You can’t be perfect, not even with Priority Inbox.

By • Oct 1st, 2010 • Category: Blog

The problem with spam filters is that they’re not perfect. Sometimes, spam gets through, and sometimes, a legitimate email will find itself in the spam folder. That legitimate email might be from your boss, or a client. It could make the difference between missing out on a sale, or it could be a fatal miscommunication between coworkers and managers. Spam filters are not perfect, and neither is Gmail’s new Priority Inbox feature.

The Priority Inbox feature automatically determines which emails are more important than others, letting them float to the top of the inbox while the rest of the “unimportant” messages stay in an unorganized pile in the “everything else” folder. It determines which emails are “important” through a number of factors, keywords in the subject line and email content, the sender, the types of email you open, and the types of email you reply to. It’s an intuitive system that learns over time, and lets the user “teach” it which emails are deemed as important. It’s great, and it’s convenient, but it’s not perfect.

The problem with Priority Inbox is that it doesn’t save as much time as it advertises. Users will still have to sift through the “unimportant” pile to get to legitimately important messages. The system will learn to reprioritize these “unimportant” messages as “important,” but the underlying issue remains. It might correctly prioritize emails 99% of the time, but the 1% of the time that it’s wrong it may cause severe consequences for the user. Also, if the user has to “teach” the system to get better, then the user is already sifting through their entire inbox to flag certain messages as “important.” What’s more, as new contacts and new contexts change the definition of “important”, users will constantly have to go through their inbox to correctly re-teach Priority Inbox which emails to flag as “important.” In the end, Priority Inbox is an interesting feature, but it’s not really useful. Some things you just have to do yourself.

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