My Email Is Not Conversational

[Let me preface this by saying I really do like quite a bit about Gmail. I think they've put a lot of thought into the system they've built, and most of it turned out very nice. It's just some of that thought was completely different than the way I think. Of course that means it's wrong, because everyone should think like me, anyone who doesn't is wrong, and probably ugly too.]

Walt's comment on my post yesterday about Gmail got me thinking about how I use email (not Gmail) and why it doesn't fit with how the Gmail programmers think about email. Allow me to explain exactly how I think about and use email, and why Gmail doesn't work well with the way I communicate.

At work I use Outlook, at home for the past 5 or 10 years I've been using Outlook Express. They get the job done, are reliable and don't seem to have any noticeable problems that get in the way. I've also used a few other programs and they all seem to do pretty much the same thing. That is they all handle email in the same way. I use them to arrange my mail in a way that makes it easy to get things done.

My main folder is my inbox. Anything that ends up in my inbox should be addressed to me and me alone, and should require a reply or be an action item. Support requests end up there, LISNews help ends up there, email from people who have a question about something ends up in my inbox. The inbox is sacrosanct and should never have email sitting in it for no reason. Right now I have just 6 messages in there. None of them are conversations, if they are the entire conversation I need to know about is in the message, or if I really need to dig I look in my sent items folder for it. Currently, I need to set up MySQL backups for 2 people, set up a MySQL account for one person, get back to someone about LISFeeds, remove an email from the LISNews list, and get back to shoe about a new web site. In Outlook that's 6 messages to reply to and then delete. So, as soon as I set up that database I'll delete the message, mission accomplished and I move on. My work account is the same way. My inbox has 2 reference requests, 3 things I need to do for my boss, 2 documents that got scanned and sent to me, a FedEX notice I need to watch, and a schedule I need to add to my calendar. Again, anything in the inbox needs to be acted upon somehow. Everything that is important is in one nice, neat, organized and minimized space. The inbox is important, and kept clean. My primary goal is to empty my inbox as often as possible, essentially crossing out all the things on my to-do list. If there's nothing in the inbox, there's nothing that I need to do right now. I don't need to label things or worry about reading down into a conversation or put in any effort, I just hit delete when I'm done and move on.

I have a big ol' pile of other folders for various other stuff. Most of the other folders are for lists, each list gets it's own folder. I don't need to read every single post to every list I'm on, so they can just settle in different folders, and if I have time I'll see what's going on. There's also a "stuff" folder that's full of random email from the past decade or so that I just want to keep. There's hate mail, praise mail, email from my sister, funny rants from random psychos, and assorted other stuff. It's like a memories collection. Some stuff is important, other stuff I just like to keep around for the helluvit. It's like a inbox from the past.

This system works very well. I don't need to label any mail that comes in. Everything knows where it's supposed to go. It's all very self organizing. The important stuff is right where I can see it, everything else is a click away when I want to see it. Conversations (if there are any) end up being part of each message, I don't ever need 12 different files to follow along, it's just there. I don't need to organize it most days, I don't need to click 12 times to see what's going on, it's very automated.

Now, compare that to how gmail works. Looking at my inbox on Gmail should look the exact same way. 6 messages. Instead, it says I have at total of 17 messages, but to confuse things just a bit, only 4 are showing. Even within those 4, I can only immediately see 7 messages, 2 under 3 groups, and one under the other. The other 10 messages that Gmail claims I have on each "conversation" are actually in the trash. To make it even more confusing, I look at those messages as well, they're from 4 more people and are on completely different topics. Sounds confusing doesn't it? My deleted items have suddenly come back from the dead and are being counted as part of the conversation. To make things even worse, the "RE:" disappears from the email subjects so I can't tell if it's a reply or just a new email. So email from different people on different topics from different days are being combined, even after I delete them, and sometimes the subject is changed. Also add to this the fact that not all email with the same subject is grouped together.

The system completely failed during the series of unfortunate events on LISHost. Last week on Thursday and Friday I must've send and received a couple hundred emails (I'd go back and count, but looking in my sent items folder in Gmail is even more confusing) many that had the same subject, but were to/from different people about completely different things. Gmail was a disaster, I had to click on every single message in every single conversation to make sure I didn't miss anything. I still missed at least 2 that I know of.
Just last night what should've been a quick and easy email exchange went bad. Last night the LISHost "billing department" (aka my wife) sent me 6 or 8 emails within a few minutes to check up on some accounts. Many of them had the same subject, but were again on completely different topics. Gmail grouped some of them together, but separated others. I actually completely missed 2 messages because they didn't show up as new and I had assumed I'd answered everything in a group and I didn't.

"Gmail is an experiment in a new kind of webmail, built on the idea that you should never have to delete mail and you should always be able to find the message you want"

I guess the problem is someone at Google decided email was broken and needed to be almost completely rebuilt. Email wasn't broken, at least it wasn't for me. It seems like I should at least have the option to turn all that stuff off and use a standard email interface. It doesn't matter that I don't have to delete my email, I never had to delete mail that I wanted to keep before. And I really could always find the old messages I want. Putting things in context actually makes me more confused, I never needed context, trying to add it just adds noise.


