Google announced a new take on email today and the blogosphere is again caught up in an invite frenzy unheard of since Ello a few weeks ago. Even though I have not had a chance to try it, I do like the product message and some of the features highlighted.
The premise is that though even though we all love email, it is being used for so many different functions that it has become very hard to use. As the Times put it: email “performs too many functions in our lives. Email is a place for correspondence, for status alerts from social networks and online stores and airlines, and a file system for transferring and storing important documents. For many people it’s also a to-do list and quasi-calendar, the central planner and task manager for your day.” Guilty as described.
The new Inbox claims to do more for the harried user. More sorting, more summaries, and more intelligence. Some of the features touted as new and improved:
- Bundling similar messages and highlighting important ones. I can see this help users prioritize what to read first and what they can ignore completely and delete unopened.
- Adding reminders. I assume this is an improved ability to read appointments and other calendar-ish events and help users remember them without taking additional steps.
- Using external (to the message) data-mining intelligence to pull data from the web to add another layer of information to various appointments such as status updates flights and contact information for appointments.
While these seem like great features, it isn’t a “revolution in email” but rather ways to do email faster. It’s a good start, but it’s not enough.
What would I add? Glad you asked!
The way we communicate online has changed immensely since Google launched Gmail back in 2004. Yes, we still love asynchronous communications but we have gravitated to much shorter messages. The social media model is a good example. The Twitter favorite, the Facebook like and the Google+ +1 are all indicators that are very short communications and serve many different purposes determined by context. One of the more useful purposes is to acknowledge receipt.Yes, I have seen this, I accept it, end of conversation. In email, to indicate receipt, another email must be sent, generating more “noise.” Can’t we just +1 it and have the sender see it?
Reading email on multiple devices, desktops, tablets and phones, creates a new set of problems that email currently doesn’t address. Sure, a very useful feature is to automatically synchronize all mailboxes on the different devices, but that’s just the minimum. What we need is a new designation, something beyond “read” or unread” but “read once and need to look at again as if new on a my desktop but not new so that I don’t read it again on my phone.” That kind of distinction can help users go through email faster.
More classification of marketing email and junk. My email has a hard time distinguishing between an order or shipping confirmation from a specific vendor (important) and daily spam (unimportant) from that same vendor. Come on, you’re smarter than that! Put all the pure marketing emails in a different folder than the verifications. I’d also like to see more shortcuts taken regarding online purchases and arrival times. Tracking a shipment should be automatic; just tell me when the package is supposed to arrive in the subject line.
Finally, it’s OK to create different tools to access the same data. Maybe we shouldn’t rely on one application to read and process our emails. Perhaps the right way is using several different applications to access the same inbox so that the user can decide what they want to see and how they want to see it. Perhaps two different web applications? Perhaps different web and mobile and tablet applications? It doesn’t all have to be the same one every time. From what I’ve read, the Inbox supports that duality along with Gmail and it will be interesting to see how they work together.
So hey, Google, can I have my invite now?