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Google Wants to Manage Your Inbox

Sep 17, 2010
This article is part of a series called News & Trends.

Gmail Priority, a sorting service from Google that picks up where spam filtering leaves off, has some potentially troubling consequences for recruiters, should the service catch on with users.

For candidates already plagued by the resume black hole, Gmail Priority might be just the thing to convince them to go old school and snail mail in a job application.

Since the beginning of the month, Google has been offering an enhancement to its popular and free Gmail service, which has more than 176 million users worldwide. Gmail Priority, an opt-in service, filters incoming email into three categories: Important and Unread, Starred, and Everything Else. The idea is to make it easy for heavy email users to know what mail to read first.

Like everything else Google does, Priority depends on algorithms to sort the mail. First it filters out the spam (and does a great job of that). Then it will decide, based on what you read, what you respond to, and to whom, and what you tell it, which category it belongs in. Starred mail is in the user’s control and marks mail for special consideration.

Sounds useful? So what’s the downside?

Job seekers, especially those who blindly send out resumes, won’t even be able to fool themselves into thinking someone might have actually touched their resume. Maybe even filed it.

That may not seem like a negative if you’re a recruiter who gets those mass resume mailings. But what about your own pitches? Passive candidates you source from LinkedIn, trade associations, and the like may never see that great job opportunity if you get sorted into the “Everything Else” pile.

Sure, the email will be there and accessible. However, heavy users may come to consider that particular pile the equivalent of the kitchen junk drawer. That’s the place you look only when you know something you need is there, or you can’t find it anywhere else.

The more a prospect doesn’t open that mail, the more such mail Gmail Priority will dump there. It learns what you like, as the video demonstrates.

Before anyone thinks the sky is falling, Gmail Priority only affects Gmail users and then only those who access their mail directly via the world wide web.  Those who use a mail client — Outlook, Thunderbird, Pegasus, for example — will still get their mail handled as always. (There’s pressure on Google to fully enable the priority feature for client-handled mail, so that may come eventually. Right now, Google is enhancing and improving access for mobile devices.)

Besides these limitations there’s always the question of just how many people will adopt Gmail Priority. Last fall Google introduced Sidewiki. That browser add-on allows users to leave comments on any webpage they visit. Although I come across the occasional Sidewiki post, it doesn’t seem to have gained much traction.

More importantly, as a recent post by Loren McDonald, a VP at marketing provider Silverpop, points out, Gmail Priority is part of a trend toward providing better email inbox management. Sorting mail by significance has all sorts of implications, some of which I’ve already noted. But as McDonald’s post makes plain, it may well exacerbate the problem of bacn: mail the user says they want, but which they rarely if ever open. Think of how your candidate relations management might be affected by having those periodic job announcements or industry and company tidbits sorted into the “Everything Else” group?

What I suspect may happen, if inbox management tools become widespread, is that social media communications will grow ever more valuable. Facebook wall posts and tweets may become primary tools, if not to convey the complete message, then to alert followers and friends to where the information is. Twitter is already serving that purpose. Facebook is close.

If nothing else, Gmail Priority has the industry talking and considering what the future of CRM mailings may be when inboxes are divided into “Important” and “Everything Else.”

This article is part of a series called News & Trends.
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