Not All E-Mails Are Created Equal; SaneBox Knows the Difference
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separate sections for “Important and Unread,” “Important,” and “Everything Else.” Just as with SaneBox, the idea is that most people have better things to do with their time than sorting through rewards card notices from Office Depot and pitches for time-shares in Boca. It’s a nice idea. I used Priority Inbox for almost seven months before giving up on it out of sheer frustration. Here were my problems:
1. Priority Inbox was bad at guessing which e-mails were important to me. Lots of stuff that I would have wanted to see right away got buried in the “Everything Else” bin.
2. Priority Inbox only works when you’re accessing Gmail from a Web browser. I frequently check my e-mail using the Mail app on my iPad and my iPhone. Constantly switching back and forth between the filtered and unfiltered views gave me migraines.
3. The “Everything Else” section grew and grew because I didn’t trust the filtering algorithm. The larger this section got, the more impossible the task of dealing with those e-mails came to seem; I didn’t dare just delete everything, for fear I’d lose something important. So over time, it became harder to zero out my inbox, not easier.
SaneBox neatly sidesteps all three of these problems.
1. It’s really good at filtering out the e-mails that can wait until later. There are virtually no false negatives. Let’s take today as an example. It’s 8:00 pm and there are 156 messages in my @SaneLater folder, all of which came in today (I know because I emptied it before bed last night). I just glanced through the folder and only four of those messages needed to be manually moved back into my inbox. I’ve talked to other people who say they never find anything crucial in @SaneLater.
2. SaneBox works with every e-mail client. In the Mail app on my iOS devices, @SaneLater just shows up as another folder, and I can move messages into it and out of it in the usual way.
3. Because so many of the e-mails in @SaneLater really are unimportant, I can usually delete or archive all of them en masse, after quickly scanning the from: lines and the subject lines. That’s a big time saver. It means I can concentrate on dealing with the messages in my inbox.
If SaneBox were truly magical, it would automatically do something about those messages too. But alas, I got 67 truly important e-mails today, which I’ll have to take care of in the usual way (using The E-Mail Game, of course—read this column for the details).
It’s impressive that SaneBox has gotten so much right, especially given that the founder Stuart Roseman (who is also bankrolling the startup) has his entrepreneurial roots in the game business—he co-founded Gamesville in 1995 and sold it to Lycos in 1999 for $232 million. Leonov, who is SaneBox’s vice president of growth, says the company set out with a simple goal: to build an e-mail filtering system “that doesn’t require the user to download anything or learn a new process.” The system does need a little training to become really accurate, he acknowledges, but that just involves moving e-mails between folders.
Leonov says SaneBox launched a private beta test of its service in June 2010, just two months before Google added the Priority Inbox feature to Gmail. “That day was definitely scary for us, and half of our beta users left immediately,” he says. But then something interesting happened. “Most of them came back. Today, more than half of our users are on Gmail, and they prefer to pay us money rather than use Priority Inbox,” which, like Gmail itself, is free.
Leonov says that my own experience with Priority Inbox was a common one. He’s not sure why Gmail is so bad at judging the importance of e-mails, but he says “our hypothesis is that Gmail is … Next Page »