Introducing Gmail Priority InBox – Email that Sorts Itself

We all hate email overload. Web-based email programs like Gmail have built-in smart spam filtering and advanced labelling, but you can still miss important emails if you receive hundreds per day.

In an attempt to solve this problem, Gmail software engineers have today launched the Priority InBox.

Basically, this is an advanced sorting tool for your incoming mail. Your new Gmail InBox will be divided into three sections: Priority InBox (unread), Starred Emails and Everything Else. Based on a variety of signals about the importance of an email, Gmail will flag it and move it to the top section of your InBox, giving it priority over all other mail.

For example, if you are in daily email contact with a person, Gmail will determine that emails from that person are important and should always arrive in your Priority InBox.

You can also manually promote or demote emails to/from your Priority InBox by using the “+” and “-” buttons provided. You can use filtering to control your Priority InBox and you can customize the three InBox sections to suit your needs.

The longer you use Gmail, the smarter the Priority InBox gets at sorting your mail. From the official blog post:

“Gmail has always been pretty good at filtering junk mail into the “spam” folder. But today, in addition to spam, people get a lot of mail that isn’t outright junk but isn’t very important ‘bologna’, or ‘bacn’. So we’ve evolved Gmail’s filter to address this problem and extended it to not only classify outright spam, but also to help users separate this “bologna” from the important stuff. In a way, Priority Inbox is like your personal assistant, helping you focus on the messages that matter without requiring you to set up complex rules.”

In a side note, news of Priority InBox was leaked early, despite a strict media embargo that was meant to be in place until this evening. Maybe it’s just me, but a media embargo seem ridiculous in the age of social and real time search. A media embargo from Google, the foremost advocates of social and real time search just seems ludicrous. But anyway, I digress.

While internal Google staff and some BETA testers have been trialling Priority InBox for some months, the feature will begin rolling out to all Gmail and Google Apps users over the next week or so.

You’ll know if you have the new feature if you see the “New! Priority Inbox” link in the top right corner of your Gmail account.

New Home for Google Realtime Search

Remember when Google promised us they were getting close to being able to provide search results in real-time? Well this week they’ve cracked it.

In an official blog post, Google announced real-time search results are now available. But instead of being integrated into regular search results pages, real-time search has been given it’s own home – a dedicated page for people to conduct searches in real-time.

You can also access Realtime Search by clicking the “Updates” link in the left-hand panel of normal search results. The results appear as a constantly refreshing stream. Your Google Alerts also work with Realtime Search so you can be sent updates for your target searches within minutes of them appearing in Realtime Search.

We’ve been able to see some real-time results in SERPs already, with social search results containing recent Twitter posts and Facebook status updates, however being able to isolate real-time search results from regular organic search results is extremely useful, especially if you are looking for information relating to an event in a specific location or a developing news story.

A couple of handy new features allow you to refine Realtime search results by pinpointing results by location or time and you can even see entire conversations to get context about any topic.

For example, the political situation in Australia is currently in turmoil as the country faces a hung parliament as a result of an election draw. Political developments are in flux and it’s difficult to keep up to date. If I conduct a search for “Australian election” using real-time search, I can see tweets from as recently as 1 minute ago and news stories posted within the last hour.

Realtime Search and updates in Google Alerts are available globally in 40 languages, and the geographic refinements and conversations views are available in English, Japanese, Russian and Spanish. To learn more, visit the Google Realtime Search info page.

Social Networking and the Overshare Generation

please-rob-me-smlThere have been a lot of stories in the media lately about cyber-stalking and privacy issues on the Internet. It seems to be a knee jerk reaction to the tsunami of social networking that has occurred in the past few years. Or is it? Are the media over-reacting? Or have we forgotten what privacy is in the age of the World Wide Web?

The Rise of Oversharing

Back in the late 1990′s, many people didn’t even use their real names on the Internet. Email addresses were usually aliases or nicknames in an attempt to retain as much privacy as possible. But with the rise in popularity of social media services such as Twitter, Facebook and MySpace has come a rise in online confidence.

The new Internet generation doesn’t seem to have the privacy hang ups or suspicions their parents had about sharing information with strangers over the net. In fact, this younger generation of cyber savvy has an alarmingly high comfort level when it comes to communicating personal information about their lives on the Web.

The premise is that everyone in your social circle not only wants to know but NEEDS to know when you are buying that tall frappuccino from @starbucks. That they need to know precisely where you are and what you are doing every minute of the day. This new phenomenon is called oversharing and it has privacy experts worried. Continue reading

Facebook Places Takes Geolocation Networking to 500 Million

facebook-places-grabAmid great live streaming fanfare and back slapping, Facebook officially launched their location-based social networking application Facebook Places today.

TechCrunch were keen to point out that they spotted the product before the launch even began, but the fact that Facebook were working on geo-networking functionality has been a poorly kept secret for a while now.

So what exactly IS Facebook Places? Think of it as a combination of Foursquare and Gowalla but available on Facebook. Which is interesting because Facebook have *partnered* with both of these supposedly rival companies. More about that later, but for now, here’s how it works:

How it Works

You need to download the latest version of Facebook’s iPhone application OR if your mobile browser supports HTML 5 and geolocation, you also can access Places from touch.facebook.com.

