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Mailbox app: Rethinking labels (jarederondu.com)
6 points by jarederondu on Dec 13, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 7 comments



Labels basically just allow for some flexibility in building your own email management system within an email application. People use labels in so many different ways. I see them used in some fairly creative way and I think that what is happening is essentially hacking an old system. There's probably some "pave the cow paths" type stuff that can be done with people are using these things. I think that's kind of what Mailbox is doing. Marking something to essentially deal with it later is pretty much labeling it with a "do later" (or whatever) label in a current email system. They're just making the act of adding that "label" more simple.

The stuff that gets me excited is the more smart, automated, learning management. Alto is messing with some pretty cool stuff in that area. Just the simple act of automatically bunching emails without me intervening is a really compelling feature I think. It sort of takes away the concept of one big inbox. That automatic separate leads to all sorts of possibilites from just personal organization to analyzing certain "stacks" (to use an Alto term). I really don't know is best, but I can say that I've enjoyed that feature of Alto quite a lot.

Overall, I love seeing new takes on how to deal with email. There's certainly room for improvement and certainly some problems that can be solved. Keep the new ideas comin'!


The label omission caught my eye as well, as that's a weak point of currently available iOS apps (official Gmail app being the best).

I use labels a lot, but not only for importance/order of dealing with things – I use them to categorize/filter out of inbox as well. Which then, yes I do apply importance to (I have a few minutes, let me look through these promo emails or all these emails from basecamp).

So basically I use the labels to do "bulk importance labeling", but I wouldn't want to auto-tag all those "holiday sale" emails to "Later", and then just have to deal with them again later.

Your usage description ("Instead of fooling yourself into thinking you’ll tackle this today, simply mark it to reappear tomorrow or next week – when you’ll actually respond.") sounds like it's only talking about person-to-person needs-action types of emails. I think myself and many other people have a wider range of usage for email.

BUT that certainly doesn't mean Gmail's label approach is the only solution. But for people currently using labels a lot in Gmail, strong support for that paradigm is nice.


The challenge with moving email forward is to get people to forget about old conventions. The way we process email hasn't changes in a decade. We don't need labels. They're just another delay and way to save messages to continue our cluttered inboxes. Great article Jared!


I set up a smart folder as an inbox in OS X's Mail client. That smart folder only shows me unread email. The traditional inbox is so cluttered and broken. Everything gets the same weighted priority in my inbox and all based on time.

That doesn't work. Categorizations (labels)seems like a great way for me to use my inbox the same way as a GTD app. That's huge for me.

I get lost in my email and over-run pretty quickly, often missing things I need to do, or revisit. I think Mailbox is on to something here. People use their inbox as a todo list already, labels just makes it easier to pull off.

It's a pretty genius move.


Labels serve two purposes, really. The first being a form of organization: when I want to find a certain message, I can find it properly filed away under it's appropriate label.

The second is prioritization and "action markers." This is where labels aren't the optimal solution. Because the labels don't truly prioritize anything (your inbox doesn't get sorted by priority, except for "priority" and "everything else")--and it's a loosely ruled system--you need to define rules that result in actions to actually create priorities.

I think that's where Mailbox app will shine: it enforces a priority system. Whether or not it will eliminate the need for proper categorization for other purposes, though? I'm doubtful.


Ack you put this up while I was typing – totally agree.


I use labels for actually labelling things. 'University' 'Receipts' 'Work' 'Family' 'Registrations'. I have Gmail setup to automatically label all my emails. It's wonderful.




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