The Misadventures of Quinxy truths, lies, and everything in between!

29Sep/090

Why Gmail Sucks (at least a little bit)

I use Gmail frequently (via Google Apps). I use it out of necessity more than preference.  The interface I like the best is MS Outlook, but that's on my OQO Model 02 (UMPC).  And that computer's performance has degraded (Vista) over time, its extended battery died (swelled up like it was about to have little baby batteries), and the maker (OQO) went bankrupt (making upgrades and batteries unattainable), so my ardor for that platform has waned.  And even before that, the ability to switch between the three main computers I use daily and have my latest drafts right there is certainly a benefit of Gmail no one can deny.

So what don't I like about Gmail?  To my mind there are two egregious errors in their product:

  1. Their spam email catching system is great, except for the false positives.
  2. There are conversations, and then there are sub-conversations. And the one shouldn't be viewed as the other.

Spam is a major problem.  I should know,  I've used the same email addresses for 12 years now, so I get 1,500+ spam emails a day.  And while Gmail does an amazing job at eliminating those from my inbox, it does so at the unacceptable  cost of taking away a small fraction of my legit email.  Because I get so many spam emails, and because Google offers no sorting options, there's no way I can review my spam mail in Google to catch the legit ones Google has wrongly flagged.  And thus, I lose some legit email.  Maybe I've lost some from long lost friends, maybe I've lost some from an ex-gf writing to apologize for some distant sin, maybe I've lost some from business colleagues about to offer my company a once in a lifetime opportunity.  I'll never know, because Google eats 'em up.  I can't believe that Google doesn't have any configurable options for their spam filter.  It should at least have an option for turning it off, or for only marking things as spam that are guaranteed to be spam.  Let's be clear, some things are safely discarded as spam, if Google has seen the same email sent to 13,492 of their users, that's not an email from my long lost cousin Jim.  It can always safely mark that as spam.  But Gmail will also mark as spam an email from your long lost cousin Jim that it happens to suspect is spam, based on unspecified criteria.  Perhaps Jim's email includes a url pointing to a picture of their newborn baby, who is unfortunately and spam-suspiciously named Buy.  Point being Google treats both sorts of things the same, moving both to the spam folder when I should have some control over that.  And if you're not going to do that, at least give me access to the spam folder via POP, so that I can examine them more efficiently myself.  In Outlook I can quickly clean out my spam folder by various sorting techniques.  Since I get so much spam, sorting by title aggregates 98% of the spam and I can just walk through it and delete it in chunks very quickly, rescuing the false positives as I go.  Gmail feels, apparently, that sorting email isn't something users would ever want to do, so they provide no such options (unlike everyone else).  So, Gmail causes me to lose some valid email, and that is frustrating.  I still use Gmail, knowing this, but only just barely, hoping some solution will appear on the horizon.

Everything is not best viewed as one conversation. There are many situations in which Gmail's version of a "conversation view" is unworkable.  For example.  I post a job ad on Craigslist.  I get 150 responses from applicants.  Some of the applicants keep the CL post's original title, some change it.  Some people insert their own title, but often enough using generic titles that others are also using.  Gmail's criteria for a conversation is based on the email subject.  So these odd groupings of conversations start to appear in my inbox.  One job ad, 150 responses, might show up as 14 different conversations.    And, worse yet, I open up one of these conversations and see 25 responses, I then reply to the individual people in the conversation, and when they respond they show up nested within that same conversation, while other new responses are still showing up at the end of the conversation.  And when any of those people reply, that entire conversation floats back up to the top, but I've got to go walk through the thing again, looking to see if 1 person or 14 people had replied to these separate but wrongly grouped conversations.  It's totally unworkable.  I invariably need to switch to Outlook to deal with these situations, otherwise I can't keep track of things and end up failing to respond to lots of people.  For god's sake, Gmail, let us turn off the conversation view when we need to!!!  One thing I deeply resent is when people or companies think they are so much more clever than everyone else and force a feature on you that you don't necessarily want, and they suppress features you have long needed and relied upon on the grounds that they know better what you need.  Gmail is the only email front-end that I know about that forces you to view everything as a conversation, with no option to view it normally.  If they really wanted to do the conversation thing right, aside from letting you turn it off when needed, use better criteria for what is a conversation.  It should not just be based on the subject of the email.  There are hidden headers you can use, which I believe Outlook and others use to thread messages.  Also, you can pretty well guess threading based on any quoted content in a response. 

Anyway, I have other complaints about Gmail, but those are the two points where their product is (for me) completely broken, and barely usable.

Q

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