By Harry McCracken | Wednesday, February 11, 2009 at 2:02 am
We all know that one of the virtues of Web-based services compared to desktop software is that their creators can add new features on the fly, making them available to every user instantly. And we know that Google (even in somewhat smaller form) is a company that rarely meets an idea it doesn’t like enough to at least throw up as an experimental beta.
But in the past few weeks, something’s been going on with Gmail that’s kind of startling. Google is adding new features–mostly significant ones–at a clip that I can’t remember any other Web service matching, ever. And it it seems to be accelerating.
Here’s what’s new with Gmail so far in 2009, as announced at the Gmail blog–and I’m not even including everything unveiled there that has at least a tangential connection with Gmail, such as Latitude. So much has happened over the past couple of weeks that if Google starts moving any faster, it’ll be upgrading Gmail daily:
Between offline access, iPhone contact syncing, iPhone task support, and the ability to treat Labels more like garden-variety e-mail folders, Gmail is a significantly more useful tool for me than it was just a couple of weeks ago. I’m not sure whether we’re just in the midst of what happens to be an uncommonly busy time for the Gmail team, or whether Google has embarked on a strategy to beef up Gmail more or less continuously–but I like what I see.
Mostly, that is. The Google Labs feature that is home to many new Gmail features is in dire need of a new interface. There are now nearly forty optional features there (from must-haves such as offline access to the somewhat embarrassing Mail Goggles), and if there’s any particular order to them, I can’t figure it out. Labs needs to break down its bounty into categories–and I hope that Google both promotes some features into standard Gmail fare and does away with others in the interest of avoiding bloat. Such as, oh, Mail Goggles.
Here’s what the Labs list looks like in its current form–keep on scrollin’ to see it all:
Google will presumably have to slow down at some point, especially if it wants to avoid adding new features mostly for the sake of adding new features. As of right now, though, there are plenty of items left to add or improve (I still find threaded conversations as much of a con as a pro, for instance). Maybe the Gmail that exists in late February will be a notable advance on this February 11th model…