How to dump Gmail tabs and restore Priority Inbox

If you’re a Gmail user, you should be experiencing the new tabbed system that’s been rolled out to inboxes over the past few months.

How to dump Gmail tabs and restore Priority Inbox

Whether or no it’s a good experience seems to be the cause of much debate, with opinion split evenly between “at last, I can use my inbox” and “my inbox has become unusable”. I liked the old Priority Inbox system, since it meant I could see all the important and unread stuff at the top of my mail pile each day, but that at-a-glance view vanished as soon as the new tabs came into play.

I feel out of control and unable to see what I want to

That’s rather at odds with Google’s promise of a redesigned inbox that “puts you back in control” and is “organised in a way that lets you see what’s new at a glance and decide which emails you want to read when”.

Instead, I feel out of control and unable to see what I want to. The problem is the way Google determines which emails end up in which folders, and the fact there’s no way to choose how the messages are displayed within the folders.

At first glance, it makes sense, with five tabs available – Primary, Social, Promotions, Updates and Forums. Primary contains the stuff Google thinks you really want to read, or “person-to-person conversations”, as it calls them. Social houses things from social networks and media-sharing and online dating sites (so a mouse-over dialog informs me). This is where things start to go wrong, and not only because I don’t use dating sites. To me, “social” and 2person-to-person” conversations are one and the same: there isn’t enough differentiation to start dividing them into such broad-stroke categories. Indeed, the Social tab contains nothing but dozens of notifications of friend requests on LinkedIn and “you’ve been tagged in a post on Facebook”-type messages.

Surely these should be filtered into Updates, which is meant to contain “auto-generated updates including confirmations”? (As it happens, that tab seems to contain a mishmash of purchase confirmations, newsletters, press releases and event invites, most of which I want to see in my Primary folder.)

Filtering your own messages

There’s a way to filter them yourself, by “starring” messages one by one and ticking the configuration checkbox that says “include starred in Primary”, but while that may give me back a measure of control, it isn’t intuitive and it misses the point, since I need to have found the message already.

Whatever intelligence – and I use that word in a loose sense – Google is applying to email to sort it into these folders, it’s missing something. The Promotions folder is supposedly where all the deals, offers and marketing rubbish goes, although I’d have hoped all three could have been directed to my Spam folder, where they belong. Having talked to many people about this during the past month, I’m convinced that if users were allowed to rename the tabs, Promotions would be labelled Spam 2.

Anyway, guess what? My Promotions folder isn’t full of rubbish, but rather important press releases and announcements from organisations I belong to, all helpfully mixed up with the aforementioned detritus. The same kind of organisational announcements and press releases also appear in my Forums folder, which claims to be messages from discussion boards and mailing groups.

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