No Fancy Name
Sunday, August 29, 2004
my thoughts on gmail
After my initial period of furrowed-brow when using my new GMail account, I've settled on only two really problematic things....inability to sort, and inability to have multi-level labels. Before I talk about them, let it be known that I don't use GMail for my "work" mail, just my non-work/school mail. There's really no difference in the volume, though, but the content is different, less categorized. I absolutely could not use GMail for my work mail, with the problem areas I stated above.

The inability to sort is really annoying, because the default sort order (recent mail at the top) is not the way I sort my mail. I'm a recent-mail-last person, because to me, mail is a "to-do" list, and I when I look at my list, I want to know which is the oldest. Of course I can make the one extra leap and say to myself "Oh but remember, things on the bottom are the oldest", but why should I? Why should I have to change when any other e-mail client will allow me to sort my mail by any of the main criteria (subject, sender, date)? Taking away such a feature, regardless of whatever else you add, is still taking away a feature, and a fairly basic one, in my opinion.

The labels are another issue. Labels are supposed to replace folders. Gmail describes "the old way" as "You create an elaborate filing system of folders and subfolders, then decide where to file a single message." Uh yeah, I do. A LOT. What's wrong with that? I am a very organized person. Can I be the same organized person using labels? No, because there's no concept of sub-labels. You can attribute multiple labels to a mail/discussion, and "that way, if a conversation covers more than one topic, you can retrieve it with any of the labels that you've applied to it. And, of course, you can always search for it." So, instead of allowing me to file things however I want, into a natural hierarchy of folders, I have to apply one or more labels to it, so it shows up in more places, so much so that if I lose it, I can search for it? Why can't I just put it where I want?

Being the good little beta tester that I am, I filled out the suggestion form. Several items are already listed, allowing you to "vote" on them. This would indicate, to me, that some things have already made it to an internal list of possibilities. One is "Sort by sender, date, and/or message size" and I absolutely checked that box! There were maybe 20 others, and only one, "Save drafts of my message" was something else I voted for. Any of the other 18, if they were present in the application, that would have been fine, but their lack of presence doesn't affect me as dramatically (or at all) like these other things. But hierarchical labels was not listed, so I wrote my own schpiel about it. I used the analogy of school and classes: I have mail that is general school stuff, then I have mail that is class-specific. Sure, I can have six labels for my classes this semester, plus the main school label, but then next semester I'll have five or six more...that's upwards of twelve labels that I have to look at in my list of labels, that I also can't order (leading me to have to name things with a prefix that will put them in the order I want them to be in). If I could assign all twelve of those sub-labels as children of the school label, and parent/children pairs were collapsible, all I'd have to look at/look in would be the school label, and I could open it and look at the others. If GMail is supposed to increase efficiency, tell me why that is less efficient than being faced with a non-controlled (by me) order of items, that are all in one big list, that I may or may not, then, have to use "search" to find?

On to other things...I don't particularly care that the whole thing is JavaScript. It's not fundamentally a good thing to build an application that one can potentially turn off, or have turned off for them by security settings. But, if you're going to use it, and you know ahead of time that's a requirement, you can make the informed choice. They are working on an HTML-based version, though, and I would be more comfortable with that from a standards point of view. I haven't had any issues with it in Firefox, so it doesn't bother me, really.

I do like the threaded/grouping/relation of messages; the display is cool. I like the immediate visibility/hidden aspects of all mails in a thread, and the fact that I don't have to do anything extra to make it so. That is very cool, but not cool enough to forgive the other issues. Also, there's the "all mail" feature, which is "the holding place for all of the messages you've sent or received, but not deleted". It would be cool, but only if I could sort it, which I can't. It's sorted by date, recent-first, like all folders/boxes/slots/whatever they're called. Sure, I've labeled my non-deleted mail, but what good does it do me if it's still a reverse-date-based list? If I want to find something, I have to use "search", instead of relying on my usual pre-sorted/just scan the list method. Sure, I can scan the list as it is, but it's not brain focuses on the unordered aspect of it and thus has to spend more time reading it than I would if I were looking down an ordered list.

I have no problem with A New Way of handling mail. It's just that when you start removing some of the features of mail that we've been used to for oh, 15 years or whatever, it's going to be a hard sell to anyone beyond the early adopters. The concept of e-mail is hard enough for people to grasp (and many still don't), now we're going to stop calling it "mail" and start calling it "a discussion"? It's not a discussion—if a band sends me their tour schedule, that's not a discussion, it's a single piece of mail. I won't be discussing it with them. But I will dutifully label-and-archive the item. Which is another thing...why do I have to perform the mouse task to label something, then perform the mouse task to "archive" the piece? So, label + archive = "put in folder". I just want to put the darn thing in a different slot, I don't want to have to do more steps than usual!

I love Google, I mean really, I use Google Search every day, and this blog is obviously Blogger-based, so I'm totally open to Google stealing me away from Yahoo!, which has been my portal/non-work e-mail for six years now. But there's work to do, if they want complete loyalty from me.


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