Burn your ships, Inbox by Gmail is here

hernado cortesThere’s an oft-debated historical reference made about Hernado Cortes burning his ships after they landed in the New World to encourage his men to fight and survive there rather than giving in too easily and sailing home. It’s how I’ve handled the conversion to Inbox by Gmail and, if you receive an invite, it’s what you should do, too, if you want to be successful with it.

The reason the Cortes story is debated is because now historians believe he didn’t order the ships burned but rather run aground and stripped of materials. Potato, pot-ah-to — either way there wasn’t an easy escape route when things got tough.

Those who follow me on social media or read this blog know that I’m a big fan of Google. It’s not a blind infatuation, I actually like their products and their methods, even when they destroy products I enjoyed using, like Google Reader. I have long enjoyed living deep within the Google universe because of the ways they find to integrate everything. Automation or at least quick manual access to my online life through various programs and apps usually makes my life easier and simpler. And I’m all for that, as I suspect most people are. But at times there are things with promise that come along that attract my attention, even if they aren’t within the Google universe.

The latest example of this was Mailbox, a self-standing startup that was eventually acquired by Dropbox. The beauty of the app, which started as mobile and then became a beta desktop app, was that it allowed you to swipe through, deal with or snooze email very efficiently. There were many times when I longed for GMail’s integration with attaching files from Google Drive or interacting directly with Google+ posts from within the email notification. But when I had a stack of emails flooding in, I went to Mailbox to quickly sort, swipe, snooze and delete them to get my head above water again. I should note here that the concept of Inbox Zero is paramount to me. I see my email inbox as a running to do list and as long as an email is sitting in there – read or unread – I have something I need to do. So by the end of each day, and sometimes by early evening, I have achieved Inbox Zero. That doesn’t mean everything is done, but it has at least been addressed, even if that means scheduling it to handle tomorrow.

Oh, how I longed for the functionality of Gmail and the efficiency of Mailbox to become one. I often wondered why Dropbox had to acquire Mailbox before Google could. I needed the two apps to marry so I could enjoy their companionship.

inboxSo, along comes Inbox by Gmail. It’s odd that it’s not Inbox by Google, but maybe they’re trying to show commitment to potential users, those of us who have been there done that with Google Wave, Google Buzz, Google Reader, etc. If they say it’s “by Gmail,” maybe we will believe that this time they won’t abandon it just as it’s starting to get good.

But I digress. Let’s focus on Inbox. Aside from its silly name (couldn’t they have come up with something less confusing than making us yet again use a common word as proper noun?) it’s a winner in my book, albeit in need of some tweaking. I suppose I should be happy that Google didn’t follow the other naming trend these days of obliterating random vowels and call it “Inbx.”

inbox feedbackI’ve been taking notes for this blog post as I’ve provided feedback to Google, or Gmail, or whomever is on the other end of the line. Sending feedback is easy, and they’ve even set it up so that it can automatically include a screen shot, highlight what you’re referring to, and black out personal information. It’s a feedback system that instills confidence.

So here are my notes so far, after having used Inbox on mobile and desktop for about three days now:

  • As I said earlier, you need to go all in. I’ve seen complaints from early adopters saying that what they do on the Inbox mobile app doesn’t transfer well to their Gmail inbox on the web. Well, duh, then go to your Inbox inbox (sigh) on the web and everything will be right with the world. Yes, many of us have invested time and energy in Gmail labels and folders, and those are still available to you under Inbox. But you now have a system of “bundling” available that seems to work well, so find a way to merge the two concepts and you’ll be singing a happy tune.
  • Speaking of bundling, one of the things you have to do is be a little patient with the technology. The initial bundles for Promos, Travel, Updates, etc. are pretty good. After all, Google has scanned your email surreptitiously for years, so they should have a handle on sorting it by now. But you can make your own “bundles,” and you can adjust which emails go into the standard ones or your personal ones on the fly. I say be patient because it may take a few days for Inbox to learn what you like and how you like it. But it seems to be picking up on my changes quickly and accurately.
  • One of the key features of Inbox is swiping and snoozing. That means you can select an email, or a group of emails, to go away and magically reappear at a later time or date or, because Google has this advantage over Dropbox as the mother ship, you can have them appear when you reach a certain location. That’s handy if you want to snooze an email until you get home after work, for example. One tweak that needs to be made to Inbox is the ability to adjust the default snoozes. On Mailbox, I could adjust what “later today” meant or what time “tomorrow” the reappearance would trigger. While you can manually select a custom date and time in Inbox, your defaults are their defaults, at least for now.
  • I also have discovered that when a snoozed item reappears, it is automatically unbundled and pinned. Unbundled means it just appears in your inbox, and not returning to the bundled group you had it in originally. Just because I want to look at something later doesn’t mean I want the category removed. And the concept of pinning emails by sticking a virtual stick pin in it is handy. It protects those emails by saving them to your inbox no matter what you try to do to it. That helps protect you from mistakes as you start to swipe, snooze and trash things with speed. But snoozed items don’t necessarily have to be pinned. If Google is listening to my feedback, they’ll know that I just want my email to pop back up, in the place I had it, and without a pin.
  • As for trashing items, Google has again opted to focus on archiving emails instead of deleting them. This happened with the Gmail mobile app initially until enough people hollered and they gave us the option of “trashing” meaning delete instead of archive. It’s an important difference and one that users should be allowed to toggle. Hopefully, that will happen soon. I’ve started using keyboard shortcuts in Inbox a lot more than in Gmail because I discovered the one for delete that actually means “delete.”
  • Formatting can still be a little tricky at times, too, as sometimes I’m finding things I’m cutting and pasting from the web into the body of the email being smashed together instead of formatted with paragraphs. I’m hoping that’s just a glitch that Google will address soon. I do like that there is a “speed dial” function hidden under the compose button. It populates with a few of your most-used recipients so you can address an email with two clicks and no typing.
  • The biggest letdown I’ve run into so far is the lack of proper integration. Sometimes it’s more efficient for me to reply to a Google+ post via the email notification instead of actually going to G+. In Gmail, I can do that and you’d never be able to tell I did it. With Inbox, my reply shows up, but so does a truncated header about who sent the response that I’m replying to. That’s unnecessary clutter and needs to be addressed. And, Inbox is not yet fully integrated with Google Drive as Gmail is. That means there is no easy way to attach or embed files and pictures from Drive. Sure, you can easily attach files that are on your computer, but unless they’re in a Drive folder you sync to your hard drive, that means you have to go get it first. That is soooo 2013! Google owns all of this, so it might be in the next iteration without much coding needed (says the guy who knows nothing about coding).
  • One thing that is integrated is Google Reminders, which is going to take some getting used to but may be something worthwhile. I use Reminders through Google Now, and having them populate in my inbox may be a nice time saver. It’s weird to see them there, but since I use my inbox as a to do list, maybe Google knows something about me that I don’t?

All-in-all, I’m happy with it. Is it perfect? Of course not, and maybe it never will be because we always want more than we can have when it comes to apps and software. Oh, and we want it free. And we want it handed to us for free with no ads, and without giving up any privacy, and we want it to never go down, never let us down and never make us wish we hadn’t switched email programs. But, that’s not real life and eventually all of us as consumers will need to start learning that.

Of course, we all have one major advantage Cortes and his men didn’t. If we decide to “unburn the ships,” all we have to do is make a few keystrokes and, voilà, we’re sailing home. But for now, I’ve deleted Mailbox because this New World inbox has a lot of promise.


Image courtesy of http://kurtkoontz.com/