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Gmail vs. Mailstrom: the battle to reach Inbox Zero

While early versions of email have been around since the 1960’s and 1970’s, email didn’t become mainstream and accessible until about 1993. 20 years later, email is a daily form of communication we’re still learning to organize.

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Comparing the new Gmail and Mailstrom

A quiet but increasingly epic battle is being waged online. Email users around the world are struggling to balance their inbox communication needs against an increasing stream of information. Newsletters, blogs, news sites, social media, coupon programs, work correspondence, family news, useless (but funny) jokes, spam and many more email topics fill inboxes daily, leaving users scratching their heads about how to properly filter through this information overload.

Two services, the massively popular web based e-mail provider Gmail and new web app Mailstrom, are struggling to be the leaders in helping users reach the fabled “inbox zero.”

What is Inbox Zero?

Many email users, fed up with information overload, have struggled in recent years to reach inbox zero, and reclaim their email. Merlin mailstrom-report became famous doing speeches and presentations about reaching inbox zero amidst inundation.

Numerous others have offered information and suggestions for reaching inbox zero, while critics have stated inbox zero is an unrealistic and unattainable holy grail.

Gmail’s Advantages

Gmail is a favorite web-based email product for over 425 million users around the globe. When the web-based service burst onto the scene in 2004, skeptics raged against its simple interface. Concerns about privacy, advertising and more plagued the service in the beginning but Google steadily began to integrate additional products and services, providing an enormous suite of services.

Now, with its May 2013 release, Gmail has created a way to better organize emails automatically into categories utilizing tabs. Ironically, this was within a few weeks of Mailstrom opening its beta service to users. Currently Gmail is limited to preset categories with no option for additional customization, which is where its main limitation exists.

Mailstrom’s Advantages

Mailstrom, a web based app currently in beta, provides Gmail users with an efficient way to sort emails into 7 different main categories including by sender, by subject, by time, social, shopping or size. It also provides a regularly updated progress bar with details about received emails, how many were removed and how close your inbox is to inbox zero.

The service makes it very simple, with just a few clicks to archive, move, or delete emails easily. For lists, there’s even an unsubscribe option to mass unsubscribe.

How They Compare

I’ve personally been testing these services against each other for the last several weeks so this is only based on my own experiences. Initially, I was very excited about Gmail’s release. I’ve been a loyal Google follower and fan for over 10 years now after making the switch away from Yahoo in 2004 (and never once regretted it – sorry Yahoo). I use many of their products daily including Google+, Google Drive, Analytics and more.

It’s my central hub for everything related to the internet including searches, email, analytics, keyword research and more. To say I’ve “drunk the Kool-Aid” would be an understatement – Google is a part of my daily personal and professional life.

I was thrilled with Gmail’s new tab functions and considered switching to it completely. But after a few days, I found myself missing the simplicity of Mailstrom. I couldn’t sort by timeframe, which was a critical key to me being sure I don’t miss responding to the latest emails. So often I would find emails I’d forgotten I received, thanks to Mailstrom. Being a mobile user of Gmail, emails that have been opened are automatically marked as read unless I change it (which I forget to do frequently). The ability to sort based on emails received that day, the previous day or in the last week, is a critical component to Mailstrom’s value for me.

In addition, I love the psychological boost Mailstrom regularly gives me by tracking my progress. I find myself tweeting regularly about my success and being excited about the number of emails I’ve taken care of. Just this morning, I received a nice little email from Mailstrom, saying, “You removed 111 emails yesterday, more than 93% of other Mailstrom users!” Is it a little ridiculous to be proud of that? Probably. Does it still give me a little thrill? You bet.

mailstrom

The verdict:

So while I love Gmail’s inbox, and you can somewhat do the same things with filters, it’s time consuming to set up the filters. Gmail is still behind in terms of innovation for this area. What would be best to see is for Gmail or Mailstrom to truly innovate in this area and provide users the ability to create their own categories and sorting.
Of course, knowing Google, they’ll probably buy Mailstrom at some point and just integrate the process into Gmail. For my sake, I hope so.

I love Gmail and I’m by no means switching. For now I’ll just continue to use both, by using Mailstrom for cleaning and maintenance and Gmail for my actual email activities. That’s the best of both worlds for me.
What have your experiences been? Are you loving or hating Gmail’s new features?

Charity Kountz is an award-winning fiction and nonfiction author as well as a Realtor and certified Paralegal. Her writing has been featured in Coldwell Banker, iPhone Life, Strategy magazine, Duck Soup magazine, and more.

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AI technology is using facial recognition to hire the “right” people

(TECH NEWS) Artificial intelligence (AI) technology has made its way into the hiring process and while the intentions are good, I vote we proceed with extreme caution.

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Artificial intelligence technology has made its way into the hiring process and while the intentions are good, I vote we proceed with extreme caution.

A UK based consumer goods giant, Unilever, is just one of several UK companies who have begun using AI technology to sort through initial job candidates. The goal of this technology is to increase the number of candidates whom a company can interview at the initial stages of the hiring process and to improve response time for those candidates.

The AI, developed by American company Hirevue, analyzes a candidate’s language, tone, and facial expression during a video interview. Hirevue insists that their product is different from traditional facial recognition technologies because it analyzes far more data points.

Hirevue’s chief technology officer, Loren Larsen, says, “We get about 25,000 data points from 15 minutes of video per candidate. The text, the audio and the video come together to give us a very clear analysis and rich data set of how someone is responding, the emotions and cognitions they go through.”
This data is then used to rank candidates on a scale of 1 to 100 against a database of traits identified in previously successful candidates.

There are two main flaws to this system. First, unless this AI technology is pulling from a huge diverse data pool it could be unintentionally discriminating against people without even being aware of it. Human bias is not as easy to remove from the equation as AI proponents would have you believe.

