Feb 12 2013
Sep 3 2010

Prioritizing My Tiny Inbox

The intertubes all have Gmail’s Priority Inbox in mind. I find people’s reactions to be quite surprising. I don’t get the tidal waves of email as some people do. In fact, I get very little email. Yet, I was excited at the idea of trying to make email better.

Some people were nervous about it. Nervous as in paranoid. I wonder, why? Google isn’t actually “reading” your email. It’s just some algorithms running on your read and reply history. Some Bayesian statistics applied. Anyone worried that their email is now being read should realize that Google could have been reading your email long before now. Really, if anyone is that concerned with privacy, they should consider using their own hosted email server, and an email certificate. Then you can be sure the only people seeing your email are you and your sender/receiver.

Other people don’t want to change their system. They have rules set up to filter a lot of junk already, or they use a speedy Inbox Zero routine to quickly weed out the crap. I can appreciate that. I like to process my email all at once, and leave nothing left in the inbox. I also use a set of filters, mostly to apply labels to certain things so I can have a context when I open them. But I still appreciate what this Priority Inbox can do. Rules can change. You may add a new mailing list, or find a new friend that sends you chain letters, and instead of adding yet another rule manually, why not just let a computer figure that out for you quickly? Or for those processing every single message themselves, I have to wonder why you would want to spend the time and mental energy on so much junk.

As a programmer, I look at everything and think: “Can’t a computer do that for me?”

Now, I just got Priority Inbox enabled, and the excitement died a little. Not because I think it’s useless, but because I don’t get a lot of email. When it turned on, it helped sort 2 emails for me. I can see people getting included in emails by being added to the carbon copy a lot, or if they’re in a position facing the public, like a community manager. But looking at people’s rules, I don’t see how people can accept getting so much junk mail in the first place.

Pretty much all the email I get I would classify as “important”. Almost everything is directed at me. The few mailing lists I subscribe to, I do so because I want to read every single message. I don’t allow applications like Facebook or Twitter1 or whatever to send me useless notification emails. Any time any service sends me email that I don’t want, I scour the footer for the unsubscribe link, and make a liberal use of that spam button. I can’t imagine allowing myself to receive email that I would want a filter to automatically archive for me. What use was that email for me, then? I never look in the archive. I don’t store information in my email for later reference. How some of you people even allow so much junk is beyond me.

  1. Basecamp has no ability inside the app to disable emails, and when posting a new message, the easiest email options is to selected “Everyone” instead of checking everyone but myself. I’ve wanted to hit the spam button for Basecamp so many times, but I always stop myself in case I get message from another Basecamp account that I need to see. Grrrr