Open the application of your choice and tap the “Check In” button (sound familiar?). A list of nearby places will show. Choose the place that matches where you are and check in. If it’s not on the list, you can add or search for it. Your check-in will show up in the Recent Activity section for that place and also create a status update from you in your friends’ News Feeds.

Who Else is Here?

Similar to tagging a friend in a photo, you can tag other Facebook friends who happen to be with you during check in and include a status update about what you’re doing at the location.

The “People Here Now” section allows you to stalk check what other Facebook users have checked in recently to the same place. Facebook suggests this is a way for you to meet like minded people, but I can imagine this feature becoming a privacy issue for some. Thankfully, Facebook have provided a way for people to opt-out of being shown in the People Here Now feature.

Does it Make Foursquare and Gowalla Obsolete?

Given that the check-in and recent activity features of Facebook Places are nearly identical to what Foursquare and Gowalla currently offer, there was some talk about whether there was room in the market for all three geolocation services.

However, both companies have worked with Facebook in the past and both were invited to partner with Facebook Places. Staff from each even spoke at today’s launch about their partnership. But let’s face it, what choice did they have?

Apparently, both Foursquare and Gowalla are going to allow users to publish their check-ins to their Facebook feeds and even transfer their pins and badges to Facebook Places. I’m sure the carrot of Facebook’s 500 million members was a tasty one, but you have to wonder if this will mean long term redundancy for Gowalla and Foursquare.

Privacy Issues

Having learned from their mistake with the profile privacy settings, Facebook have given users more privacy control over Places. You can only tag your existing Facebook friends during check-in and your check-ins will only be visible to your friends by default, although you can change this to public.

Just like removing yourself from a photo tag, you can remove any Places tag or check-in or tag. You also have the choice to turn off the ability for friends to check you in at Places. To do this, go to your Privacy Settings and turn off the setting to “Let Friends Check Me In.”

Facebook Places is currently only available within the US but should roll out to more countries within the next few weeks.

Dumbass of the Week: Pay Per Click Advertisers

DuhIt’s been ages since we’ve had a Dumbass of the Week, but I saw something yesterday that prompted me to resurrect the title once more.

A staff member here sent me a screengrab from a Google search he had made and pointed out one of the Sponsored Links / AdWords ads at the top of the page (see screen grab below) . He had conducted a search for *cheap glasses new zealand* and Google displayed a range of organic and paid results on the SERP.

Here’s a screengrab of the original search page showing the top 3 sponsored results:

PPC-error2

When my colleague clicked on the 3rd Sponsored Link on the page, it took him to a 404 Error Page. Thinking that the URL was simply malformed and he could find what he needed from the home page, he stripped the tracking URL down to the top level domain and refreshed the page. Again, he was taken to a 404 Error Page.

At first I thought perhaps the site was offline temporarily or simply not loading in his browser so I asked him to send me the destination URL from the ad so I could try.

Because I have the Google Toolbar installed, when I tried to view the same broken link, instead of a standard 404 error, I received a Google error page stating: “Oops! This link appears to be broken. Did you mean: www.­lessforspecs.­co.­nz?”

Aha! Mystery solved. The advertiser Less for Specs had accidently used dot com in their destination URL instead of .co.nz. Turns out, the dot com site doesn’t even exist, which is probably for the best as they would have been paying to send traffic to their competitor’s site if it did.

Normally, the AdWords system detects malformed destination URLs and either doesn’t approve the ad or sends you an alert very quickly and pauses the ad for you. However, for whatever reason (perhaps the dot com site did exist at one point), the ad was allowed to go live.

An identical search today doesn’t trigger the same ad, so perhaps the problem is resolved. Maybe Google alerted them of the problem. Perhaps the mistake was made by a 3rd party agency managing the site’s PPC campaign. But who knows how many people clicked on the link and were taken to a 404 error page before it was fixed? Who knows how many dollars the mistake cost the advertiser in click costs in the meantime?

Now, I don’t mean to single out Less For Specs. I’ve seen similar errors in Pay Per Click ads by many companies over the years, heck, I’ve made them myself. But seeing this example reminded me that we should be taking more care with our PPC campaigns in order to get the best value for money out of them.

Here’s a list of common PREVENTABLE errors I’ve seen in PPC ads:

  • Malformed destination URLs.
  • Incorrect or misleading display URLs.
  • Destination URLs leading to a *this page is under construction* placeholder.
  • Forgetting to pause a PPC campaign during a scheduled site outage (I have to admit guilt on this one!)
  • Moving a domain but forgetting to redirect PPC landing pages.
  • Not knowing about an unscheduled site outage for 48 hours.
  • Spelling or grammatical errors within ads.
  • Sexist, racist or otherwise ignorant ad wording.

Yes, some PPC systems such as AdWords and Microsoft AdCenter have built in checks to prevent dumb user errors, but they’re not bullet proof. Dumbass happens. Just don’t let it happen to you.