as a "20 percent project" at Google Zürich, back in 2008. It's been initially called Magic Inbox, a name that was referenced in Gmail's source code last year. Google wanted to hide the complexity of the feature by using a simple interface that can be customized to suit your needs. The "+"/"-" buttons that let you change the importance of a message were inspired by the street signs from Zürich.

Ario says that Priority Inbox could be improved by grouping related conversations, so you can quickly deal with multiple messages. It's just one of the many improvements that could make Gmail's inbox smarter, especially for those who receive a lot of messages.

{ via Piers Fawkes }


  1. The little 20% project by a Google Employee really did a cool thing. I'm waiting for the next innovation of GMail.

  2. You know, this really begs for a hilarious spoof, you know? Google could have a roomful of engineers reading other people's emails, deciding what's a priority or not. It could conclude with a message that flashes on the screen: Trust us. We don't do this. Click here for the privacy policy.

  3. GMail's Priority Inbox is the best time saver ever...once I read a priority tagged email it get's pushed down in the muddle of messages and I have a hard time finding it again. I have to use the 'star tag' to keep important messages front and center. Thanks for the behind the scenes information.

  4. I can see where the Priority Inbox will be useful/invaluable to some people. For me, they didn't suite my workflows -- I prefer to use filters and coloured labels. Anyway, it is nice to see that Google are innovating and trying to improve dealing with email.

  5. I noticed that the URL on Priority Inbox was and I wondered what "mbox" meant. Now I know.

  6. "It's just one of the many improvements that could make Gmail's inbox smarter, especially for those who receive a lot of messages."

    You know what would be a great feature for gmail? A good search capability! I mean, it's google, right? It's sad!

  7. i am not seeing much use for priority inbox yet, it simply doesn;t work, the people i contact the most are not being listed, even after marking mail important and others less important, still a few bugs methinks..

  8. Priority inbox is a generally good idea, but they're executing that idea rather badly.

    First, if they want to help people prioritize their email, the Gmail team should abandon their "no folders" dogma and let people set up rules that filter those mails away into folders. It's easy to do with some decent UI thinking (heck, Outlook does it...!): every time you get a mail from mailing list X, or email address Y put it in this folder.

    Then, they should offer priority inbox as a way of sorting out emails that are hard to categorize. That is, the mails you don't or can't have manual rules for. So, things like "commercial emails", "emails about project X", "emails that talk about Y", and so on.

    The fundamental problem with priority inbox is that it needs training before you see any value in it. But people don't want to train emails that could easily be manually categorized. Worse, false positives and negatives do more harm than god along the way.

  9. OOh - Freudian slip in my last sentence there :-)

  10. gilongo, you can do *exactly* the "put mail from X in folder Y" thing you describe with today's gmail filters. Just select "skip inbox", and you're done.


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