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Google 'smart labels' aim to de-stress e-mail

John D. Sutter
Gmail is rolling out features to make e-mail less stressful and time consuming.
Gmail is rolling out features to make e-mail less stressful and time consuming.
  • Gmail update, "smart labels," aims to combat info overload
  • The feature sorts e-mail automatically into certain categories
  • Google says people who use feature spend 15% less time overall reading their e-mail

(CNN) -- Google on Wednesday announced yet another e-mail feature designed to defuse one of the true time bombs of modern digital existence: information overload.

The Gmail feature called "smart labels," which now is available for users who choose to switch on the feature through the Gmail Labs page, automatically sorts e-mail into groups to make it easier -- and hopefully less stressful -- for to users to manage their overflowing inboxes.

The smart labels feature essentially focuses on "bacn," that brand of e-mail that people subscribe to and generally want to read -- but don't have time for right now. Think bank statements, neighborhood newsletters, airline frequent flier program updates and targeted advertisements from stores where you actually shop. Google's computers automatically detect and sort that type of semi-trash e-mail into three categories -- bulk, notifications and forums.

The bulk messages -- which are mass mailings you've signed up for -- are labeled as such and bypass the inbox entirely. Notifications and forums -- messages from listserves -- are labeled and still show up in the inbox.

"A lot of users do want to read this stuff but they don't want to necessarily read it in their everyday flow," said Steve Crossan, a product manager at Gmail.

He added: "On my personal Gmail account I get a lot of this kind of mail and I find (smart labels) to be very useful. It's easy to quickly eyeball the amount of mail I've got in this category."

This new feature builds on Gmail's Priority Inbox technology, which tries to select and highlight the most urgent e-mails in of a person's inbox.

Google says people who use that feature spend 15% less time overall reading their e-mail. That's good news, Crossan said, since information overload is one of the most significant problems for e-mail communications.

"We're continuing to make a significant investment in this area," he said.

Last week, Google's e-mail system made headlines for less savory reasons -- the company temporarily lost the e-mails of tens of thousands of users.


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