Still looking for a smarter inbox

I am bad at email.  Maybe everyone is.  But I feel like I’m worse than most; or at least worse than I want to be.

I feel like my inbox should do a better job helping me find emails that are important.  I use Gmail and Priority Inbox, so I don’t mean “important” in that sense (emails from close contacts).

By important, I mean things like:

  1. Conversations where “the ball is in my court” (hard to discern programmatically perfectly)
  2. Conversations that I initiated — then the person wrote back — but then I didn’t write back to (similar to #1 but easier to identify, and more important)
  3. Emails that I have not responded to yet at all
  4. Emails from important people, where important takes into account other data such as: twitter followers (total, in common), linkedin connection, etc.
  5. probably a few other smart ways I’m not thinking of right now.

I have been thinking about this a bit after reading somewhere (I think in Venture Deals) that Brad Feld and his partners read and respond to every inbound email every day.  That’s pretty impressive.

I am not there yet.  But I like the idea a lot.  So today I did set up a little  gmail query to try and help with that:

newer_than:1d and is:important

This gives me a view of all the emails that I received in the last day.  It’s a start. But it’s not perfect. It doesn’t give me is a view of conversations I have not participated in yet.  

I tried adding a filter such like: -from:me, to try and exclude any threads that I’ve participated in, but that doesn’t do the trick.  So I what I see is a list of all the emails that came in today, including every email I sent.  Which is not what I’m looking for.

I complained about this to Fred the other day, suggesting that there’s still an opportunity to build a product (along the lines of SaneBox or Gmail Meter) that really solves the inbox problem.  It’s such an important problem for so many people, and it’s still so far from perfect.  His response was that there’s a fear of investing in things that are too close to the core of the email platforms. I am not sure I agree, but it does seem that there still isn’t a perfect solution, so maybe that’s the reason.

In summary, I would love to see: a) a simple gmail query parameter that lets me find conversations in which I am not yet a participant (I feel like this must exist!) or b) a smarter view of my inbox — perhaps one that is another kind of visualization besides a list — that takes into account these other important factors.  I’d pay good money for that!

Update: this query is pretty good: newer_than:7d is:important in:inbox