The Noisy Channel

 

Is Google Conjuring a “Magic Inbox” for Gmail?

May 21st, 2009 · 2 Comments · General

Alex Chitu at the unofficial Google Operating System blog reports that:

Gmail’s code reveals an upcoming feature called “magic inbox” or “icebox inbox”, which is likely to prioritize the messages sent by your friends and other contacts you email frequently.

That wouldn’t be hard to implement for Google or any other email service / application that has access to your history, but I’m skeptical of the value of implementing prioritization this way. I can’t speak for others, but I personally have no reason to believe there is a correlation between frequency of contact and priority. Indeed, I’ve found that non-spam out-of-the-blue emails are sometimes the most pressing ones, e.g., requests to write something for a publication or present at a conference. Not to say that my more frequent correspondents aren’t important, but if anything they have other ways to reach me with time-sensitive requests.

I’ve pushed for attention bond mechanisms before, and I’ll do it again. I’d love to see them implemented in a way that plays well with the infrastructure and is usable. To my knowledge, they are the most promising way both to improve spam filtering (though, in fairness, current spam filters work adequately) and to prioritize non-spam. But I recognize that the infrastructure and usability hurdles are significant.

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 jeremy // May 21, 2009 at 7:02 pm

    That wouldn’t be hard to implement for Google or any other email service / application that has access to your history, but I’m skeptical of the value of implementing prioritization this way. I can’t speak for others, but I personally have no reason to believe there is a correlation between frequency of contact and priority.

    Case in point: I email many of my work colleagues much more often than I email my wife.

    But when that email from her arrives, oh my, it better be in my priority queue 😉

  • 2 Daniel Tunkelang // May 21, 2009 at 9:49 pm

    One might argue that it can’t hurt to prioritize some but not all high-priority emails. But to me that’s completely useless. It’s like using a spam filter with a significant amount of false positives–you end up having to check the spam folder frequently, thus defeating its purpose.

    The sequence I want–which could be completely automated–looks like this.

    You, a complete stranger, want to send me an email that you’re sure I’ll consider important. So you send it using your email client, annotated with that assurance. My email client responds that, given that I have no idea who you are, I probably won’t get to it any time soon. Your client responds that it will “bet” $1 (or more, depending on my client’s threshold and your level of assurance) that I’ll appreciate it being bumped up in the queue. When I read it, I can either acknowledge the important (and you keep your money) or disagree (in which case I get it). It doesn’t have to be cash, if some other currency will do the trick. And of course the negotiation has to be largely automated (and secure) to be usable.

    Sound complicated? Fair enough. But I can’t think of a better way to do prioritization than to let the two parties negotiate it. And I’m assuming 99%+ of messages will use default settings. This only should kick in for people who are inundated by incoming traffic but don’t want to hire someone to screen their messages.

    Also, I like that this approach addresses the subjectivity of what constitutes spam.

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