As a tech enthusiast, one of the things I like about Google mail is the ongoing tweaking and innovating with the service. Sometimes changes are annoying at first (the user interface was "streamlined" a few weeks ago and I didn't like it), sometimes changes don't help that much (Google Buzz certainly did not revolutionize the way I connect and engage with my friends and associates) but sometimes the improvements are hugely beneficial. Since Priority Inbox was announced last week I have been waiting eagerly for it to be activated in my accounts so I can try it out and share my learnings with the Kabissa community. New services tend to be rolled out slowly as Google looks for and irons out bugs, and it took a week this time for Priority Inbox to finallyarrive in my Kabissa mailboxes (though not yet in my gmail.com mailbox).
At first glance I like Priority Inbox very much - it adds a new label above the Inbox which presents your incoming email in three categories: important and unread, starred, and everything else. It uses the same automatic algorithms it uses for spam filtering to decide what is important ("based on what you read") and lets you train it by indicating whether it was right or not. Time will tell how well it actually works, and part of the idea is that it will in fact get better with time as it "learns" your priorities.
I think Priority Inbox is a great idea and will be very useful, especially for those in Africa who struggle to make maximum use of the limited time they have in front of Internet connected computers to get their work done. On the other hand, as usual this raises questions about Google and privacy, and how much we can afford to allow corporations like Google to know so much about what we are corresponding about and with whom. For African activists and journalists, keeping certain activities and relationships secret can be a matter of life and death. Perhaps they should not be using gmail. I've already talked about the risks of Facebook for activists - now do we also have to worry about our email? What are the alternatives?
What do you think?
Below is a copy of the email I received in my inbox explaining the new service and linking to an introductory video with quite the peppy sound track.