New in Gmail Labs: Smart Labels

New in Gmail Labs: Smart Labels

Wednesday, March 09, 2011 | 10:00 AM

Posted by Stanley Chen, Software Engineer

People get a lot of email these days. On top of personal messages, there are group mailing lists, social network notifications, credit card statements, newsletters you might have signed up for, and promotional email from a shopping site you used once months ago. Gmail’s filters and labels were invented to help manage the deluge, but while I have about 100 filters that triage and label my incoming mail, most of my friends and family have all their messages in a giant unfiltered inbox.

Last year, we launched Priority Inbox to automatically sort incoming email and help you focus on the messages that matter most. Today, we’re launching a complementary feature in Gmail Labs called Smart Labels, which helps you classify and organize your email. Once you turn it on from the Labs tab in Settings, Smart Labels automatically categorizes incoming Bulk, Notification and Forum messages, and labels them as such. “Bulk” mail includes any kind of mass mailing (such as newsletters and promotional email) and gets filtered out of your inbox by default (where you can easily read it later), “Notifications” are messages sent to you directly (like account statements and receipts), and email from group mailing lists gets labeled as “Forums.”

If you already use filters and labels to organize your mail, you may find that you can replace your existing filters with Smart Labels. If you’re picky like me and still want to hold on to your current organization system, Smart Labels play nice with other labels and filters too. On the Filters tab under Settings, you’ll find that these filters can be edited just like any others. From there, you can also edit your existing filters to avoid having them Smart Labeled or change whether mail in a Smart Label skips your inbox (which you can also do by just clicking on the label, then selecting or unselecting the checkbox in the top right corner).

Labs in Gmail are a great testing ground for experimental features, and we hope Smart Labels help you more effortlessly get through your inbox. If you notice a message that was automatically labeled incorrectly and want to help us troubleshoot, you can report miscategorizations from the drop down menu on each message (in doing so, you’ll donate the full message to our engineers so that we can improve the feature). Give it a try and send us feedback on how we can make it work better for you!

This could be interesting. One day they’ll use Bayesian filters and we won’t even have to set up filters of our own. One day.

Undermining the Browser

If it was from any other company it wouldn’t really matter, but Google’s Desktop Sidebar is important, not because it’s particularly new, but because it undermines the primacy of the browser.

Loose Wire ‘s WSJ.com column in June looked at desktop widgets like Konfabulator and Klips before, as well as existing sidebars like the Desktop Sidebar, put together in his spare time by software engineer Damian Kedzierski, 34, who lives in Katowice in southern Poland. Or the SpyderBar from New Orleans-based TGT Soft. In the longer term, Microsoft has indicated that it plans to incorporate a very similar approach in its next version of Windows. Yahoo!, of course, have already bought Konfabulator and I would be very surprised if someone doesn’t snap up Serence, the folk behind Klips, pretty soon.

That’s probably where the battle is going to be: the space on top of the browser. Google can find a way past Microsoft only if it’s able to supplant, or bypass, the browser as the main tool for not merely looking for information (like the search toolbar) but also how the information is displayed once it’s retrieved. That’s where the Sidebar comes in.

While I don’t think Google have done a particularly good job with the Sidebar. The weather widget, for example, only shows U.S. cities. There’s nothing new in there to surprise anyone who has used Damian’s Desktop Sidebar. But the power is not there, it’s in the fact that it channels all existing Google products — search, Gmail, presumably Google Earth etc later — straight to your desktop without going anywhere else first. The heat, finally, is on.