By Harry McCracken | Wednesday, September 29, 2010 at 1:24 pm
Like me, my friend and former colleague Ed Albro has blogged about Gmail’s new option for shutting off Conversation View. Unlike me, he comes down on the side of conversations. Decisively so. You might even say he’s strident on the topic:
From what I can tell from reading through the complaints on the Gmail forum, people don’t like conversation view because they like to keep their inbox tidy and the threaded approach doesn’t let them kill off individual emails in a conversation. In other words, they want to keep their boss’s original email about the monthly budget, but not Joe’s harangue about people using too many pencils.
Another common argument from anti-Conversation View crowd is that all those messages they can’t kill are making their inbox too bulky. Come on people: A basic Gmail account now provides 7.5 GB of storage. Unless your threaded conversations include lots of people attaching high-def video files, those individual messages you can’t kill aren’t making a dent in your overall storage.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t have the option to turn off Conversation View – I’m just saying you shouldn’t exercise it.
Knowing Ed, his absolutist stance is at least somewhat tongue in cheek. (I hope so, at least.) But I’m fascinated by the apparently genuine irritation on the part of both pro-conversationalists and anti-conversationalists that there are people so stupid and/or impudent that they wish their inboxes to be organized in a fashion other than the one that irritated person prefers.
(I want to make it official that I’m neither a pro-conversationalist or an anti-conversationalist: I’m going my own way and declaring myself in favor of a Conversation View that’s different than the one Gmail currently offers.)
Historically, the closest counterpart to this debate I can think of is the great question of whether toilet paper rolls should be oriented so that you pull tissue from the top of the roll or the bottom. It’s not just that people have unexpectedly fierce beliefs on the subject–it’s that a lot of them believe that their belief should be shared by millions of people they’ll never meet.
You are entitled to adore Conversation View. Have fun with it. I’m glad it works for you. May God bless, etc., etc.
Me, I know for a fact that Google’s implementation of conversations quite frequently causes me to miss important messages in my inbox–and I’m virtually positive that shutting them off will prevent me from doing so. You can argue that my lack of appreciation for Gmail Conversations is due to basic obtuseness on my part. But unless you’ve spent the last six years sitting on my shoulder peering at my inbox, I don’t think you can make a case that conversations actually work for me and I’m somehow failing to understand that.
(Whatever you do, please don’t suggest that disliking conversations stems from wanting Gmail to be like Outlook, as this Google blog post implies–I’ve never used Outlook on a regular basis for real work, so I can hardly be nostalgic for it. And as I mentioned in a reply to a comment on my earlier post, I’ve used and liked threaded conversations in other venues for at least a couple of decades.)
One of the best things about software and services is that they’re so utterly customizable. Now that Google has made Conversation View optional, I can get the Gmail I want without depriving you of the Gmail you want. Everybody wins–unless you’re the type who can’t deal with the concept that other people may not share your personal preferences.
I like the metaphor in this post at the official Gmail blog: Conversation View is like cilantro. Going online to tell people who don’t like conversations that they’re wrong is a bit like driving from restaurant to restaurant and haranguing diners about what they’re eating.
(Final parenthetical note: I don’t have strong opinions about the positioning of toilet paper rolls or whether cilantro is tasty. Feel free to debate both matters here…)