Meeting Gmail's filter team

On Tuesday, as I was flying back from France, I sat next to +Itamar Gilad who works on the team that does Gmail's smart labels and priority inbox filters (one of those lucky flights where I get to sit next to someone smart and learn about the future -- a few other members of the team were on the flight too). 

If you've read my previous emails you know I really love these filters. But Itamar taught me a few things that I didn't know, so thought I'd pass those along. 

First, you need to turn on these filters in Gmail's settings/Labs tab. Look for "Smart Labels." 

What do they do? They filter out "bacn" or emails that are automatically generated, often by social networks or commercial sites from emails that are total spam. It adds a few new folders:

Notifications (emails that are notifications about things, like servers going down)
Social Updates (things from Google+ or Facebook)
Promotions (commercial emails, often from businesses you signed up to get them)
Forums (Google Groups messages, among others)

I also visit each of these folders and set them to automatically archive (can be tricky to figure out how to do that, but often there's a checkbox at the top of the page, or you need to go to settings and play around a bit), so messages that get filtered into these folders don't get put into the inbox. Everyday this saves me HUGE amounts of time! Even on my wife's account it dramatically cleans out her inbox.

So, what did I learn?

1. We're all in this together. If I put a message into my spam folder, or into one of these new folders, it helps you out. And if you do so (properly, please) it helps me out!

2. These filters are contextual. They look at your contacts and behaviors. So, if you answer someone back they know that's not a spam email or bacn.

3. Everyone's being rated "invisibly" for their ability to mark things as spam or put things in the right folder.

4. The filters don't automatically work just because you drag one email into these folders. It needs to check with other people and systems to see if these are actually bacn or spam and that you're doing them right.

5. Gmail is very conservative because of the wide range of people who use Gmail. They aren't adding a ton of microfolders. They are leaving that to other companies (I use +SaneBox and +OtherInbox which add many more folders and do much more advanced filtering -- you see some of their messages here).

6. UPDATE: Google+'s own circles can be used to write custom filters and influence a bit how these things work too, so choose who you follow on Google+ carefully. 

I highly recommend using these. Are you yet?

Oh, and I deleted 1,638 custom filters in Gmail so I could better see how these things work (and so I could train these filters better to help you all out too). After doing that a few days things are already starting to filter out better.
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