Thursday, May 26, 2011

Gmail's New "Important" Markers are Ironically Not

Anybody who has used their Gmail account over the past few days has no doubt noticed a new feature rolled out by Google: The “Important” marker.

The marker and its accompanying tab aim to help you keep track of your most important emails by allowing you to label them as such and then filtering emails for just the “important” ones by clicking the Important tab.

My immediate reaction to this new feature was, “Wait, isn’t that what the star is for?” For years Gmail has allowed you to click the hollowed-out star next to emails to mark them as significant, and you can use the accompanying Starred tab to filter Gmail to display just the starred emails. Seems like the same thing, right?

It pretty much is; the difference is that Gmail’s “important” markers are automatically placed as the emails roll in. The result is a system that guesses what’s important for you—purportedly by amount of previous correspondence with the sender—but doesn’t always get it right. In fact, it seems to be placing the tabs on pretty much everything in my inbox, and missing out on stuff like an email from my wife about home inspectors while we search for a house.

If 80% of what’s in my inbox is considered important, what use is it, really?

You can manually add or delete these “important” markers per email, or in bulk by selecting many of them, but it adds another step to the process, and it puts more tools in the top toolbar. By comparison, my previous method of marking important emails was to click the hollowed-out star next to the intended email:

The new “important” marker requires me to select the email(s) I want to mark by checking the selection box next to each (which you’ll notice is right next to the star):

Then I have to click the plus or minus marker button at the top of the window:

...and then the email is marked as important.

It’s not very difficult, but it adds another step to the process; plus, if emails are coming in already marked, and I don’t want my Important tab cluttered with stuff that really isn’t, I have to manually deselect them as they come in. So why would Google do this, especially since they already had the star system?

The feature is probably aimed at people who get a lot of emails every day in a fast-paced business world. It might help to put the most important emails in their own folder so that you can get that work done quickly. However, it’s kind of like sending potentially important emails into a spam folder, where you’ll have to intentionally dig for the one very important email you can’t find that Gmail improperly categorized.

In my research on the feature, I didn’t find information on the background of its development. In user forums, no one was talking about how much they liked it. Rather, everyone was asking how to make it go away.

New features for popular services, such as the new Facebook profile, tend to be rejected by society at first and eventually accepted, but I think the main problem here is that no one understands why it’s necessary or how it would be useful. Fortunately, Gmail makes its removal easy, and you can always bring it back later.

Because so many people want to know, here's how to remove the important markers from Gmail:

First, click the Settings link at the top of the page.

In the Settings menu, click Labels; next to Important, click hide. This removes the Important tab from Gmail.

Still in the Settings menu, click Priority Inbox; next to Importance markers, click the radio button next to No markers. This removes the markers from all emails and gets rid of the marker-related tools in the toolbar. Don’t forget to click Save Changes!

So there. You don’t have to have it, but you can always bring it back if you like. Note that there is a tutorial video in the Priority Inbox section that explains all of this in greater detail if you really want an explanation of how this whole system is supposed to work.

I tend to trust Google, but they don’t always get it right. We’ll see how this one plays out.


  1. AnonymousJune 03, 2011

    Thank you for your information on how to remove the "important" marker from Gmail.
    I disagree that it is just a similar function to the star process already in place.
    The function of the importance marker and the plus, minus buttons is to assist Google or whomever to target product marketing to you based on the things you deem important.

  2. Hey, that's a good point. It definitely makes sense for them to be able to mine data from what people consider to be "important."

  3. AnonymousJune 07, 2011

    Thank you! Those things are REALLY annoying.