Still More Passionate Debate About Gmail Conversation View

By  |  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…)


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9 Comments For This Post

  1. JaredNewman Says:

    Pro-cilantro, topside roll, conversation view. Let's rumble.

  2. Fred Says:

    Considering it was my comment you were replying to, here's where I'm coming from. There are only three things that differentiate Gmail from every other webmail provider out there: labels, conversation view and search. Since the day it was introduced, a vocal subset of users have been agitating for Google to replace labels with folders and to get rid of conversation view. Once you do that, what is the difference between Gmail and Outlook Web Access or Hotmail? I'm not opposed to people turning off threaded emails (do whatever makes you happy), I just don't understand it. What benefit does Gmail provide at that point? In other words, why is a Gmail that's exactly like Hotmail the Gmail that you want?

  3. Lee Says:

    I think writing another paragraph to rant at him proves his point. Breathe in…. Hold….. Exhale…..

  4. Collins Says:

    "Breathe in… Hold… Exhale….."

    Then send a boot to his head.

  5. ches Says:

    Cilantro, ick.

  6. Collins Says:

    Umm… I prefer overhead-mount toilet paper rolls that roll from the bottom; they enforce more physical activity that most modern people hesitate to engage in. And if any if you hold opposing view, you should consider taking another 3 or 4 years of college education.

  7. IcyFog Says:

    The main thing I like about Gmail is conversation view. I love it! Take it away, and I won't use Gmail.

  8. Sleepydude Says:

    I don't like the conversation view and I don't like labels. The reason I may switch to Gmail is that you can acess email using an email client without having to pay for it. I prefer acessing my email that way. I know most people prefer the web. Hotmail allows access for free via Windows Live Mail Desktop but I am on a Mac. I will not use Gmail much via the web except when I have to. I really dislike it.

  9. Lance Roberts Says:

    I love conversation view, but what sucks is that Gmail will thread together email from the same company (like Amazon) when they have nothing to do with each other. I then can't label them appropriately, and end up having to overlabel them to make sure everything is covered. I also can't archive them individually. They just need to give us an option in the message drop-down menu to separate individual messages from threads, so we can do it on a one-off basis.