GMail’s missed potential

Tim Gaden has posted some interesting thoughts at his excellent Hawk Wings blog on why some people love Gmail and why others are turning their back on it.

I’m somewhere in between. I use it simply because of its vast storage capacity, but I think it could be significantly improved with a few simple tweaks. I like GMail very much – I automatically forward all email from all my accounts (home and work) to my GMail account, which effectively gives me ‘desktop search’ of my email without the processor drain.

However, the biggest failing of GMail for me, and the aspect that stops me from switching to it full-time as a primary mail interface, is Google’s stubborn insistence in only offering the “conversation” mode.

Yes, I know the way it’s implemented to remove quoted text is very clever. And yes, I realise that if Google gave the option to just view email in chronological order, nobody would use the conversation mode, because people always use what they’re most familiar with.

But the fact is, I just don’t find it as easy and intuitive as a stream of incoming emails. I’m sure the designer of the system would argue that it provides the same functionality, because as new emails arrive, the conversations float to the top of the list.

But the multiple “from” names is confusing. For example, there’s a conversation listed in my Gmail right now that is from “Dan .. David, Dan, Sim.. (8)”. That’s just not helpful.

It’s even more confusing because it’s not possible to tell who the most recent message is from.

For example, I have a conversation from “Brad .. Dan (7)”. And here’s the sequence of messages:

1. Brad Peczka
2. Phil Sweeney
3. Simon Wright
4. Dan Warne
5. Phil Sweeney
6. Dan Warne
7. Brad Peczka

How do I tell from the Gmail conversation names that Brad has contributed a new message to the conversation? I would have guessed from “Brad .. Dan (7)” that Brad posted the first message, and I posted the last.

Also, Google being so cool and all, why can’t they index attachments to your email? That would make GMail’s instant search infinitely more useful.

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6 Replies to “GMail’s missed potential”

  1. Bravo!

    My biggest peeve centers around discussion-based mailing lists.

    With “normal” email (web-based or software on your computer) you can view discussions in threads. Of course you can on Gmail too (it’s the default) however, they exclude your own contributions! They simply don’t show up.

    Google actually thinks that is a “feature”.

    I think it’s a PITA. It’s very difficult to determine if anyone has responded to your post.

    With anyone but Gmail it’s quite simple. Your message shows up, just like everyone else’s.

  2. Bravo!

    My biggest peeve centers around discussion-based mailing lists.

    With “normal” email (web-based or software on your computer) you can view discussions in threads. Of course you can on Gmail too (it’s the default) however, they exclude your own contributions! They simply don’t show up.

    Google actually thinks that is a “feature”.

    I think it’s a PITA. It’s very difficult to determine if anyone has responded to your post.

    With anyone but Gmail it’s quite simple. Your message shows up, just like everyone else’s.

  3. I agree Scott. I have tried to figure out the logic behind GMail’s conversation mode and they do float threads to the top of the page if there is a new post.

    But the trouble is, it’s apparently impossible to tell if it is YOUR post that has caused the thread to float, or someone else’s (and if so, who?)

  4. I agree Scott. I have tried to figure out the logic behind GMail’s conversation mode and they do float threads to the top of the page if there is a new post.

    But the trouble is, it’s apparently impossible to tell if it is YOUR post that has caused the thread to float, or someone else’s (and if so, who?)

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