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A View To An Inbox

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Gmail has been gradually and subtly rolling out changes to its Gmail, Calendar, and Docs interfaces, and perhaps to other to products as well that I do not use as often. These changes have come as part of a new-found emphasis on design and user experience. The story of  Andy Hertzfeld’s work on Google+ is now well documented.

While most of these edits to the Gmail and Calendar products have been cosmetic, a feature just rolled out to my account is one I love at first sight.

Just below the toolbar of buttons we have become familiar with, a drop down to select email types, Archive, Spam, Delete, Move, Labels, More, Refresh, is another toolbar. One has the option of removing this second toolbar by clicking a X at the far right side of the bar.

The bar itself looks like this:

As evident, Gmail now provides different views into your inbox. The classic view will display all email chronologically ordered. The next two views are my favorite.

The Important first view shows emails from those individuals or groups you communicate with most. I’m not sure how the algorithm is implemented and how it defines “most”. It will be interesting to see how this plays with the current Priority tags.

The Unread first view shows unread emails only. This to me is already a huge time-saver. It allows me to focus instead of find. Although the aforementioned drop down to select email types has existed for years, it fails to select emails across pages of emails — it only applies the filter to the currently viewable page of emails. This drop down is useless to me and forces me to go back through my inbox page by page to track down all my unread email. I sometimes find myself going back months to get my inbox to Zero.

Sure, I could be better at reading email within say 24 hours of reception, and I know people who are pretty good at this, but the reality is I am not that person. Non-urgent emails get pushed to the wayside as more pressing matters of the day, yes even non-email related tasks, impose their presence upon my time.

I also know people who can’t stand seeing even a (1) next to the Inbox button and click on the email just to remove that (1). Whether they actually read and process the email right away as well I am not sure. I do know I’m guilty of just this — clicking on an email or marking it as read without reading it, just to reduce the Unread count. This approach obviously does not solve my problem — I am forced to ignore content that could potentially be useful in order to save time and rid myself of a temporary annoyance.

These new views into my inbox had a positive impact within minutes. I can now view all unread email in a much more leisurely manner. The pressure to mark these as unread or click through them in one sitting, fearing that an unread email may become buried under months and months of content, is gone. I can come back to this specific set of emails with 1 click and focus on these emails without distraction. Brilliant.

It is less clear to me whether the Priority Inbox view will be useful to me. I have not been using the Priority tags as much as I thought I might when the feature first launched. I will give the algorithm a shot however to see what types of emails are presented in this view.

Fresh air is being breathed into these products and it feels good so far. Google is getting smarter about organizing our information using both algorithms and organizational tools presented through compelling and simple interfaces. Both will be required as Google sets its course through social networking and the many modes and channels of communication that “social” is built upon and encourages.

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Written by Girish Rao

July 18, 2011 at 00:52

Posted in Uncategorized

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