Why the Gmail Priority Inbox scares me a bit

I usually love what Gmail does – having a high functioning email inbox makes my life possible. However, I’m a bit dubious about their latest innovation – the Gmail Priority Inbox. It’s a piece of software that aims to organise email better by putting the important ones at the top.

In theory this is the holy grail of inbox apps – and it makes so much more sense to organise mail by importance rather than chronology.

But I just don’t think that this is one app I’ll be using. I’m just worried I’ll miss something if it’s an algorithm and not me sorting my mail. No matter how friendly the little cartoon animation might be.

The sorting system Gmail are proposing is very like how Facebook’s News Feed works: where updates from people you are interested in turn up in your newsfeed. Gmail would use similar criteria as Facebook does in working out what’s important to you – measuring what emails you always open, how long it takes you to open emails from particular people and whether you reply to them.

Problem is – email isn’t like Facebook – because essentially you’re on Facebook for chitchat and distraction so you want to see what amuses and interests you most. With email there’s a fatal combination of distracting (fun) emails and serious important work ones. I am possibly more likely to click quickly on (and reply to) the one from my friend which says “lols hamster video” than the one from my boss, but that doesn’t mean that the friend one is more important.

You can autocorrect it to remove or add special status from any given email, so in theory this should improve over time..

Still – and I might be a bit unusual in this – but I funnel all my personal and work emails into one inbox and so what’s important to me at 3pm on Wednesday is not so important to me at 11am on Sunday. The filter won’t be able to take that into account.

I may go back on my word here, and I’ll certainly try it out, but I’m not sure I want it tweaking my perception of my inbox like this…

Related: Louis Gray blames Facebook for not telling him his sister had a baby

Anna Leach


  • I think it sounds like a horrible idea. For a start, I can’t bear to have unopened emails in my inbox, so I open (or delete) everything pretty much on receipt. I think I’d have to tailor my own behaviour specifically for google’s algorithms, which must defeat the point.

    I also don’t like the thought of purportedly priority emails at the top and actually urgent (but not recognised as such) new emails being relegated to a place where I might miss them.

    And before I bang on too long, while some emails genuinely are more important or urgent than others, almost all will have a finite lifespan, at which point they cease to be important at all. What then?

  • Yeah, I agree… I have work and personal email completely separate, so it will be interesting to see whether Priority Inbox is something I can take full advantage of. I’m not too skeptical but I’m willing to try it.

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