Here we go again! Another communication/info management Google product that is likely doomed to extinction (much like recent social networks I’ve been blogging about), and I can’t help but find it significant and important, just as I did Google Wave, Google Buzz, and the much-loved Google Reader. I snagged an early invite to Google’s new “Inbox” front-end to GMail, and I’ve been agonizing over it for a few weeks now. This app really appeals to me, but I’m totally on the fence about actually using it, for a few reasons:
- This is either a product that will disappear in six months, or it’s what Gmail’s standard interface will evolve into. It is absolutely an evolved version of recent trends, notably the auto-sorting tabs they added about a year ago.
- The proposition is simple: if you let Google sort your mail for you, you will no longer have to organize your mail.
I’ve blogged before about how expensive an application email is to maintain, time-wise. We get tons of email (I average over a hundred messages a day between work and home), and every message needs to be managed (deleted, archived, labeled, dragged to a folder, etc.), unlike texts and social media, which you can glance at and either reply or ignore. The average email inbox is flooded with a wide assortment of information, some useless and offensive (“Meet Beautiful Russian Women”), some downright urgent (“Your Aunt is in the Hospital!”), and a range of stuff in-between. If you get 21 messages while you’re at an hour-long meeting, and the first of the 21 is time-sensitive and critical, it’s not likely the first one that you are going to read, as it has scrolled below the visible part of your screen. The handful of needles in the crowded haystack can be easily lost forever.
Here’s how Inbox tries to make your digital life easier and less accident-prone:
- Inbox assumes (incorrectly) that every email has three basic responses: You want to deal with it soon (keep it in the inbox); you want to deal with it later (“snooze” it with a defined time to return to the inbox); or you want to archive it. They left out delete it, currently buried under a pop-up menu, which annoys me, because I believe that permanently deleting the 25% of my email that can be glanced at (or not even opened) and deleted is a cornerstone of my inbox management strategy. But, that nit aside, I really agree with this premise.
- Messages fall in categories, and you can keep a lot of the incoming mail a click away from view, leaving the prime inbox real estate to the important messages. Inbox accomplishes this with “Bundles“. which are the equivalent to the presorted tabs in Classic GMail. Your “Promotions”, Updates” and “Social” bundles (among other pre-defineds) group messages, as opposed to putting each incoming message on it’s own inbox line. I find the in-list behavior more intuitive than the tabs. You can create your own bundles and teach them to auto-sort — I immediately created one for Family, and added in the primary email addresses for my immediate loved ones. We’ll see what it learns.
- Mail doesn’t need to be labeled (you can still label messages, but it’s not nearly as simple a task as it is in GMail classic). This is the thing I’m wrestling with most — I use my labels. I have tons of filters defined that pre-label messages as they come in, and my mailbox cleanup process labels what’s missed. I go to the labels often to narrow searches. I totally get that this might not be necessary — Google’s search might be good enough that my labeling efforts are actually more work than just searching the entire inbox each time. But I’m heavily invested in my process.
- “Highlights” act a bit like Google Now, popping up useful info like flight details and package tracking.
One important note: Inbox does nothing to alter or replace your Gmail application. It’s an alternative interface. When you archive, delete or label a message in Inbox, it gets archived, deleted or labeled in GMail as well, but Gmail knows nothing about bundles and, therefore, doesn’t reflect them, and not one iota of GMail functionality changes when you start using Inbox. You do start getting double notifications, and Inbox offered to turn off GMail notifications for me if I wanted to fix that. I turned Inbox down and I’m waiting for GMail to make a similar offer.
So what Inbox boils down to is a streamlined, Get Things Done (GTD) frontend for GMail that removes email clutter, eases email management, and highlights the things that Google thinks are important. If you think Google can do that for you reasonably well, then it might make your email communication experience much saner. You might want to switch to it. Worse that can happen is it goes away, in which case Gmail will still be there.
I have invites. Leave a comment or ping me directly if you’d like one.
If you’re using Inbox already, tell me, has it largely replaced GMail’s frontend for you? If so, why? If not, why not?