I love gmail. Although, now, I can't check it at work since they've blocked gmail. (New filtering software; however, I have it fwded to my other home acct and can check the webmail version of that.)

This system works very well. I don't need to label any mail that comes in

I'm sorry but even in OE you ARE labelling all your mail that comes in if all your ML mail goes into seperate folders--you had to create a "rule" to send that email into the folder you want it to go into. I do the same thing in gmail, except they call the folders "labels" and the rules "filters". I use gmail for my mailing lists and my contact email(I have yahoo and hotmail addys for signing up for things.) It works wonderfully for me for my ML mail. I filter all my CSI lists together, all my NCIS mail together, etc. And for mailing lists, the conversation thing usually works quite well. (I will admit, I didn't know how to delete individual emails until I was reading the comments to your other posts).

It took me a while to get used to it (and I still don't receive my own posts to my mailing lists unless someone replies to it--but I don't know if that's a gmail thing or a yahoo thing) but now, at least for my personal email, I don't want to change. I used to use OE and still use it at work and I like it. But I love gmail for my home mail.

If gmail doesn't work for you, why do you continue using it?? Just curious.


>>I'm sorry but even in OE you ARE labelling all your mail that comes in
>>if all your ML mail goes into seperate folders

But that's what I want, folders. Gmail is different in a way that makes it harder to use for me.

>>(I will admit, I didn't know how to delete individual emails until
>>I was reading the comments to your other posts).

Now why would they do that?? Both of us couldn't figure out how to do something that should've been completely obvious.

>>It took me a while to get used to it (and I still don't receive my own posts
>>to my mailing lists unless someone replies to it--but I don't know if
>>that's a gmail thing or a yahoo thing)

It's a gmail thing, something I forgot to put on my list. Yet another "WTF were they thinking with that?" moment.

>>If gmail doesn't work for you, why do you continue using it?? Just curious.

1. The price is right
2. It's cool and trendy
3. I don't want my email on

Gmail has changed my life, for the better.

"My main folder is my inbox." Folders slow me down. With gmail I have the piece of mind that all of my "sent" mail and all my received mail is there and I never have to "file" anything or "delete" anything. In essence, my inbox is my outbox is my inbox.

"None of them are conversations, if they are the entire conversation I need to know about is in the message" Conversations speed me up. I don't have to worry about cut-and-pasting snippets from previous emails to make sure the "context" is kept. If somebody names an email "Re: what we talked about" I don't have to change the title because Gmail keeps everything together in context without having decent titles. Also I have my IMs (google talk) and my emails from a single contact together.

"The inbox is important, and kept clean." I don't have to keep things "clean" because I have a clean searchbox that lets me easily find anything and clean labels that I can click on and immediately go to what I labeled. I don't have to delete spam and don't have to be annoyed by it because I have the space. I don't have to delete routine emails because it doesn't save me time and I have the space. I don't use labels much except for "book purchases" and "refdesk skeds" and "family phone numbers" but they are infinitely better than folders.

"I don't need to label any mail that comes in." I don't either. I just label a few that are extra super-duper important that I would have printed out in previous times because they are so important and besides tags are cool because I can tag something years later when my terminology changes! For example, girlfriend could become ex. Yes, folks, folksonomy is that important.

You are trying to use gmail like another email program, and you are ignoring what makes it different. You need to have the faith the gmail will find anything. Stop worrying about "clean" inboxes and deleting and organizing. Realize that everything is there. Everything is there. Everything is there. Relax. Smile. Gmail.

"Everything is there. Everything is there." Exactly the problem! I don't want everything there, my goal is to eliminate!

"Conversations speed me up" That's funny, because they really really screw me up. I just relized I got a reply to a really important email today I was waiting on and ran across it by accident, it had attached itself to another conversation. It's actually getting worse over time, not better.

"You are trying to use gmail like another email program, and you are ignoring what makes it different"
Exactly! This is email, it's not something I want to be different, I don't want to relearn something that was never a problem to begin with.

"For example, girlfriend could become ex."
Heh, wife will never become ex, I told her that if I left OSU she can never leave!

I'm sorry, I can't have everything in my inbox. It's too disorganised. If I want to just read all the posts to my NCIS slash list? I want gmail to sort them and put them together for me. I don't WANT my CSIslash list mails mixed in with my NCIS stuff. I want them together, which is why I do the filter/label thing. I don't want to have to serach for all emails with ncisslash in the subline myself. That wastes my time more than folders EVER could. Labels (which are JUST LIKE FOLDERS) make life FASTER for me--if I'm expecting an email re: something in one of my lists, I just have to click one thing, not type and click doing a search. (In other words I shall never be convinced that folders/filters/labels are a bad thing.)

I'm too much of a library tech to be able to survive with my email all massed together in my inbox which would, to me, amount to disarray. *shudders just thinking about it.*

One big thing that I do thing is missing from gmail is the ability to sort by other than rec'd time. I'd like to be able to sort by sender or by subject. (Belonging to mailing lists, people sometimes change a sub line slightly which means that they don't all end up in the same convo.) I don't want to have to SEARCH for that--I want it to be like OE and click the column to have it sort.