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Google Unveils ‘Priority Inbox’ Email Tool

August 31, 2010

Google has introduced a new tool that will help users gain easier access to those email messages deemed most vital, the company announced on Tuesday.

The “Priority Inbox” feature, a new addition to the company’s Gmail service, will become available over the course of the next week. The tool will divide email into three categories–”Important and unread”, “Starred”, and “Everything else”–in order to make it easier for people to sift through spam and mass mailings and find those items most in need of their attention.

“The feature relies on formulas devised by Google engineers to automatically figure out and highlight which incoming messages are likely to be the most important to each Gmail user,” said Associated Press (AP) Technology Writer Michael Liedtke, while also noting that the feature can be toggled on or off by clicking a link on the left side of the Gmail page.

Google has compared the service to a “personal assistant,” according to BBC News Technology Reporter Maggie Shiels, and company officials added that Priority Inbox is designed to “get smarter” over time, as users label messages as more or less important by clicking on built in plus and minus priority indicators.

“There are a lot of signals in any message that indicate importance,” Keith Coleman, Gmail director told Shiels on Tuesday. “Basic indicators include if this message is from someone you write to a lot or reply to a lot. Another category is terms–if the word Viagra is in the message, it is indicative of junk mail. And a third factor is something known as static features. That is if the message has been sent to you directly or to you and other people or a list of people.”

“Our hope is that people can regain time and attention and not feel the need to constantly check e-mail in the middle of meetings,” he added. “We want people to walk away from e-mail and focus on what they are doing at that moment like thinking or reading, spending time with the family or taking part in a meeting. We hope this gives people a little more sanity and physical time in their day.”

It should be noted, however, that at least one tech reporter–Jefferson Graham of USA Today’s Technology Live blog–was not impressed with the new Gmail tool.

“I’ve been testing Priority Mail since Friday, and let me tell you, this is a real dud,” Graham wrote in an August 31 post. “Don’t waste your time with it”¦ By letting Google make decisions about what’s important, the good stuff gets buried, and the bad stuff goes to the top of my inbox. Because Google is making decisions about what I should see– instead of a first-come, first-serve e-mail list–I’m not seeing all my correspondence as I should.”

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