New Gmail inbox prioritizes mail

Google’s added a new feature to Gmail: a Priority Inbox allowing users to sift the important mail from the run-of-the-mill.

It’s more than a spam filter, although it’s based on many of the same techniques. Mail will appear in three categories: Important and unread, Starred and Everything Else.

“Gmail has always been pretty good at filtering junk mail into the ‘spam’ folder. But today, in addition to spam, people get a lot of mail that isn’t outright junk but isn’t very important — bologna, or ‘bacn’,” says software engineer Doug Aberdeen.

“So we’ve evolved Gmail’s filter to address this problem and extended it to not only classify outright spam, but also to help users separate this ‘bologna’ from the important stuff.”

The company proritizes messages on the basis of past activity and subject matter. So somebody thst the user emails a lot will make it into the Important box, as will emails about a topic that you’ve tended to read in the past.

What users do with the emails also affects future classification: Google reckons, for example, that starred emails are likely to be more important than ones which are generally archived without being read.

But if Google gets it wrong, the user can train the system.

“As you use Gmail, it will get better at categorizing messages for you,” says Aberdeen. “You can help it get better by clicking the (plus or minus) buttons at the top of the in-box to correctly mark a conversation as important or not important.”

Once a message has been flagged in this way, it’ll be shifted to the relevant category, and the classification will be incorporated into the algorithm for next time.

And, promises the company, “if you always ignore email from Bob and those messages are marked as ‘not important’ in your inbox, it won’t affect how Bob sees the conversation in his inbox.”

The feature isn’t fully available on mobile devices. There’s limited support for people using Gmail in the web browser on Android or Apple devices, in English only, or for those using the built-in email program  – IMAP or Google Sync – on most devices. This allows viewing of messages under the ‘Important’ label.

The feature, which is still in beta, will be rolled out over the next week or so.