Google recently launched a new feature in Gmail called “Priority Inbox”. It’s an amazingly simple but powerful concept for dealing with email overload, and I’m surprised that this is the first time I’m seeing it. Basically, Google’s using some predictive software to analyze your email use behavior and use that data to present you with the emails that should be most important to you. Their explanation is better than mine, so check it out.
What I’m interested in, is why is this happening now instead of 2-to-4 years ago? People have been suffering from email overload for a long time now, and while there are strategies for coping with it, none of the ones I’m familiar with have really been smart solutions until now. Folders and filters give users some control over how to deal with deal with incoming email, but they rely on static rules that can’t adapt to change and require active effort on behalf of the user to set up. Conversely, Priority Inbox adapts to users actual email reading habits to build dynamic rules that change along with the user’s behavior and email content and requires no more effort than turning the feature on. For me, this is great leap forward in email.
So, why the heck did it take so long? I can think of two reasons why this development may have taken so long to emerge. First, the email market has been lacking in strategic innovation for quite a while. Email is email. It’s a well known space and email providers and designers have become complacent, offering a constant series of small improvements aimed at moving unwanted content out of view rather than bringing wanted content to forefront. Second, this is a space where people are pretty sensitive concerning their privacy. Many people would be pretty appalled at the idea of Google or another email provider reading all of there messages. Nevermind that it already happens to provide targeted advertising. So, privacy concerns may have previously prevented email providers from implementing such a feature.
Those are my two cents on why this is a great leap forward for the inbox and why this innovation has taken so long. Please feel free to comment and let me know if you think this is as great an idea as I do, and why you think it may have taken this long.