Gmail Inbox Update: Hopes And Fears - InformationWeek
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Gmail Inbox Update: Hopes And Fears

Gmail's new categorization capabilities bring optimism -- and apprehension -- to this email addict's heart.

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My name is Deb, and I have a problem with email: My Gmail inbox currently includes more than 52,000 unread messages. I read what I need to immediately, and then get back to the lower-priority messages later. That's the idea, anyway.

Do I need all those messages? Probably not. Will I ever go back through them to weed out what I do and don't need? Highly unlikely. Am I proud of my situation? No, but I know I'm not alone.

Google is taking steps to help users like me. On the heels of its email composition update (which I love but others have expressed pretty strong dislike for), Google this week announced a big update to the Gmail inbox.

The changes are designed to put users back in control. "We get a lot of different types of email: messages from friends, social notifications, deals and offers, confirmations and receipts, and more," wrote Gmail product manager Itamar Gilad in a blog post about the update. "All of these emails can compete for our attention and make it harder to focus on the things we need to get done. Sometimes it feels like our inboxes are controlling us, rather than the other way around."

[ For more on Google's Gmail interface tweaks, see Google Gmail Gets Tabbed Inbox. ]

The biggest change this update brings is categorization. On the desktop, Gmail will now organize mail into as many as five categories that will appear as tabs (primary, social, promotions, updates and forums). Users can move messages among tabs, set certain senders to always appear in a particular tab and star messages to they appear in the primary tab. You can see how many unread messages you have in each tab, so you will be able to easily see how quickly they are piling up.

I have high hopes for this feature, but also a little fear. One of the reasons I don't do a lot of email message categorization now (or life categorization in general) is that things often don't fall into nice neat categories. That's also the reason I never used Gmail's Priority Inbox -- I didn't want Gmail deciding what was and wasn't important to me, because that can change from one day to the next.

In the past I have used products for Outlook that did the same basic kind of categorization that Gmail will now do, but with more user control of the categories. Using these products, I would often find myself searching through folders for where a message might have been categorized. Of course, part of the problem was me and the taxonomy I had developed, but I can't lie: Automated categorization scares me.

With all that said, one of the best things about using Gmail is its powerful search capabilities, and this may negate some of the categorization problems I've had in the past. (Of course, in some cases that will assume I know a message is there in the first place.)

The new Gmail inbox will also be available for Android- and iOS-based devices. On your smartphones and tablets, you'll see the Primary mail tab when you open the mobile app, and you can then easily navigate to your other tabs.

The new inbox will roll out gradually, becoming available within the next few weeks. To see if you can get it now, click on the gear menu and go to Configure Inbox in the Settings option.

If you try the new format and don't like it, you can switch back to any Gmail inbox type. (And I have to mention here that Google increased my productivity and decreased my frustration level exponentially the day it gave users the option not to nest messages.)

Will you give the new Gmail inbox a try? What is on your Gmail wish list? Let us know in the comments section below.

Follow Deb Donston-Miller on Twitter at @debdonston.

We welcome your comments on this topic on our social media channels, or [contact us directly] with questions about the site.
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User Rank: Apprentice
6/10/2013 | 10:11:09 AM
re: Gmail Inbox Update: Hopes And Fears
I didn't gone through it, but surely check it out. I'm also having about 5K unreaded unwanted messages.
User Rank: Apprentice
6/6/2013 | 3:58:26 PM
re: Gmail Inbox Update: Hopes And Fears
I've got 9K on GMail... for those of you who use it for getting resumes when hiring: will the new GMail Inbox will help you reach Zero Inbox?
Cara Latham
Cara Latham,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/4/2013 | 12:44:03 PM
re: Gmail Inbox Update: Hopes And Fears
Like Greg, below, I have about 4,000, but mostly because last year, I spent an entire weekend deleting and organizing my inbox. I have not switched to the new format because like you, I don't want it to provide automated categorization. I have my own system, and I would prefer Google didn't change it on me.

That said, I may be more inclined if it changed its approach to categorization. I think it would make more sense to have categorization based on subject matter as opposed to the type of message. I'd like to see folders for "work," "school" (if you have kids or are furthering your education), "bills," "social," "miscellaneous," etc. This way, you could check each accordingly and respond or take action when appropriate. And if something that falls into those subject matter categories is promotional or social in nature (perhaps you follow your kid's school on Facebook or Twitter), it will still fall into the appropriate subject matter category.

If something from my credit card company sent me was promotional in nature, I could make that own determination. If it was categorized into "bills," I would open and delete; no big deal. But the fact that it is organized into that folder to begin with would help, since I would know where to look if I wanted to find ALL communication from my credit card company. Just an idea...
User Rank: Apprentice
5/31/2013 | 6:24:53 PM
re: Gmail Inbox Update: Hopes And Fears
Hi Debra! If you're getting frustrated with Gmail, you might want to try out a new mail application called Inky! Inky allows you to use and view multiple accounts in one screen!

Its unique relevance view sorts your mail by how meaningful it is to you. Email messages from close contacts have a vibrant blue drop and flow to the top of your message list. It also organizes your mail into smart views, focusing on mail from personal contacts, social sites, daily deal sites, and subscriptions separately.

This application can really give you relief when it comes to sorting your mail based on relevance and sorting it into categories! It's so much easier than using Gmail in a web browser or the Mac Email application--way to messy. Check it out at
Deb Donston-Miller
Deb Donston-Miller,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/31/2013 | 6:09:43 PM
re: Gmail Inbox Update: Hopes And Fears
Thanks for your comment, Greg!

I started using the new format, and there are some things I like about it and some things I just don't get. For example, I'm finding that I can more or less ignore the content going into the "promotions" tab (and thus could maybe delete some). I don't really get the social and forums tab, or, at least, they are not making total sense to me yet in terms of what is being shepherded there. I don't think there is a "view all"--not unless you go back to the old model. But, I don't have the new inbox on my iPhone, so I am finding myself relying on that when I want to see everything in one place. (Probably not how Google's product designers figured people would use the systems :)

I like how I can see how many new messages are in each tab.

Deb Donston-Miller
Contributing Editor, The BrainYard
Greg MacSweeney
Greg MacSweeney,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/31/2013 | 11:28:08 AM
re: Gmail Inbox Update: Hopes And Fears
Well, I don't have 52k unread messages. I have about 5k, so I feel lucky!

I'm using the new gmail format. It's not too bad, but I have to check 4 folders to see all of my new messages. There doesn't seem to be a "view all" tab (I could be wrong, let me know). The ability to create custom categories would be nice, but that will probably result in me creating too many categories (if I know myself) and will become fragmented.

The logic is a little off too. I recently placed an order on amazon. The order confirmation went to "primary" while the shipment confirmation went to "promotions."

Luckily, when i can't find something quickly, I just use search, and it appears quickly.
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