Google Gmail Priority Inbox is Real Time Saver

Forget Google Instant, the superfast, by-letter search service. The recently released Google Apps Mail Priority Inbox is the real small-biz time saver.

Call me old-fashioned, but shaving 300 milliseconds off my day somehow stays at the bottom of my to-do list. So, as impressive a techno-feat as Google Instant is for finding Web stuff as I type, capturing those lost blinks of an eye is never going to make me or anybody else any money.

But that's not to say the Mountain View, Calif.-based technology company -- which really is what Google ( GOOG) has become; search is just a product -- cannot boast a way-cool new efficiency tool for small businesses.

In late August, the tech giant quietly popped in an upgrade to Gmail called Priority Inbox. The system adds a separate screen to your email separating the messages you want to see from those you don't.

In a rare move for Google, it rolled this tool straight into its Google Apps product line. A Google representative confirmed that Priority Inbox is part of Google's emerging upgrades for collaboration tools for those who manage lots of email-based information -- in other words, small businesses.

I have been testing the tool since it went live, and am here with the small-business skinny:

WHAT YOU GET This is the best thing to happen to small-business Gmail since ... well ... Gmail.

Google loves to play the part of benevolent, enlightened tech provider with its free, open software. For sure the company tries, but most of the time that pose is just a pose. Try syncing the miserable Google contacts database across apps, using the company's garbled voice-activated calling features or parsing out the frankly illegible transcription products to get a feel for how open, easy to use and high-performing this operation really can be.

But on this day, for this product -- oh baby, has Google squared this ball up and sent it straight over center field.

Priority Inbox defines a new concept for email, beyond the basics such as "unread," "starred," "archived" and whatever custom labels or folders you create. It's called "important," which is exactly what it sounds like: It labels what you're interested in from what you are not and places this important stuff in its own special zone at the top of the Priority Inbox page. "Important"-ness also gives Gmail a feel for what messages you want to see first, and pushes everything else to the aptly named "Everything else" section on the bottom of the page. You definitely need to scan "Everything else" a few times a day. But very quickly, like in an hour, the tool puts what you need to see up where you can see it, and organizes everything else where you can scan it.

Forget saving a few fractions of a second; the entire ordeal of clearing out the Inbox was roughly cut in half in my testing.

Can I get a "Hallelujah," brothers and sisters?

WHAT YOU DON'T GET Priority Inbox is basically excellent. But it's still Gmail, so you are stuck with the rest of the Gmail conventions, such as threaded conversations, sifting through long note threads to find the info you want and otherwise dealing with Gmail's restrictive vision of online communications.

This is, however, nickel-and-dime stuff. For Gmail users, Priority Inbox rocks.

BOTTOM LINE There is absolutely no reason not to install this tool -- right now. For the small business, forget calling it Google Mail Priority Inbox, just call it Google Mail Super Star.

It's that good.

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Jonathan Blum is an independent technology writer and analyst living in Westchester, N.Y. He has written for The Associated Press and Popular Science and appeared on Fox News and The WB.

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