Google Inbox: 7 Reasons To Say Yes - InformationWeek

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11/8/2014
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Google Inbox: 7 Reasons To Say Yes

Google's experimental email client Inbox will change the way you look at email.

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Email remains the Internet's killer app. But while it's indispensable, it's also indefensible, as anyone who gets a large number of email messages will attest. Email is broken. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that our capacity to deal with incoming communication has not scaled to match the volume of email many Internet users now receive.

Social media notifications, commercial confirmation messages, and promotional offers deserve some of the blame.

Regardless, there's a point at which incoming email messages overwhelm the recipient. And while that number is different for different people -- 50 a day, 100 a day, or whatever -- the end result is the same: Email triage, which leaves many messages unanswered. So much for the communication age.

Google wants to improve the email experience. Two weeks ago, the company introduced a new approach to email management called Inbox. It won't reduce the number of messages you get but it can help make them more manageable.

[You can replace email with other tools. Read You're Sending Too Much Email.]

Inbox currently is available by invitation only. If you've been fortunate enough to receive an invitation, you might find there's a lot to like.

Appearance
Inbox has a more attractive layout than Gmail. It just looks better. Shallow though that might sound, it improves the user experience. Gmail offers limited control of the white space between email rows; Inbox offers a design that's both more spacious, more colorful, and better organized. It's more reassuring to look at and its design conveys information about messages more effectively than the utilitarian Gmail layout.

Bundles
Inbox takes certain types of messages and bundles them for you. Gmail did this through its message category tags -- Primary, Social, Promotions, Updates, Forums -- but Inbox handles this better. It does this by adding Bundles into the main email list rather than having them exist as distinct, parallel lists in different tabs.

Labels
Part of the visual appeal of Inbox comes from colorful circular labels that appear to the left of messages. The labels show either the picture of the sender -- if that person is in your contacts -- or the first letter of the sender's first name. It's effective design because it draws the eye and immediately provides an easily scanned, visually distinct cue to identify other messages from the same sender that reside elsewhere in Inbox.

Graphics
Gmail provides some visual distinction in its message list to make messages easier to act on. For example, it will display the words "view reservation" in emailed reservation confirmations from restaurants. Inbox takes this further by showing a graphic, the restaurant name, reservation time, and links to "view reservation" and "view map." It also makes attached documents easier to access, by presenting them in a side-scrolling list, a far more efficient way to view files than opening each message individually to drill down to attachments.

Snooze
With the Snooze option, Inbox offers the ability to send messages to email purgatory, where they're out of sight and out of mind until the specified time. When the snooze timer expires, banished messages reappear. It's an ideal tool for procrastinators. If you need access to messages in the invisible snooze folder, you have to search for keywords in the slumbering email to retrieve it; there's no snooze folder to visit.

Pins
Pins are the opposite of Snooze: Pinning a message makes it immediately accessible in the Pinned view, which has its own dedicated toggle button at the top of Inbox. Pinning provides a way to immediately see just a chosen set of messages. The Gmail equivalent is checking the star beside listed messages and then viewing "Starred" messages. The primary difference is that Pinned messages cannot be removed with Inbox's Sweep command.

Reminders
As an alternative to emailing yourself as a reminder to do something, Inbox has added Reminders. Reminders appear in your message queue like email messages, making them visible by virtue of being unavoidable -- in a separate folder, application, or view, they might be missed. They can be snoozed, pinned, and marked like other messages. But they don't actually pass through email servers.

With these tools, Inbox shows that the email experience can be improved and Google is likely to keep trying to improve the experience further. But it's important to consider that Inbox's convenience has some privacy consequences: Google's assumption here is that people want to keep email forever. Inbox's way of getting rid of email is to sweep it away, out of sight, but not to delete it. It's a philosophy shared by Gmail: When you sell cloud storage, you don't encourage people to use less of it by deleting their messages.

While there's certainly something to be said for saving every email message and having it be accessible with a search query, there are also good reasons to get rid of email. Inbox, of course, supports message deletion if the user makes that choice. But there's no option to automate message deletion after a set period of time or to maintain a set storage footprint. Perhaps in version 2.0.

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Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful ... View Full Bio

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anon3553956082
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anon3553956082,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/29/2014 | 11:21:26 AM
Some missing features with Inbox...
I usually don't have a problem with "change" per se, but I've been using Inbox for a couple of weeks and a few things bug me:
  1. No way to see the exact time an email was sent without opening it. I suggested to Google that Inbox show the date/time details in a mouse-over when required.

  2. Search is a problem if what you are looking for is in the Trash.  In Gmail, if you search, the search indicates that matching items are in Trash and a link is provided to see those items (or delete them permanently).  In Inbox, you get no such link. 

