A New Location: The Top Bar

The most obvious change is that the sidebar has become the topbar. It uses less space, but it is more dominant. For people doing task management with emails, this is powerful, as it gives a feel over guidance and control over all of Gmail.

The big question is whether it’s too shocking. I personally don’t think it is, primarily because Pete has made it look so elegant, but I’m really interested in knowing your gut reaction (and perhaps a more settled reaction after its sunk in!).

Major Views: Today, To Do, Overdue and Low Priority

You’ll notice that there’s no immediate way to retrieve emails by ‘Status’, like there is with the current sidebar. The Status category has always been slightly odd, as a Deadline is a Status, and all Statuses mean the same thing: “do this”.

So, we’ve taken the decision to logically combine Statuses together to create areas of Focus. The aim is to match how you think, when you commence processing tasks.

Those areas of focus are Today (what must be done right now), To Do (a combination of Action, Waiting On, your customized statuses and last of all, This Week), Overdue (overdue deadlines, and active emails over 2 weeks old), Low Priority (S/Some Day and ‘Upcoming’ deadlines).

An additional, very important benefit is that multiple Statuses are laid out next to each other (like Multiple Inboxes). Currently, in the sidebar, “Waiting On” is just another list hidden behind a link. It’s easy to forget to look at it. So, when everything is shown on the same page you can visually scan to see magnitude of tasks in each status, people involved, topics, dates, etc. You’re less likely to avoid them.

The ‘Overdue’ focus is interesting because it’s essentially a safety net; to catch anything that’s dropped through the cracks.

A Daily Routine: Knowing What You’ve Seen

See those blue indicator dots above each section? They re-appear at the start of every new day, and disappear when you look at the section. The goal is to help you establish a routine that means you check each section at least once a day (again, to stop you avoiding emails you’ve actioned).

No More Menu Drilling (Right Arrow)

In the current sidebar, when you click any label category – be it Status, Project, etc. – you can ‘drill into’ any label with the right arrow, which pops out another list of labels so you can combine them (e.g. P/Issues + S/Action).

The trouble is that it’s very complex, visually and cognitively. I don’t believe people can make the decision upfront to say “yes, I want project X, context Y and status Z”. Instead, they think, “I want project X”, then see the results, and recall “okay, I need to focus on context Y”. And even if they do make the decision up front (a possible argument for including ‘Saved Searches’ as a category), our old UI for doing so wasn’t particularly easy to use.

To replace it, I propose that when you click a Project in the topbar, you can right click a label in the search results and select “Focus on LabelX” to add it to the search criteria. And that there is a ‘+’ button next to the search box for easy label addition (with the most relevant labels near the top).

All Searches have a ‘Standard’ view and an ‘Active’ view

Underpinning the functionality of the topbar is a bold new approach to search results: a tabbed view that includes ‘Standard’ results and an ‘Active View’.

The Active View will have a similar layout to Priority Inbox, where the emails matching the search criteria are grouped together (e.g. by Status, or by Project Name) into related groups. It gives a much more logical view of the emails.

These tabs – and the ‘Active View’ will appear in all search results (including those you start yourself), but not in the inbox.

So… what do you think?! I’d love to get your feedback and insights into how well this will work for you 🙂

We are due to start releasing a beta of 4.0 to Plus customers on the 16th December. Are you a Plus customer? Support us AND get the brand new version 4.0 before its public release in January 2011 🙂 Buy ActiveInbox Plus


This was written by Andy Mitchell