As an example, how does this AI handle people who are disabled or whose facial expressions that read differently than the general population, such as people with Down Syndrome or those who have survived traumatic facial injuries?

Second, seeking to hire someone who possess the same qualities as the person who was previously successful at a role is shortsighted. There are many ways to accomplish the same task with above average results. Companies who adopt this low-risk mentality could be missing out on great opportunities long-term. You will never know what actually works best if you don’t try.

The big question here is whether or not AI technology is ready to influence the job market on this scale.

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The ‘move fast and break things’ trend is finally over

(TECH NEWS) Time is running out for this decade — and for a popular Big Tech phrase responsible for a lot of collateral damage. What’s next?

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Time is running out for the decade. With less than 20 days left, it’s got us reflecting on the journeys of different economic sectors in the United States. And no industry has had a more tumultuous time of it than Big Tech.

A lot has changed in ten years. For starters, Americans have become increasingly disillusioned with Silicon Valley. The Pew Research Center found that only 50 percent of Americans believe technology firms have a positive effect on the country. That statistic is not too bad on its own, but that’s down 21 percent from only four years ago. Gallup found in 2019 that 48 percent of Americans also want more regulations on Big Tech. And The New York Times called the 2010s as “the decade Big Tech lost its way”.

Maybe that’s why big wigs at these tech firms have been quietly ditching a concept that was their Golden Rule in the early part of the decade: Move Fast and Break Things.

This concept is a modern take on the adage “you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.” For most of these firms, any innovation justified some of the collateral damage within its wake. And this scrappy “build it now and worry about it later” philosophy was a favorite of not just Facebook and Twitter, but also of many venture capital firms too.

But not anymore. Outlets from Forbes to HBR are saying this doesn’t work for Big Tech in the 2020s. Here are some reasons why it’s over.

Stability

The Move Fast and Break Things manta encouraged devs to push their coding changes to go live and let the chips fall where they may. But bugs pile up. Enter technical debt.

“Technical debt happens every time you do things that might get you closer to your goal now but create problems that you’ll have to fix later,” said The Quantified VC in an article on Medium. “As you move fast and break things, you will certainly accumulate technical debt.”

If enough technical debt comes into play, any new line of code could be the thing that topples a firm like a house of cards. And now that the consumer is used to tech in their daily routines, interruptions in service are extremely bad news for everyone.

As Mark Zuckerburg himself said it: “When you build something that you don’t have to fix 10 times, you can move forward on top of what you’ve built.”

Trust

To get back some of the trust that has ebbed from Big Tech over the years, firms can’t just keep with the Move Fast and Break Things status quo.

“The public will continue to grow weary of perceived abuses by tech companies, and will favor businesses that address economic, social, and environmental problems,” said Hemant Taneja in his article for Harvard Business Review. “Minimum viable products must be replaced by minimum virtuous products that … build in guards against potential harms.”

It’s not about chasing the bottom dollar at the cost of the consumer. Losing trust will hurt any company if left unchecked for long.

Innovation

There’s a cap on advancement in our current technological state. It’s called Moore’s Law. And we’re rapidly approaching the theoretical limits of it.

“When you understand the fundamental technology that underlies a product or service, you can move quickly, trying out nearly endless permutations until you arrive at an optimized solution. That’s often far more effective than a more planned, deliberate approach,” said Greg Satell in his article for HBR.

Soon enough, Big Tech will be in relatively new waters with quantum computing, biofeedback and AI. There’s no way to move as fast as these technology firms have in the past. And even if they could, should they?

Big Tech has experienced major growing pains since the dawn of our new Millenium. And now that some firms are entering their 20s, there’s a choice to be made. Continue to grow up or keep using an idea that’s worn out it’s welcome with the consumer and that has no guarantee will work with future technologies.

Maybe that’s why Facebook’s motto is now “Move Fast with Stable Infrastructure.”

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Computer vision helps AI create a recipe from just a photo

(TECH NEWS) It’s so hard to find the right recipe for that beautiful meal you saw on tv or online. Well computer vision helps AI recreate it from a picture!

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Ever seen at a photo of a delicious looking meal on Instagram and wondered how the heck to make that? Now there’s an AI for that, kind of.

Facebook’s AI research lab has been developing a system that can analyze a photo of food and then create a recipe. So, is Facebook trying to take on all the food bloggers of the world now too?

Well, not exactly, the AI is part of an ongoing effort to teach AI how to see and then understand the visual world. Food is just a fun and challenging training exercise. They have been referring to it as “inverse cooking.”

According to Facebook, “The “inverse cooking” system uses computer vision, technology that extracts information from digital images and videos to give computers a high level of understanding of the visual world,”

The concept of computer vision isn’t new. Computer vision is the guiding force behind mobile apps that can identify something just by snapping a picture. If you’ve ever taken a photo of your credit card on an app instead of typing out all the numbers, then you’ve seen computer vision in action.

Facebook researchers insist that this is no ordinary computer vision because their system uses two networks to arrive at the solution, therefore increasing accuracy. According to Facebook research scientist Michal Drozdzal, the system works by dividing the problem into two parts. A neutral network works to identify ingredients that are visible in the image, while the second network pulls a recipe from a kind of database.

These two networks have been the key to researcher’s success with more complicated dishes where you can’t necessarily see every ingredient. Of course, the tech team hasn’t stepped foot in the kitchen yet, so the jury is still out.

This sounds neat and all, but why should you care if the computer is learning how to cook?

Research projects like this one carry AI technology a long way. As the AI gets smarter and expands its limits, researchers are able to conceptualize new ways to put the technology to use in our everyday lives. For now, AI like this is saving you the trouble of typing out your entire credit card number, but someday it could analyze images on a much grander scale.

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