user experience

The Future: Gmail, Social Media, and You

Over the past many weeks I have explored, elaborated, and exhausted the extent of the then existent exercising of resistance. Now, with such resistance eroded, drawn out through my conversion by an Android, an exploration into the Future of Gmail and the 'Should Do' ... Readability, Simplify, Organize, Integration and Consistency.

The Future: Gmail, Social Media, and You

gmail_logo_stylized_thumb35555It’s been many weeks since my conversion has been wholly complete, many months since it became my primary means of email communication, when I was converted by an Android, and years since I first started using…. Gmail.

Over the past many weeks I have explored, elaborated, and exhausted the exercising of my resistance. Now, with such resistance both worn down and overcome, drawn out through my conversion by an Android, let’s explore what improvements remain undone, those of the ‘Should Do’ variety that would directly facilitate the conversions of many, many more to the ways of Gmail.

what brought about this conversion, (1) (2)
why it took so long, and (3) (4) (5) (6) (7)
what should be done to encourage greater Gmail adoption. (8) (9)

Should Do

00_gmail-all Perhaps the greatest challenge to Gmail is Information Overload and the ability to zero in on both what is desired and what is most important.

  • Gmail can often feel like a very, very long list of information with few visual cues assisting in the efficient user parsing of the data. Many things can be done to assist in this readability challenge.
    • Support grouping of emails / discussion threads, by tags, from, to, substrings, age, size, frequency of receipt as well as frequency of reply (or even average delay before reply to), etc.
    • The introduction of the concepts of hierarchy would allow users to zoom in on what is important, becoming less dependent on knowing the precise search, becoming less likely to miss the ever critical email buried in a long list or discussion thread. Beyond the custom coloring of tags (a labs feature) tags should be able to be grouped as well as support hierarchical concepts, sub-tags. This would allow for a bridging of the folder and tag paradigms within the Gmail experience. Of course, having the choice to use tags, tag groups, and sub-tags and their groups, together with folders would provide for even more flexibility of these means of thinking and empower the users to choose the paths best suited for them. Most importantly, these concepts, when implemented, should facilitate finding information without knowing the exact details incumbent to initiate a search, i.e. browsing, possessing the characteristic of easy historical reference of read and unread content within an organizational superstructure that can cut through the overwhelming list of lists experience of today’s Gmail.
    • Sorting and filters, dynamic, inline, and customizable, as well as saved filter rules, another concept that Outlook implemented very well by way of their Search Folders (the name itself almost necessitates a Google equivalent), would also help cut through the clutter.
    • Provide the option to display either the total number (read + unread) or total unread tagged items alongside the tags. In turn, this would provide the ability to immediately archive communications, while maintaining a visual cue of their existence. In this approach, tags could function as more than mere labels, but become more action oriented keeping track of such things as to-do items or other rapidly evolving and critical communication (that would benefit from being separated from the clutter of the Inbox).
  • Discussion threads for tracking communication evidently work well for some people. For others, the thread is a sure fire way to misplace an important subset of the conversation.
    • Enable the ability to disable threads altogether, establish new threads and sub-threads, remove components / emails / sub-threads from a thread.
    • Allow for archiving of selective portions of a discussion thread.
    • Permit discussion threads that consist of multiple modes of communication; a single discussion thread could consist of Google Talk, Twitter, and Email communications centered around a single topic.

Google has many products that have official, open API’s and hooks for cross-product integration; lacking in the case of Gmail . Open source and APIs play very google_apisimportant roles at Google. They …

  • accelerate idea creation — inspire and build upon,
  • leverage the power of the community — improving and extending the product through community ideas, learning and need discovery,
  • facilitate testing (and bug fixing) on greater scale,
  • increase the stickiness of Google products,
  • .. among many other value-added benefits.

And, greater attention to Integration and Consistency within Gmail would also greatly benefit its current and potential users by…

  • Enabling better cross-linking between Google products (e.g. between Google Calendar and Gmail) as well as amongst external properties (e.g. Gmail and OneNote). For example, including the Gmail live discussion thread from which the Google Calendar event was created would be a step in the right direction. In addition, Gmail and Google Docs could be more tightly integrated, with document revisions coordinated and displayed and accessible, alongside the messages within the discussion thread making use of the underlying document(s). Even integrating, to various degrees, with Google Analytics can provide greater understanding of effective communications, best times to reach out to people, best ways to get desired responses, etc.
  • Creating an open Gmail Labs, or Gmail App Store, for third party development of plugins and enhancements for Gmail.
  • Increasing openness, modularity and portability of Gmail and its parts by establishing an Open Development Platform to provide for the rapid evolution of the features and ideas of Gmail; leverage the strategy that has proven so successful in other Google products.
  • Blending the social media stream, from Picasa, YouTube, Facebook, and Orkut to micro-blogging, blog posts, and comments, building upon the current integration of Google Talk and Google Voice to further become the centralized, single place for all an individuals web communication.
  • Supplying a framework for the robust flexibility and customization of the UX and UI. For example, let users create their own buttons, button containers, and both custom and common actions.
  • Integrating more easily and seamlessly with the OS. Microsoft Windows allows the user to right-click ‘send to mail recipient’ on files.’ When Gmail is the primary email client of choice, performing such action should direct the straight to a newly composing Gmail message.
  • Experience and information management should be consistent from one Google product to another, most especially products like Gmail (tag-based organization) and Google Calendar (calendar-based organization) and Google Docs (folder-based organization).


htc-hero-pictures-15 Now that I have switched to Gmail from Outlook, I couldn’t be happier that I was so coaxed into this long resisted position. But, the conversion could have been better facilitated, and more can be done to accelerate others still resisting. I only hope that this journey, together shared, was more than fun, but also illustrative and educational for those that use, may some day use, or are in positions of power and influence to improve the web-based email / communication platform, Gmail.

First converted to a fan of Android, the platform, then converted to a fan of Gmail, too. I resisted the Android, and succumbed. I, for much longer, both longed for and resisted the conversion to Gmail. Through all of this, despite the long path already journeyed, there remain many more steps to walk, specific steps that those overseers of Gmail can take to further enlighten the experience of ones as of now converted as well as those yet to be.

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Jeremy Horn 
The Product Guy

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