Open Letter to Google: Gmail Tabs Segregates Communications from Nonprofits and the Arts

Dear Google,

As an independent musician/recording artist and a nonprofit director, I am writing an open letter to Google to protest Gmail Tabs and the resulting segregation of communications from nonprofits and the arts. I write this after discussions with dozens of people who feel similarly concerned and deeply troubled by the current state of Tabs and what it means for local communities.

All the articles I have read so far about the concerns and arguments (both for and against) about “Tabs” are from the perspective of professional marketing people. Yet what about nonprofits? artists? musicians? teachers? schools? All of us are creating community with our art, with our hearts, perhaps even with our volunteerism, with our own sweat equity. Let’s take a look at what Tabs means for us.

GMAIL TABS = Limits Information

With Tabs rolled out to gmail users, our email messages – for people who signed up for our email list – are now sent to “Promotions”, alongside those of major corporations and ads from Google itself.

This means people are no longer seeing the very messages they signed up to receive.

A) My non-profit, Feel the Music!, stays in touch with participants, supporters and friends who wish to receive notice of our events and workshops. We serve children, families and adults impacted by trauma, loss and illness, including the extended 9/11 community, seniors, the visually impaired, youth from around the world impacted by terrorism and children and teens with cancer. Yet now our messages are being shunted into “Promotions”. Why? We are not offering a sale, nor discounts on clothes, nor an ‘ad’ for something to buy. We are maintaining direct communications with people who have opted in and/or signed up for and are expecting to receive our information.

B) As an independent musician, my main form of direct contact with friends, fans and family is via email. After 9/11 I used my email list to provide information on what specific supplies were needed at Ground Zero. Through email I was able to reach hundreds of people with direly needed information post-disaster.  After Hurricane Sandy this same email list was the main form of communication to reach people with news about how our building and community was severely impacted by the storm. I also provide information about concerts in our long-running performance series, Songwriter’s Beat, which supports independent musicians and songwriters.

These are grass-roots, community building, community strengthening lists.

Yet to my great dismay, since Google Tabs was enforced this summer, our open rates have dropped.

Others have written about how disheartening and discouraging it is to see our annoucements demoted to Promotions (basically one step above Spam, thank you very much) when they are nothing of the sort. What misguided arrogance equates a disaster relief email with a one-day sale at Macy’s? Or a once-a-month concert announcement to a daily email from an online store?

Through Tabs in its current form, Google is limiting the accessibility of information, something which I thought was against Google’s founding roots as an organization, to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”

Universally accessible? Not if it’s in Promotions purgatory. Asking people to re-filter messages back into “Primary” puts the onus on the recipient to have to do something. Why impose this on people? The default could just as easily be to send messages to Primary and let people choose which emails they feel belong in “Promotion” or any other tab. Why not let people create and modify their own Tabs – the way we have been able to create and modify filters?

Google, please. Please consider revamping Gmail Tabs. For the health and strength of local communities. Please. 

A few varied suggestions:

1) Provide a way to create our own TABS.

2) Provide a way to modify TABS settings. Checkboxes for different categories – nonprofits, musicians, artists, museums, schools, stores, travel, for instance – would be easy for Google to set up.

3) Provide a sliding ‘scale’ of filter strength for Promotions, the way spam is sorted by percent it meets spam criteria.

4) Filter non-profit emails to Primary

5) Filter smaller, grass-roots email lists to Primary.

6) Offer a transparent online form, with clear criteria, whereby nonprofits, independent musicians, artists and others can verify their lists are “opt-in” and once verified, have their emails sent into Primary.

7) Send all email to Primary, and allow receipients to decide which emails goes in what tab.

“Don’t be evil”, right? Isn’t that the unofficial Google slogan? Then revamp Tabs – and let the user decide. Because right now, for local communities – for independent musicians, artists, nonprofits, museums, schools, unions, arts organizations – Tabs are anything but good.

I understand Google’s stated reasoning for Tabs is to make Gmail ‘more relevant’ to the user. If you want to target multi-national corporations and their well-funded marketing departments, and route all their emails into “Promotions” then all the power to you. But don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater and destroy local communities at the same time.

Thank you in advance,

Valerie Ghent
Feel the Music!
Songwriter’s Beat

This is an open letter. Comments are welcome.

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