Tuesday, 12 April 2005

Things I hate about Gmail

I was an early adopter of Gmail - was one the first 1000 they invited. And now Gmail keeps increasing its storage space in the e-mail arms race, so now I've got 2084 megs of space. But it's not the space that I want from Gmail. Whereas lots of programs have come under fire for not being friendly to keyboard users, Gmail is the converse: it doesn't seem particularly mouse-friendly. Something as basic as sorting by name can't be done, whereas Yahoo! and other providers just let you click once to sort by name. For that matter, finding an e-mail often involves typing on the keyboard, whereas sometimes it's just so much easier to use the mouse to cycle or scroll through the various mails.

Like Dan Isaacs and No Fancy Name, I find it very annoying that Gmail shoehorns you into its way of thinking, just because it wants to change the way people think about e-mail. For my dsng.net account, I use Eudora, which has a search bar built into its main toolbar, and I've never had a problem finding my e-mails using its search function. And yet I've frequently found it much easier to find an e-mail by sorting my Inbox by name and then visually scanning the subject titles to find the e-mail I want. It's just often faster to click and scroll than to have to type - and that's not even considering cases where people mistype subjects or you can't quite remember the spelling of their names.

Ultimately, my take on this is - Gmail has an okay interface if the way you search for e-mail is verbal i.e. you think about the words in the content before you search. That's what made Google so successful in the first place. But I relate to e-mail in a different way from the way I relate to web searches: I've had occasions where my search is nothing more than "hmm, what was that person's name, started with a C, met him in Singapore in 2004", and that's much easier to find visually rather than verbally - i.e. with all the names sorted out.

And frankly, I understand the labels can be used much like del.icio.us or Technorati tags, in a sort of personal folksonomy, but why not implement both folders andlabels for people who treat e-mail in different ways? For that matter, since one of the supposed great advantages of labels over folders is the ability to label the same e-mail with different labels, I wish I could find the intersections of labels without typing. Say I wanted to find all the e-mails of my friends from college in 2004, I want to have some way of being able to click "college" and "2004", rather than having to type "label:college label:2004" into the search box.

In other words, Gmail is great if you know what you're searching for. It's great if you think about e-mail the way they want you to, and you use your keyboard more than you use your mouse. It's otherwise a pretty annoying interface if you don't. So why do I still use it? It loads up mails much faster than Yahoo, and it gets rid of spam pretty well. So it's a good place to send mailing lists, or to give as an e-mail address.

Sigh. I guess I'll use Gmail's POP server (now that is a nice touch) to download the mails and then deal with them the way I like. Oh well. Add that to my list of "rants against a program that can't be customised the way I like it". (What I think of iTunes and its preferred directory structure can be saved for later.)

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