Compared to social media, email seems slow and cumbersome - but, says Henry Cooke , there's been a bit of a revolution
At the time of writing, I have 35,722 unread emails.
I understand that number might stress you out. I'm OK with it. I receive hundreds of emails a day, of which I mostly read the subject line of and decide not to open. They come from everywhere: PR pitches, social media notifications, news websites' daily briefings, online sales, the usual. But this probably isn't ideal.
Sadly, we still need email. Even in a world with 5 million other ways to get in touch with someone online, email remains dominant. There no other way to contact someone formally online, unless you count LinkedIn, which you really shouldn't.
But email is terrible. It's a dumb box of things that we mostly don't want. It takes way too long to organise, way too long to actually send an email, and it's way too rooted in it's real-world counterpart.
But it's finally getting a bit better.
Google's Gmail has always been the best solution for personal email. Way back when it launched in 2004, most of its competitors gave users less than 5 megabytes of space - which meant most of us were constantly deleting older emails. Gmail offered a thousand (a gigabyte), on launch, and now offers more than 10 times that.
But apart from more space, and threaded conversations, Gmail wasn't really a huge change. It was still a big, dumb box. Granted, a dumb box you could Google search through, but still. Google started to experiment with marking certain emails as "important", and making sure you saw them.
It worked out fairly well, but most of us were far too scared to actually stop looking at our regular inbox.
Then, a month or so back, Gmail just threw us in the deep end with their new "tabbed inbox". Well, lots of us - the feature is being released gradually - but this isn't an opt-in feature, this is the new default.
The tabbed inbox is a huge change. And it's amazing. It separates your incoming email into tabs, in order of importance. It defaults to three, which I've stuck with: Primary, Social and Promotional.
You can bump that up to five with Updates and Forums. It's a simple idea: some email is more important than others.
I read my Primary box on my phone when I wake up while Social and Promotional can wait till I'm feeling bored. The idea isn't what's great though: what's great is how well it works.
Gmail's filtering is pitch-perfect. I haven't missed a single important email, and I can now open my mail without feeling crazy stressed. I read near to every email in my Primary box and casually scan the subject lines of everything in Social and Promotional.
The best sign of how well the filtering is working? Email-marketers, who have now been relegated to the promotions tab, are in revolt. There's some legitimate worry about how it affects social justice organisations' mailing lists, but I'm still pretty behind it.
The promotions tab doesn't just trap everyone else's ads in it, it traps Google's too. Instead of those little text ads that have been an annoyance in Gmail since it's inception, Google now makes it look like emails - but it keeps them in the Promotions tab. This makes total sense.
If you are in the mood to read your Promotions tab, you are probably in the mood to read some Google ads, and they won't invade the more personal parts of your inbox.
You can opt-out of the tabbing and return to your big-dumb-box email pretty easily, but I don't recommend it.
Gmail finally feels like an email service for 2013, not 2004, or 1994.
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