Google Wants to Manage Your Inbox

Gmail Priority, a sorting service from Google that picks up where spam filtering leaves off, has some potentially troubling consequences for recruiters, should the service catch on with users.

For candidates already plagued by the resume black hole, Gmail Priority might be just the thing to convince them to go old school and snail mail in a job application.

Since the beginning of the month, Google has been offering an enhancement to its popular and free Gmail service, which has more than 176 million users worldwide. Gmail Priority, an opt-in service, filters incoming email into three categories: Important and Unread, Starred, and Everything Else. The idea is to make it easy for heavy email users to know what mail to read first.

Like everything else Google does, Priority depends on algorithms to sort the mail. First it filters out the spam (and does a great job of that). Then it will decide, based on what you read, what you respond to, and to whom, and what you tell it, which category it belongs in. Starred mail is in the user’s control and marks mail for special consideration.

Sounds useful? So what’s the downside?

Job seekers, especially those who blindly send out resumes, won’t even be able to fool themselves into thinking someone might have actually touched their resume. Maybe even filed it.

That may not seem like a negative if you’re a recruiter who gets those mass resume mailings. But what about your own pitches? Passive candidates you source from LinkedIn, trade associations, and the like may never see that great job opportunity if you get sorted into the “Everything Else” pile.

Sure, the email will be there and accessible. However, heavy users may come to consider that particular pile the equivalent of the kitchen junk drawer. That’s the place you look only when you know something you need is there, or you can’t find it anywhere else.

The more a prospect doesn’t open that mail, the more such mail Gmail Priority will dump there. It learns what you like, as the video demonstrates.

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Before anyone thinks the sky is falling, Gmail Priority only affects Gmail users and then only those who access their mail directly via the world wide web.  Those who use a mail client — Outlook, Thunderbird, Pegasus, for example — will still get their mail handled as always. (There’s pressure on Google to fully enable the priority feature for client-handled mail, so that may come eventually. Right now, Google is enhancing and improving access for mobile devices.)

Besides these limitations there’s always the question of just how many people will adopt Gmail Priority. Last fall Google introduced Sidewiki. That browser add-on allows users to leave comments on any webpage they visit. Although I come across the occasional Sidewiki post, it doesn’t seem to have gained much traction.

More importantly, as a recent post by Loren McDonald, a VP at marketing provider Silverpop, points out, Gmail Priority is part of a trend toward providing better email inbox management. Sorting mail by significance has all sorts of implications, some of which I’ve already noted. But as McDonald’s post makes plain, it may well exacerbate the problem of bacn: mail the user says they want, but which they rarely if ever open. Think of how your candidate relations management might be affected by having those periodic job announcements or industry and company tidbits sorted into the “Everything Else” group?

What I suspect may happen, if inbox management tools become widespread, is that social media communications will grow ever more valuable. Facebook wall posts and tweets may become primary tools, if not to convey the complete message, then to alert followers and friends to where the information is. Twitter is already serving that purpose. Facebook is close.

If nothing else, Gmail Priority has the industry talking and considering what the future of CRM mailings may be when inboxes are divided into “Important” and “Everything Else.”

John Zappe is the editor of TLNT.com and a contributing editor of ERE.net. John was a newspaper reporter and editor until his geek gene lead him to launch his first website in 1994. He developed and managed online newspaper employment sites and sold advertising services to recruiters and employers. Before joining ERE Media in 2006, John was a senior consultant and analyst with Advanced Interactive Media and previously was Vice President of Digital Media for the Los Angeles Newspaper Group.

Besides writing for ERE, John consults with staffing firms and employment agencies, providing content and managing their social media programs. He also works with organizations and businesses to assist with audience development and marketing. In his spare time  he can be found hiking in the California mountains or competing in canine agility and obedience competitions.

You can contact him here.

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7 Comments on “Google Wants to Manage Your Inbox

  1. I have been using a similar technology within Outlook called C-MAIL, a product of Messagemind. It has a dynamic prioritization feature that categorizes email according to user’s clicking behavior and many other factors. Not only does the technology address prioritization and organization of email, it allows users to set rules through keywords and contacts making sure no important email is missed. It’s an addictive tool that has helped me tremendously in my daily worklife. I highly recommend it.

  2. I’ve been using priority mail for the last couple of weeks and so far so good. Users are still able to set up filters (the word resume for example) that make a certain action happen (goes to folder “x”) so you don’t miss email you really want to see.

    In regards to candidates – I would suggest using subject lines that alert them, quite clearly, the point of your email. People who are using this are probably using it for valid reason – they get ton of email already. You’ve already had to fight for their attention! Kind of off topic but aren’t we supposed to be following up with a call anyway? When I see someone I’m really interested in, that’s what I do.

  3. Nice article, John. I’ve been a heavy user of gmail for years, and I’m excited about this change. In fact, my view is that it certainly impacts my productivity in a positive light, and helps me better manage the candidates that come through my ‘g’ account.

    I do not use the “priority” mailbox only – rather, I flip back and forth between it and the “normal” inbox. The priority box ensures that I don’t miss any of the critical emails that I cannot afford to miss. The normal inbox gives me the oppty to continue working thru emails as usual, but provides the new option of marking people as “important” or “not so important.”

    Thumbs up from me,

    Dennis

  4. John I think ATS systems (at least ours anyway) moot this issue because they do their own processing of your email stream. (you can use any IMAP client including gmail).

    Easy to understand that people want the whole of their email except actual spam for future reference if needed.

  5. You are correct, Martin. If there’s an ATS that receives the mail, it’s already sorting everything and (in many cases) ranking the inbound flow.

    For independents and recruiters not using an ATS (and there are many of them), Gmail Priority can make life a little easier. As Duane points out, you can still set-up filters to avoid having an “Everything Else” folder that is dozens of emails deep.

    Personally, I use a mail client. Like many users, I have multiple mailboxes, which I use for different purposes. Having the client handle the routine work of logging in to the mailbox, downloading what’s there, then sorting into folders is so much easier than me doing it manually.

    What I hope Google will do is to enable Priority with POP and IMAP, do its sorting thing and tag the mail. When it’s downloaded and my client executes the filtering instructions, I can look in each folder to find the “Important” mail flagged.

  6. my guess is that they will keep enriching the feature set until gmail is a workflow engine. To do that, they will have to use some metadata API to get triggers and targets from external systems.

    if they want to keep people out of the Outlook/Sharepoint stack, thats what they are going to have to do, although many gmail users are also Outlook users too.

    either way, the email interface is the prime workspace for an awful lot of people.

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