Gmail takes another swing against email overload with Smart Labels

Google’s Gmail service is adding a new feature today called Smart Labels, giving users another way to home in on the messages that they really care about.

Gmail already took a big step in this direction with the launch of the Priority Inbox last fall, which creates a special mailbox for the emails that Gmail judges important. I’ve seen a fair number of complaints on Twitter about some boneheaded misclassifications, but after training the system about my interests and priorities, I’ve found the Priority Inbox indispensable. I devote the vast majority of my email time to the Priority Inbox and then quickly skim everything else — I can’t imagine going back to the old, unsorted way of browsing my inbox.

With Smart Labels, Gmail takes another step towards automatically sorting email. If you turn Smart Labels on (Google says it will be listed in the Gmail Labs section for experimental features), Gmail will automatically apply labels for Bulk email (newsletters and other promotional material), Notifications (like receipts), and Forums (messages from group mailing lists).

Gmail users can already create their own filters that automatically apply labels, but the Smart Labels are probably more sophisticated and look at a broader range of factors. In the case of bulk mail, Gmail even moves those messages out of your primary inbox, so you don’t see them until you decide to review all your bulk messages. In some respects, this sounds similar to how a startup called OtherInbox moves automated and bulk emails out of your inbox, but the OtherInbox service also sends you an email summary of what it’s filtering out.

As with the Priority Inbox, it’s a cool idea that will depend a great deal on execution. But I can’t wait to try it out.