One of the biggest changes in v5 is the way it handles message prioritization and views in the inbox. We’ve had a number of support requests and forum posts regarding this, so we're posting to give more detailed information on the changes and our approach, plus begin a discussion on future plans in these areas.
As we embarked on v5, one key objective was to address three of the most common issues people faced with ClearContext v4 (based on user input from surveys, forum posts, support requests, and other feedback):
- 1) Confusion about prioritization and color-coding.
2) Performance issues.
3) Synchronization and conflicts – especially when using multiple machines and mobile devices.
Our goal was to address these issues with as little impact as possible on users who liked the way v4 managed message prioritization, though we knew there would have to be some tradeoffs in the process. With that in mind, this is how we addressed those three issues.
- 1) As we wrote in this August blog post, we want to separate the wheat from the chaff in email for our users in as quick and straightforward a way as possible. Our approach is to “validate” messages that are likely to be relevant for you, then highlight individual ones that are of special importance. We started by preserving the concept of contact priority, but simplifying it to unknown, known, and high priority senders. That is the base factor in determining if a message is likely to be important to you or not. However, that is not all that is taken into account. We also validate messages in threads that you have started or participated in. And we also validate messages that are related to active projects, tasks, appointments, etc. Based on user feedback during the beta process, we added back the ability to manually mark individual threads as high priority regardless of sender. We also added back some inbox views to color-code and order messages based on priority.
2) The biggest factors in performance are how much processing is done to each message and how much additional data is written to each message. The fine granular scoring of each individual message in ClearContext v4 added overhead that caused noticeable performance issues for some users. We addressed this by doing two things. One was to simplify the granularity level of message scoring so we could assign messages to the right bucket with a fraction of the overhead previously required. The second was to utilize native Outlook features such as categories and flags wherever possible. Again, that required a tradeoff in flexibility vs performance, but we felt the improvement was worth the cost.
3) The biggest issue around synchronization and conflicts had to do with writing custom fields in Outlook. In v4 ClearContext utilized custom fields on each message to store priority and project information. In v5 we decided to use Outlook’s category functionality for that information. This allowed us to eliminate most causes of message conflicts and other synchronization issues for people who deal with their email from multiple places. Based on feedback during the beta process, we added the option to utilize either Outlook flags or importance icon rather than category to indicate priority.
The biggest tradeoffs in making these changes are that we don’t have quite as much flexibility as before in terms of the number of buckets email can be separated into and the types of custom inbox views that can be developed. As we work on v5.1, we’re looking at ways to fine-tune and enhance the new prioritization and views. Please post any questions, thoughts, and requests you have about these features in this thread. Thanks!