Google introduces Gmail Priority Inbox beta for intelligent message filtering

Google continued its reinvention of the Gmail inbox Tuesday with the introduction of Priority Inbox Beta, a new mail filtering system that prioritizes emails based upon the user's viewing and responding habits.

The feature will be rolled out incrementally to Gmail users over the next week, and will break up inboxes into three categories: Important and Unread emails, Starred conversations, and "everything else." Incoming messages will automatically be routed into one of these three categories, which Gmail determines by user trends. For example, if a particular contact is someone frequently exchanging emails with the user, their incoming messages will be ranked as more important than someone else's. Similarly, messages that users actually opened instead of skipped, deleted or "marked as read" from certain senders will be considered higher priority.

Like song suggestions from music service Pandora, an email's priority can be upranked or downranked with the click of a button; and users can set up filters to always mark certain messages as important, even if they have never received a message from them before. This means users who receive tons of email can be sure that a new important message will rise to the top, especially handy for new contacts, job interviews, or support tickets.

"We've evolved Gmail's filter to address this problem and extended it to not only classify outright spam, but also to help users separate this 'bologna' from the important stuff," Google software engineer Doug Aberdeen said on Tuesday. "In a way, Priority Inbox is like your personal assistant, helping you focus on the messages that matter without requiring you to set up complex rules."

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