The new Gmail - a new take on email. But can it go even further?

OK, so some/most people should have ‘configure inbox’ for their Gmail account now. I got it on Thursday, and for the most part, I really like it. It’s a good way to sort the emails that you actually want to read, and the ones that normally you’d just delete or archive without even reading them.

But I think Google could go even further with the new Gmail. Yesterday evening, after I received the new Gmail Inbox, I got a notification on my phone about an email from Twitter - one of the ‘you follow x, follow y’ type of things. I get these quite often, and I always swipe them away or archive them. They just don’t interest me. But then I thought: why am I being notified about this in the first place? Admittedly, this was an experiment; I had turned off getting only ‘Priority Inbox’ emails just so I could see if emails that were not important were still handled as notifications.

Back to the matter in hand: why am I being notified about this in the first place? I, explicitly, do not care about these types of emails. They do not bother me, in the slightest. I only care about emails that, in the new tabbed interface, go into the ‘Primary’ tab. I only want to be notified about them.

So I got thinking. Why can’t Gmail work more like a social network? I still want to know I’ve received this Twitter email (just in case it’s interesting), but I don’t want to be notified in such an explicit way. I’d much rather see, on the new tabbed inbox, that I have a new email on that tab, but it’s already been marked as read as soon as it came in. But it’s still new, because I haven’t seen it yet.

So what I’m saying is: take away the current dependence email, and by extension us, have on ‘unread emails’. Make ‘unread’ and ‘new’ into different things. I still want to know that I’ve not read the extremely important email from my friend about tomorrow’s trip to the cinema to see Iron Man 3 or Man of Steel, and I do want to be notified about that as soon as it arrives in my inbox, so I can reply ASAP. But 80%, maybe more, of my email, I don’t need to be notified about - just gently nudged.

I guess it’s like this. Imagine you are a very rich man (or woman) living in a very big house with a lot of servants. An unimportant letter comes through the door. Your servant knows that this is unimportant, and you do not need to be notified about it immediately - it can wait until the time when you collect your mail.

But then, a very important letter from a very important person also comes through the door. Your servant knows that this is important, so he rushes to tell you that it’s arrived. It cannot wait until you collect the other, largely unimportant mail. It has to be seen now, so it can be replied to as soon as possible.

That’s how I want my email to work. Notified for important email, gently nudged when the time is right for the unimportant email.


I know that other email services have done this same kind of tabbed inbox - most noticeably AOL Altomail (which I'm a big fan of). But since this is now in Gmail, I think it'll be taken up by a lot more people. So it's not 'a new take on email' for some of us, but for the vast majority who don't know about Altomail etc, it is new and different.