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.
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?
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