Lazyweb: My GMail Wishlist

I dropped something heavy on my laptop the other day just as the system was rebooting, and managed to trash the disk. While it’s in the shop, I’ve had to rely on GMail as my main mail application. (I normally read mail with on the Mac, but have everything autoforwarded to GMail for backup and access from other computers.) Using GMail full time reminds me of all the things that I think it ought to do as a mail client from Google, which in theory is one of the internet-savviest companies around (see Levels of the Game), as well as things that I expect as normal good behavior, plus some things that I miss from old Unix mail clients like mh and mush/zmail.

Right now, GMail is operating at the lowest level of Web 2.0. It uses Ajax to give an online experience, but it actually doesn’t do anything that can’t be done in a local mail client. (And actually, since all mail is networked, even if the client itself is local, these same features could be implemented by anyone, from Microsoft to Apple. But it’s GMail that’s on my mind right now….) If anyone at Google is reading, please put these features on your punch list:

  1. Given that you can search all my mail in a snap, why can’t you search all my addresses too? Why should I have to add people to “Quick Contacts”? When I start typing an email address, look through all the email addresses in “To” or “From” fields, and make some guesses. Don’t make me search mail, and cut and paste them from old messages into the current composition! The addresses are all there. Let the computer do the dirty work!
  2. But don’t stop there. GMail’s address book ought to work like Google Web Search does: remember everything, and use heuristics to promote the most likely result to the top. And unlike ordinary desktop search, mail has all kinds of interesting social network structure (just like web links) that could be used to give better results. Imagine a smart address book that looked through every email message I’d ever sent or received and picked people for the “quick contacts” based on message frequency and count, speed of response, and other clues about who is important to me. This could be used not just in the address book, but in helping to filter important messages to the top.

  3. If doing something smart and google-ish with the address book doesn’t make it to the top of your priority list, at least let me import my address book in vcard format! Why allow only CSV files for address book upload? Sure, I can use a Vcard to CSV converter that I found on the web, but why make it so hard on the user?

  4. Give me some decent tools for bulk message manipulation. Because I don’t do any regular mailbox maintenance on my gmail inbox, it’s now got over 60,000 messages in it. I could cut that down by half if I had a few commands like those that Zmail used to provide: “pick -f farber | d” would delete all of the thousands of posts from Dave Farber’s IP mailing list that I’ve accumulated for instance. I don’t need them in my GMail archive — they are already archived elsewhere on the web. How silly is it to search everything, but then let me manipulate the results only 20 or 50 items at a time. “Select All” should select ALL messages that match the search, not just the first 20 or 50 results. (And yeah, I know that I can create a filter to delete the messages, apply it to all the messages in the inbox, and then go back and disable it so that it doesn’t delete the new messages. But that’s kind of a kluge.)

    Wait, this just in from Hacks editor Brian Sawyer:

    “I remember you asking a while back about possible ways to delete all mail in Gmail that matched a certain date (a whole year of email, for example), without having to select 50 messages at a time and delete them in batches. Perhaps you’ve already worked something out, but if not, you might be interested to know that Gmail just added this feature.

    They didn’t announce it, though, and you kind of have to stumble on it if you don’t know it’s there. Just click “Show search options” and enter your criteria, such as “Date within 1 year of 1/1/2004.” When your search results come up, you’ll still have only the first 50 matches on the first page, without any indication that anything has changed. But if you choose “Select All,” you’ll notice a new “Select all conversations that match this search” link. Clicking that does just what you’d expect, and you can then watch thousands of messages disappear with a single click of the Delete button. This also works for the Spam folder, which is what I’ve been waiting for.

    This should be a quick and easy way to reclaim your disk space in Gmail, if you haven’t already found another solution.”

Some things I like: it’s always there, regardless of whether or not I trash my laptop, or just want to check mail from someone else’s computer; the Ajax-driven ability to switch from “Reply” to “Reply All” without restarting the message (this one is a boon); good keyboard shortcuts (except the puzzling lack of a shortcut for delete); and yes, even the ads. As with Google search, I find the contextual advertising useful (even if I don’t click on it) because it is fascinating to watch what things Google knows about my mail and my correspondents that I hadn’t myself noticed.