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Gmail adds 'Priority Inbox' option; what else is new in Web-mail?

Google has a potentially neat new feature to help Gmail users tame overloaded inboxes, but I can't tell you if it's much good.

The feature goes by the name of Priority Inbox. It attempts to find incoming messages important to you based on which ones you read and answer--a bit like "Bayesian" spam filters that learn from which messages you tag as junk mail.

gmail_priority_inbox.png

As Google's blog post explains, messages that get Gmail's automated thumbs-up appear in a separate "Priority Inbox" above the rest of your Gmail, but you can undo its actions or endorse other messages as important by clicking a pentagon-shaped icon in Gmail's toolbar.

Priority Inbox has been drawing rapturous praise to the effect of "Godsend" since Google's coverage embargo broke last night. But I can't really tell you if it's worthwhile: I reserve my Gmail account for online shopping, site registrations, newsletters and other low-priority e-mail.

I also have two Google Apps Standard accounts that see more relevant messages, but Priority Inbox isn't turned on in them yet. Google says it may take "the next week or so" for all Gmail and Google Apps users to get this feature. If it's available in your account, give it a try and let me know how it seems to work for you.

Meanwhile: I missed a chance to cover some interesting updates to Gmail's two chief competitors, Yahoo Mail and Microsoft's Windows Live Hotmail, while I was out earlier this month.

At Yahoo, the major additions this summer have been optional Facebook integration (allowing you to add a comment to a friend's status update from your inbox) and a Yahoo Pulse social-networking feature that seems redundant to me (and which has drawn a complaint about its opt-out nature from at least one reader).

At Hotmail, a redesign brought a few helpful shortcuts. You can click links to see only messages sent by your contacts, those from social-media sites like Facebook, those with photos or Microsoft Office documents, and those with shipping updates, among other criteria. A "sweep" feature can ease cleaning out junk mail. And in individual messages, you can consult "Active View" previews of Web links in e-mails.

I'm a little more impressed with Hotmail's output this summer than Yahoo's; the former's additions provide more help with day-to-day mail management. But neither seems to be catching up with Google--which, beyond Priority Inbox, has also added drag-and-drop attachment handling and free phone calls to the U.S. and Canada.

I'm not writing that to suggest that Gmail's victory is inevitable. I'm writing this because I don't want to see that happen without a good fight. Google's mail service deserves better competition than it's seen lately; where do you think that will come from?

By Rob Pegoraro  |  August 31, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  E-mail  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Verizon ups DSL speeds to 10 to 15 Mbps
Next: Belated BlackBerry Torch review

Comments

I learned about priority inbox this morning because music started playing automatically every time I loaded gmail. I finally figured out it was from a hidden, automatically-playing youtube video announcing the feature.

Congratulations, Google, you've annoyed me so much that I'll probably never try this new feature. I *hate* web pages that automatically start blasting sound unexpectedly.

Posted by: misere | August 31, 2010 8:53 AM | Report abuse

You wrote this article to tell your readers that you're not doing your job?

Posted by: brendaarchimboldi | August 31, 2010 8:55 AM | Report abuse

I was already using Gmail's filter function to deal with low-priority email, by either automatically marking it as read or skipping the inbox altogether. So I wouldn't call Priority Inbox a 'godsend', but I'm still going to check it out to see if it's more efficient than what I'm doing now.

Posted by: lilybelle2 | August 31, 2010 9:41 AM | Report abuse

"If it's available in your account, give it a try and let me know how it seems to work for you". So, you're covering this new technology development for your readers and you want us to try it out because you don't have a clue? How about YOU try it out and let us know if it's worth bothering with?

Posted by: PaulSGauthier | August 31, 2010 10:26 AM | Report abuse

Am I the only one who thinks Google, Yahoo, Facebook and MS get more big brother every day? What would we say if the postman, or postal service, decided what to deliver to us or we learned that the anyone who wanted could listen in on our phone calls? These new "features" are meant only to add to the companies' bottom lines by mining and selling our private information - No matter what they say.

Posted by: njglea | August 31, 2010 10:31 AM | Report abuse

Speaking of google apps, how about an article explaining what it does beyond gmail et al.? In particular for a personal user who has his own domain ("ah.net") with several family email accounts on it. Any value to using it?

Posted by: ah___ | August 31, 2010 10:56 AM | Report abuse

If you guys want to see a review of this new feature, there will be one shortly on http://bit.ly/cGo3hs I know the guys that run the site and they said they will test it and write a full review. Later,

http://bit.ly/cGo3hs

Posted by: fakedude1 | August 31, 2010 11:04 AM | Report abuse

How come I don't have a "priority inbox" tab? It seems everyone else does, so why is my priority of access to "priority inbox" ]as well as others' priority of accesss, presumably] so low?

Posted by: catsmeow7875 | August 31, 2010 11:38 AM | Report abuse

If G-Mail wants to add a groundbreaking functionality, how about a sort function? I don't see this Priority Mailbox as adding much of value.

Posted by: jim21224 | August 31, 2010 12:26 PM | Report abuse

I have emails at all 3 sites and the only one that really works well is hotmail. It is easy to get rid of a lot of trash and deletes at one time. Most importantly, it allows you to sort many different ways. After suffering thru gmail for months and not being able to find anything, I switched back to hotmail. The gmail site is not only user unfriendly but extremely poorly designed and cumbersome. For email I want email to work. Not a phone service.

Posted by: moonrat | August 31, 2010 3:36 PM | Report abuse

I have a hotmail acct and saw the "sweep" feature was new....but, when I clicked through it looked like I had to download Silverlight to use the sweep feature. I try not to crapify my machine so...I stick with the old method....check the first message box, hit shift and the last box, delete...it's all outta there.

Posted by: tbva | August 31, 2010 7:58 PM | Report abuse

I, too, think that Mr. Pegoraro is copping out by asking us to do his homework on this one. But I'm not surprised. His blog, reviews, and comments are becoming increasingly irrelevant. Reporting things that I see elsewhere two and sometimes three days earlier is not news.

I think he should stop tweeting, back off on his rabid support of Apple a bit, and do what he's paid to do - report tech NEWS.

Posted by: timmdrumm | September 1, 2010 11:05 AM | Report abuse

First the more mail you have in your Gmail, the longer it will take for the Priority Inbox to appear... apparently. I have 4 Gmail accounts, and the smallest two have it, while the one that has over 4,000 messages is still doing calculations. I guess their rolling this out similar to the way they intro'd the Gmail Phone thing.

Google announced earlier today that it knows about the music glitch... music starts playing WITHOUT the video, but only on Chrome, and their working on it. I don't know why they would make a video automatically start at all though.

I'll take Gmail over Hotmail or whatever any day. I find quite it easy to use. I love the way it automatically sorts my incomings into the folders I designate, and the search function has saved my hiney more htn once. Of course, the massive space it's ALWAYS had available as well as it's seamless integration with Google's other apps is just a bonus.

And yes, Gmail & Google offers it's services to businesses.

Posted by: thatsaroger | September 1, 2010 12:28 PM | Report abuse

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