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Gmail's New Inbox! OMG! This Changes Everything! ... Yawn


By Ken Magill

Remember in 2011 when Google introduced priority inbox? Remember how so many people in email marketing flipped out? And then remember how nothing happened?

Well get ready for round two.

Google last week announced “a new inbox that puts you back in control,” as if our inboxes are currently out of our control.

According to Google, the new inbox will group people’s email into different categories, which will be displayed as tabs.

“You can easily customize the new inbox - select the tabs you want from all five to none, drag-and-drop to move messages between tabs, set certain senders to always appear in a particular tab and star messages so that they also appear in the Primary tab,” wrote Google product manager Itamar Gilad in a blog post announcing the change.

“If the new inbox isn't quite your style, you can simply switch off all optional tabs to go back to classic view, or switch to any of your other favorite inbox types.” He wrote.

According to Google, the new inbox is rolling out gradually.

What is unclear is if every Gmail user’s account will be switched to this new inbox automatically or if they’ll have to make the switch themselves.

As usual, the development’s perceived advantages are being misreported all over the place, mainly because reporters think they live in a world where everyone is drowning in spam—a world that doesn’t exist

“Gmail's new killer feature: Spam blocking 2.0,” said a breathless headline on

“The amount of email we all get has gone way up. But as our methods of communicating electronically have become more varied, we receive far fewer emails we actually care about -- emails that can get lost in the flood of knockoff Cialis offers,” the article by Adrian Covert said.

“Gmail's new approach to sorting out messages could make our digital lives far less cluttered,” said a report on

Thing is, these reporters are describing a non-existent condition. No one’s wanted email is getting lost in a sea of Cialis offers. If anyone’s email is getting lost in any type of so-called clutter, it’s a condition of their own making. What is more, the condition can be easily unmade by unsubscribing from lists we no longer want to be on.

Moreover, email getting automatically delivered to different folders dilutes one of Gmail’s most useful features.

With its essentially infinite storage, Gmail is a searchable archive of every single undeleted electronic communication conducted through the address since the day it was set up.

I use that function every day. Am I going to want to conduct multiple searches in the various folders to do what was once easily done in my inbox? Nope.

Of course, not everyone’s an email hoarder. A Microsoft executive once told me there are three types of email users. I can remember two: hoarders like me who pretty much have every email ever sent to them sitting in their accounts, and people who clean out their inboxes every day.

Gmail’s new inbox will have the inbox cleaners deleting email from multiple folders rather than just one inbox.

As a result, Gmail’s new inbox is a complication aimed at solving a non-problem.

“Inbox overload is a construct made by IT people, marketing people and digerati,” said Dela Quist, CEO of email marketing agency Alchemy Worx. “They are the exception. Firemen don’t have inbox overload. Construction workers don’t have inbox overload. Farmers don’t have inbox overload. Only a very small fraction of the chattering classes and digerati speak this shit. When was the last time you were at a dinner party and someone spontaneously said in the way they say: ‘Sheesh! Traffic was bad today.’ ‘Sheesh! I got 5,000 emails today. I don’t know how I’m going to cope.’?

“I hear no clamor from ordinary people for that kind of tool,” Quist said.

Jordan Cohen, vice president of marketing for Movable Ink, pointed out one area where Gmail’s new inbox may affect email marketers: timing.

Whereas previously, marketing messages from senders with decent email reputations would appear in people’s inboxes and presumably be seen right away, messages organized into a commercial folder may go unseen for some time.

“The concern is that marketing emails will be diverted to a tab called ‘promotional,’ which for all intents and purposes is actually your legitimate junk folder,” he said.

Cohen outlined some possible if/then scenarios:

“If they do roll this out [by default] and consumers don’t turn it off or if they roll it out and it’s an option and consumers turn it on en masse, open rates [at Gmail] probably will decline,” said Cohen. “But those opens might be much higher-intent and higher-value opens because people are actively going and saying: ‘Right now I want to spend time on my promotional newsletters,’ and they might be in buying mode.

“If it does become the case that they’re dealing with their primary inbox and going to their promotional messages at a later time, it does heighten the importance of having emails that adapt to the predicament,” he said.

“This means having a message that is relevant at the time the recipient opens it as opposed to the time the marketer sends it. If this takes hold at Gmail, you can’t count on the consumer seeing the message at the time you thought they were looking at it before. A lot of emails are one-day sales. What are marketers going to do if someone doesn’t open that message until tomorrow or three days from now? The same thing applies to inventory like tickets to a ball game or flights. How do you account for that?”

Much of how Gmail’s changes will roll out and how they will affect marketers, if at all, is “TBD,” or to be determined, added Cohen.


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Terms: Feel free to be as big a jerk as you want, but don't attack anyone other than me personally. And don't criticize people or companies other than me anonymously. Got something crappy to say? Say it under your real name. Anonymous potshots and personal attacks aimed at me, however, are fine.

Posted by: marc wilcox
Date: 2013-06-21 10:46:19
Subject: new inbox

Got the new gmail inbox and its total TAT now you have to check 3 tabs instead od one to make sure you have checked your email, work stuff ends up in promotions etc. Wasn't broke didn't need fixing arrrrhhhh
Posted by: Tim Roe
Date: 2013-06-05 05:07:41
Subject: The sky is falling!!

Hi Ken Great blog as usual. I love it when these new features are released, you not only get the commentary saying the sky is falling on our heads, also the denierati claim it doesn’t exist, or doesn’t need to. The fact of the matter is, email volume is increasing, and overall contact frequencies are decreasing, leading me to think email marketers have the channel under control. The only people who should be concerned about these new features are those that still send unwanted emails. Features that help people to manage their inbox and ensure that it is easy to find emails they want, should be a bonus to the marketer.