About a year and a half back, GMail moved to this tabbed inbox format, where “promotional” and “social” mails were filtered out and delivered to separate tabs. This meant that most of the promotional mail and mail from social networks you got never hit the main inbox, which meant that your phone wouldn’t buzz for those and that you need not read all of to keep that “inbox zero” count (I know a lot of people apart from me who are obsessed about that).
What this meant was that we didn’t really bother about all that unsolicited mail – it would sit somewhere in the inbox away from where you saw, and all you did occasionally was to click on the “social” and “promotions” tabs so that nothing would be seen in the tab headers (for the OCD includes making sure those headers are empty).
In fact, now that all these promotional mail was hidden away, you didn’t mind getting more of that. And when more social networks and advertisers started approaching you, you didn’t mind. It was easy to ignore them. And once in a while you would click through, resulting in a payment somewhere, which made sense to the advertisers.
The new Inbox that google has pioneered in the last one month, though, has changed all that. Now, while there are several more tags which are automatically added to mails and they don’t hit your inbox directly (“updates”, “finance” and “forums” are examples), these tags are now treated no differently from the “social” or “promotions” tags.
Also, the way the mails under these tags are shown is interesting. Every time there is at least one unread mail under a tag, the tag shows up near the top of your inbox. And when you click on it, all “undone” mails under that tag are shown. So if there was a promo which I simply ignored and clicked “done” on the tag (rather than on the promo mail itself) it would show up again the next time something landed in the tag. And that is an irritant.
To put it differently, when a promo or social mail lands in my inbox, I now have this compulsion to open it and mark it as “done”. And over the last few days I’ve found myself doing this way too many times.
As a consequence I’m now making a conscious effort to track down and unsubscribe from any unsolicited mails I was getting. LinkedIn sends me a daily digest of some groups. I’ve unsubscribed from all of them. Amazon and Flipkart used to hit me often with promotions. That has stopped. Livejournal birthday reminders are gone, too. Over the last few days, I’ve been hunting down the “unsubscribe” button on all promotional mail and actively unsubscribing from unsolicited mail.
I’m now going to extend from my one data point and assume that others are behaving similarly. Based on this, I think GMail’s tabbed inbox format was great for promoters – by keeping the promos away in one tab, it meant people didn’t mind getting those, and they would click through once in a while.
In the Inbox, though, since promos are almost treated similar to “normal” mail, the annoyance factor has increased, and thus people are unsubscribing. And it is not good news for advertisers.