Google Makes Gmail Priority Inbox Faster, Smarter

Google's Gmail Priority Inbox got a boost of intelligence, telling users why it marked messages as important. The tool's algorithm also sped up responses to manual corrections.

Google made its smart inbox software feature for Gmail smarter and faster Dec. 6, responding to users' requests.

Gmail Priority Inbox is an opt-in feature that lets users designate some messages as more important than others at a time when users are buckling under the weight of e-mail overload.

The tool looks at whom a person e-mails and chats with most, how often they e-mail people, and which keywords appear frequently in the e-mails they read.

Once the customization tool categorizes messages, it stacks them in Gmail in sections marked important, important and unread, starred items, and everything else.

Google Engineering Manager Pal Takacsi-Nagy said the tool is already paying dividends. Based on median time in conversation view, Takacsi-Nagy said typical Priority Inbox users spend 43 percent more time reading important mail compared with unimportant messages.

Moreover, users are spending 15 percent less time reading e-mail overall than Gmail users who don't use Priority Inbox, he said. These are the type of time savings Google envisioned when it launched the product in the waning days of August.

To provide more insight into why Google categorizes certain messages as important, Google is now providing explanations for its importance markers, which tell users if a message is important and unread, important and read, or archived.

When Priority Inbox users hover over an importance marker they will see a short explanation, such as "Important because you marked it as important" or "Important mainly because of the people in the conversation."

Google also boosted the tool's response time to manual corrections after users complained that Priority Inbox "didn't learn fast enough," Takacsi-Nagy said.

Time will tell if these improvements will suit users, particularly the power Gmail users who use the app as their primary e-mail account.

eWEEK has tested Priority Inbox and found it to be marginally useful for someone who uses Gmail as their personal e-mail with moderate messaging.

In the meantime, here are tips and tricks to using Gmail Priority Inbox.