OK, Naysayers — Here’s Why You Would Want To Turn Off Gmail’s Conversation View

Google’s rolled out a new option to turn off “conversation view” in Gmail. I’m dumbfounded that I’ve seen two different people now question why anyone would want to do this. OK, I’ll bite.

But Conversation View Is So Great!

Let’s do the critics first. Here’s Google’s Matt Cutts about the crazy people who don’t want conversations:

But ability 2 turn off Gmail conversation view is like ability 2 hit head against wall. Why would you do it? #notefficient :)

Here’s Christopher Dawson over at ZDNet:

Google announced today that it would allow users to disable what, in my opinion, is the single best feature of Gmail and one of the most touted new features of Outlook 2010…

This sounds to me, however, like it is really about attracting enterprise-types who have become accustomed to Outlook and Exchange, where a conversation view only became available with the launch of Outlook 2010. Conversation view, for non-Gmail users, is a real switch

Heck, even Google itself, in announcing the change, makes me feel like I’m an insane pariah for wanting it:

It turns out not everyone feels the same way. And just as an outspoken minority has banded together in unison to declare their distaste of one of nature’s most delicious herbs, some of you have been very vocal about your dislike of conversation threading.

Let Me Count The Reasons To Opt-Out

So why am I so crazy as to want this off? For one, because I want to, OK?

I don’t care if you love Gmail’s conversation view and think it’s the best thing since sliced bread. Not everyone does. So having a choice to disable it is nice. Choices are good. I’m glad it’s here now, and I’d prefer that you didn’t question my decision to use it.

Conversations Aren’t Perfect

Other reasons. You know what? Gmail’s not perfect. Sometimes it puts things into a conversation that aren’t actually part of it. Sometimes it misses other things On the odd occasion, I’ve got some spam or off-topic message that I don’t want in the middle of everything else.

Here’s an example right now, in my inbox:

That’s the latest comment on a blog post that I have about sneaked versus snuck. That post has over 100 comments. I’ve got over 100 notifications of each comment. However, Gmail thinks for whatever reason that only 4 of them today are part of the “conversation.”

OK, that makes sense if you’re talking the most recent conversation. But I thought Gmail was all about keeping track of conversations over time? Where’s the rest?

It’s also frigging annoying. I’m one of those people who likes to deal with an email individually and have it done. So in my inbox, I have what feels to me four different messages coming back, when I really only want to deal with the latest one.

Deleting Is Easier

I also get a lot of crap email, stuff I want to delete. But I never feel safe using the delete feature from the inbox because it will wipe out a bunch of messages that may have been wrapped into a conversation. Instead, I have to click into the conversation, then delete what I might want to kill.

I know, I know. Unlimited storage! Never need to delete. Yeah, that’s not really true, as my Pondering “Email Conservation” After Hitting Gmail’s Storage Limit post gets into. Hey, I solved my storage issues for $50 per year, and it’s well spent. With 60% of my quota still free, I don’t need to delete. But if I want to, I want to, OK? And a non-conversation view makes it easier.

Focusing Can Be Easier

Another reason is sometimes, I have long emails that in turn are shoved into long conversation views. This is another case when I might more easily want to deal with just a single email, in a non-conversation view.

How About An Easier Toggle?

So thanks, Gmail, for allowing me the option. Want to make it better? Allow me to easily toggle it on or off, like Outlook 2010 does. This having to dig into settings and switch it on and off as a global option is crazy. It should be a view option from my inbox or “all mail” summary. Hey, showing snippets ought to be, too.

For related views, also see here on Techmeme.


Comments

  1. says

    I very much agree with you. I tweeted ya, but 140 characters only goes so far…and I am pretty passionate about this because I’ve complained about being forced into conversations enough to annoy my friends. ;)

    Honestly, I can send out an email about my change of address or cell phone number to 50 people, then get a bunch of related quick replies… but then there will be those one or two people who email back with an “oh by the way…” type email about getting together, or some work they want done on a site…or whatever, and I want to separate it out easily.

    I am too organized (read OCD) to have everything smashed together w/zero alternate options!

  2. says

    Choices are good.

    They can be, but they also add complexity. There’s a trade-off.

    About the comment conversation, I suspect that the issue there is that those emails are not chained together with the standard headers that indicate replies. In the absence of those headers Gmail uses heuristics (eg: emails with the exact same subject line in a short time period) to build conversations. Being heuristics, they aren’t always correct. Personally, I think Gmail should just do away with the heuristics. Yes, a lot of email generators get it wrong, but they’ll keep getting it wrong if email clients work around their screwups.

    So in my inbox, I have what feels to me four different messages coming back, when I really only want to deal with the latest one.

    Why does it feel like 4 different messages? When you open it up only the unread messages will be expanded by default. The ones you already read will be collapsed by default (like the first 3 in your screenshot).

  3. Anonymous Cow says

    “This sounds to me, however, like it is really about attracting enterprise-types who have become accustomed to Outlook and Exchange, where a conversation view only became available with the launch of Outlook 2010. Conversation view, for non-Gmail users, is a real switch”

    I think this guy is spot on..

  4. says

    Conversation view is like the status feature on Facebook…WHO CARES!!
    I don’t care if you just had the best piece of pizza ever and are settling in for the night…blah, blah, blah!

    Conversation view, like Google Instant, is annoying!

  5. says

    I have never liked conversation view. I spend too much time trying to decipher what’s the latest thread, and I really don’t care about connecting everything – my brain’s still pretty good these days and usually connects it for me.

  6. mischa says

    I’d never heard of conversation view messing up like that before. I guess I’ve just been lucky.

    For myself, I really like that when my bank sends me an email stating “New statement is available” for each account that they all get lumped into 1 conversation I can delete.