AP, LTW

Google Inc. (Nasdaq: GOOG) can sift through more than a trillion Web links in a matter of seconds, but can the Internet search leader help people wade through their overflowing e-mailboxes?

That’s the challenge Google will try to tackle Tuesday with the introduction of a tool called in its Gmail service.

"Gmail has always been pretty good at filtering junk mail into the “spam” folder," Google staff wrote in a blog Monday. "But today, in addition to spam, people get a lot of mail that isn’t outright junk but isn’t very important—bologna, or ‘bacn.’ So we’ve evolved Gmail’s filter to address this problem and extended it to not only classify outright spam, but also to help users separate this "bologna" from the important stuff.

"In a way, Priority Inbox is like your personal assistant, helping you focus on the messages that matter without requiring you to set up complex rules."

The feature relies on formulas devised by Google engineers to automatically figure out and highlight which incoming messages are likely to be the most important to each Gmail user.

"As messages come in, Gmail automatically flags some of them as important," Google said in the blog.

"Gmail uses a variety of signals to predict which messages are important, including the people you email most (if you email Bob a lot, a message from Bob is probably important) and which messages you open and reply to (these are likely more important than the ones you skip over). And as you use Gmail, it will get better at categorizing messages for you."

Users who opt to turn on the Priority Inbox will see their messages separated into three categories. “Important and unread” e-mails will be at the top followed by messages that have been previously stamped with a star by an accountholder. Everything else appears at the bottom.

Switching back to the standard view of the inbox can be done with a click on a link along the left side of the Web page.

Google’s e-mail analysis is based on a variety of factors, including a person’s most frequent contacts and how many other people are getting the same message. The content of the e-mail also is factored into the equation.

Although it might unnerve some people, the notion of Google’s computers scanning through the content of individual e-mails isn’t new. Google has been doing it for years to determine what kinds of ads to show to the right of e-mails and to block junk e-mail commonly known as “spam.”

With more than 100 daily e-mails pouring into some inboxes now, people now need help to identify “the bacon and baloney” along with the spam, said Keith Coleman, Gmail’s product director.

Google helped create the information clutter six years ago when it introduced its free Gmail service with a then-unheard of 1 gigabyte of storage per account. Other e-mail services quickly expanded their capacity limits to remain competitive, and now most inboxes can store multiple gigabytes of information.

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