Google takes yet another crack at taming email overload

Google is kicking off its latest effort to help Gmail users manage their messages—a redesigned inbox.

The new inbox, which will roll out to all Gmail users over the coming weeks, sorts incoming messages into labeled buckets. The messages it deems most important flow into the Primary bucket, while social network notifications from sites like Google Plus are grouped under a Social tab. Email from sites like Groupon announcing vendor deals go into a Promotions category, while receipts and confirmations go into an Updates bucket.

Both mobile and desktop users will have access to the inbox, which lets people drag and drop messages from one category to another and instruct the system to drop messages from particular senders into a particular bucket.

Gmail users who don’t like the new inbox can toggle back to the existing views, including the Classic option, where all messages are listed in order of arrival. Google also lets users sort their inbox messages by listing first the “important” ones—those who users communicate with most often—or by listing unread or starred messages first. Another option called Priority Inbox groups unread and important messages first, followed by starred messages. Users can also create their own category labels—the Gmail equivalent of folders.

All the features are part of Google’s ongoing effort to address email overload. “”Sometimes it feels like our inboxes are controlling us, rather than the other way around,” wrote Itamar Gilad, a Google product manager, in a blog post Wednesday.

Google unveiled Priority Inbox almost three years ago, and two years ago it began testing what it called Smart Labels, a feature that categorized mass email into three types and labeled messages accordingly: Bulk, Forums and Notifications.

Google announced more Gmail enhancements at its I/O developer conference this month, including “quick action” buttons that pop up in the inbox next to certain messages, letting users, for example, respond to a party invitation. Earlier in May, Google announced a feature to let Gmail users create Google Calendar entries from within email messages when Gmail detects dates and times in the text.

Despite the steady stream of improvements, the email service still runs into some resistance due to its user interface, which some people dislike, especially in workplace settings where Microsoft’s Outlook email and calendar client remains entrenched. Microsoft recently launched a new webmail service called Outlook.com that replaced Hotmail and that Microsoft hopes will be a stronger competitor to Gmail and Yahoo Mail.

Juan Carlos Perez covers enterprise communication/collaboration suites, operating systems, browsers and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Juan on Twitter at @JuanCPerezIDG.

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