The Promotions Folder of Gmail

JANUARY 23, 2018

A few days ago, I found a tweet of Tina Roth Eisenberg (Swiss-miss) quoting a post of Seth Godin:

Google and Facebook are now the dominant middlemen for more than 85% of all online advertising. Along the way, Google has also dominated much of the email communication on the planet. You get all the money but I think you need to up your game in return.

I write this note to applaud the actions of figures like Tina and Seth.

As Seth Godin mentions in his open note to Google Please Don't Kill The Blogs, "[The Gmail promotions tab] seems like a great idea. That spam-like promo mail, all that stuff I don't want to read now (and probably ever) will end up there." But Google's approach does not seem to be working exactly the way we would expect it to. If you're not explicitly asked for it, who knows what you consider spam or what is important for you to read? "Guessing," I believe, is not the best way to go about it. In his note, Seth also states, "It's simple: blogs aren't promotions. Blogs subscribed to shouldn't be messed with."

Of course, you can disable the promotions folder and get back to normal, but the fact that this is imposed on the service by default (and not clearly exposed as something optional) makes a lot of opted-in subscription e-mails go to the "junk mail" folder. To Seth, "the solution is simple:"

Create a whitelist. Include the top 10,000 blogs (you probably still have the list from when you shut down Google Reader). Make the algorithm smarter, and make it easier for your users to let you know about the emails that are important enough to be in their inbox. When an email sender shows up regularly, it's probably a smart idea to ask before unilaterally shifting it to the promo folder.

It's good to keep in mind that this is only a visible tip of how services like Facebook or Google tailor what we see. We feel we are in control, but the way we receive the information—might it be a list of e-mails or a set of news posts—influences where our attention goes.

Take a look at the Email Charter.