On using Gmail exclusively

February 06, 2006

You'd think that someone intimately involved with two books about Gmail (Hacking Gmail; Google Hacks) would actually be using the webmail service, but that wasn't the case for me until about three months ago.

I told myself I wasn't going to use Gmail until two things happened: 1) an option was added to specify the from address (in addition to the reply-to) and 2) the ability to upload past e-mail was supported natively. The former has been fixed, but the latter is still missing. I'm rather confused by this because I know for a fact that there a lot of people (with serious blogosphere pull) still holding out for this feature and I have to think that adding it would be technically mindless (i.e., receive e-mail in mbox format, parse, save). I don't get it. That said, I'm getting used to the fact that all of my archived e-mail isn't on Gmail, and honestly, if they were to add the ability to upload it I probably wouldn't even bother at this point.

Problems/Issues

I wasn't quite sure how I wanted to tackle this and have decided to simply list what I think are the biggest problems with the service and the things I would like to see implemented.

  • Doesn't take you back to the Inbox after replying to an e-mail. As soon as I send an e-mail off I want to move on to something else. Instead, I have to wait for the send to complete and then click (or use a keyboard shortcut) to get back to the Inbox.
  • After selecting emails and applying some action to them, they are not unchecked after the action has been applied. This, perhaps, is the most annoying thing about Gmail. I can't for the life of me figure out the logic behind this (or the technical reason why it hasn't been fixed). What the hell!?!
  • No ability to specify the width of the application within the browser window -- it always expands to the size of the window.
  • The drafts "folder" doesn't show you the recipient's name, just the subject (unless you're replying to a then-existing conversation). Huh?
  • No ability to assign keyboard functions (ala Mail Act-on). This feature would be a godsend and I bet it's something they're working on.
  • There is no message count (just a "conversation" count). I need numbers!
  • If someone attaches a picture, Gmail usually presents a scaled-down version of the image and offers two options, "view" and "download." If you choose "view" and then try to go back in your browser you're taken directly to the Inbox instead of the e-mail you were just reading.
  • The hard-wrapping of text. Please, for the love of god, stop putting hard line breaks into my messages; it makes copying/pasting them later such a burden.
  • No way to reply directly from the message list. In other words, if I receive an e-mail from a particular person with a particular subject line and know immediately that I want to reply to them immediately, I'd like to be able to do that without having to go through multiple steps.
  • The number in parentheses next to "Inbox" in the menu doesn't always match the number of unread e-mails shown in the message list.
  • No way to shorten the time that spam resides on the system before it's deleted -- it's stuck at 30 days.
  • No way to sort search results (e.g., by date sent, date received, etc).
  • If you are reading a "conversation" and see that a new e-mail has arrived, it would be nice if when that new e-mail is part of the conversation you are currently looking at, it would just refresh your conversation instead of requiring you to go all the way back to the list of conversations and click it again.
  • No way to mass-forward an e-mail. In other words, you can't choose to forward an e-mail and then jump to the contacts page to select multiple recipients (as you can do when creating a new message). You're forced to create a new message and copy/paste the recipient list into the forward.

Niceties

  • It works well in Lynx if you find yourself in that situation.
  • Gmail Mobile is brilliant. It's really, really nice and I plan to do a full write-up on it in the near future.
  • Starred e-mails are expanded automatically in long conversations.
  • To reply you just need to click inside the reply box (don't have to find the reply "button"). This doesn't yet work in all browsers.
  • The spam filter is excellent and has been spot-on for me, which is why I wrote Three ways to filter spam using Gmail. In 3+ months of continuous use, I've yet to have a single false-positive (that I know about).
  • Very nice spell-checking implementation.
  • Still the best search functionality in the business.
  • Caused other webmail providers to get their asses in gear.

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