  3. No Trash or Delete icon. Yeah, yeah. I get it. Google wants us to archive. Archive is good.  Archive is your friend.  But it's not about what Google wants. It's about what users want. Give us an icon to delete things instead of resorting to keyboard shortcuts, or having to open an email, click the dots and choose it from the drop-down.
Joe Stanganelli
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Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Author
11/16/2014 | 12:05:54 AM
Re: I don't want to think like Google people
Funnily enough, the criticism of Google products having too much white space is something that the Google fanboys vigorously defend as a UI benefit.  Something about it looking "clean."

Certainly, no one likes a mess, but still, this approach reminds me of that Trading Spaces episode where the couple was furious over discovering their home turned entirely blinding-white.
stevew928
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stevew928,
User Rank: Ninja
11/14/2014 | 12:26:01 PM
Re: More like a desktop client with a bit of 'to-do' functionality
Basically, yes. I recognize the need for automation, but I never completely trust it. I guess I'm just really careful what I allow it to do and then check up on it. The more 'intelligence' involved, the less I trust it (ex: a backup script vs deciding if an e-mail is important or not).

The problem for me with the e-mail sorting stuff is that maybe aside from spam, it's easier to just deal with it as it comes, rather than having to sift through a collection of it later. And, the more likely that it might miscategorize something, the more true this is for me.
driverlesssam
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driverlesssam,
User Rank: Strategist
11/14/2014 | 7:46:09 AM
Re: I don't want to think like Google people
Its not just gmail that is annoying to me.  The first several times I tried to post a reply to you, when I clicked "post" it went to a completely white page with no explaination.

After several tried I guessed that my post may be too long so I shortened it and it worked - sigh.

When it threw an error and I went back my posting was blank.  As a matter of practice I had saved my comments in a notepad file because I often get such web page failures.-sigh again
Susan Fourtané
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Susan Fourtané,
User Rank: Author
11/14/2014 | 7:39:36 AM
Re: More like a desktop client with a bit of 'to-do' functionality
SteveW, 

Yes, yes. I have seen quite many improvements from Google. At least, the they have been useful for me.

"I think you summed it up well in my experience with the, "not as smart as I would like it to be." If it's not smart enough to trust, then IMO, it's a bigger hassle than it's worth. That has been my experience so far, so I turned it off. I've *almost* done that with spam as well, but just decided to check it daily (that said, maybe once per week something important does go there)."

Yes, that's true. I sometimes find something important in one of the other inboxes. That's why it's not as smart as I would like it to be. Yet. :) Maybe Inbox fixes this. I haven't received my invite yet, by the way. :( 

How funny. You don't completely trust automated software and I love it. :D I am all for automation and smart software. This is why I only want it to be smarter, so the software can take care of almost everything, being like the perfect assistant. :)

-Susan
driverlesssam
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driverlesssam,
User Rank: Strategist
11/14/2014 | 7:36:53 AM
Re: I don't want to think like Google people
Joe Stanganelli, Absolutely no need to apologize, no harm, no foul. I hope that you feel the same way about my rude reply to you.

A gmail  example. Just a minute ago I got another gmail, subject = "... do you know Peter <eleted>?" I see no way to click yes or no. No instructions, no help, WTF? I estimate that 50% of my screen is white space, plenty of room for more information. 

 

 
Susan Fourtané
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Susan Fourtané,
User Rank: Author
11/14/2014 | 7:25:15 AM
Re: Not a fan of Google Kool-Aid
Brian, 

I doubt there is going to be any life left on this planet in 10,000 years from now with the level of present destruction to the environment, etc. (I know, very pesimistic about this) :D 

"maybe technology has advanced up to a level that there are no human archaeologists in the field, just drone archaeologists with sensors that can rebuild digital information." 

That's quite possible. But this will happen much earlier, in a not so distant future. If you want to leave a message for the future you'd better send it to Mars. That's where life is going to happen by then. :)

-Susan
Joe Stanganelli
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Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Author
11/14/2014 | 4:01:48 AM
Re: I don't want to think like Google people
@drivelesssam: I am very sorry; I did not mean to cause offense.  I was under the impression that you were unhappy with your company's policies in terms of rolling out and mandating Google-based solutions, and I had intended to merely comment on the process of solution selection many companies go through; perhaps I misunderstood and/or did not communicate well.  Mea culpa.
driverlesssam
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driverlesssam,
User Rank: Strategist
11/13/2014 | 9:24:58 PM
Re: I don't want to think like Google people
Joe Stanganelli, I think what you did is called deflection.  Instead of replying about gmail you take a swipe at my company.  When you comment about my company you are dead wrong and you have no idea what you are talkig about.  Please stick to he subject - gmail.
Joe Stanganelli
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50%
Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Author
11/13/2014 | 7:44:28 PM
Re: I don't want to think like Google people
@driverlesssam: Sounds like your company really didn't do that great a job with rolling out its solutions and getting buy-in/feedback from end users/key stakeholders.  Very dangerous -- it can lead to employees using "workaround" solutions.
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