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 mail.app 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.

tags:
  • http://www.curmudgeonblogger.com Justin

    I totally agree on the contacts suggestion. There should be a way to import Vcards.

  • http://gr.ayre.st Karl G

    If you’re willing to greasemonkey it, there are scripts to add extra shortcuts like move to trash [1]. I’d recommend my version (down atm, I’ll need to get that back online) or Anand’s version for the added keyboard quick reference (?).

    [1] http://persistent.info/archives/2006/03/21/gmail-macros

  • http://billy-girlardo.com/blog/ BillyG

    Thank you very much. Your #1 has been my #1 pet-peeve since I started using GMail. Maybe now they’ll listen!

    p.s. this was the second post in a row that did not open for me in FF (running with NoScript at full bore), usually I’ll get at least something until I okay scripts, your site gives me a blank page, I’m in Opera just fine right now. G/L.

  • http://www.lucafiligheddu.com luca

    I’d add a lot of new features to your wishlist.
    1) ability to create search folders
    2) ability to disable thread view
    3) other buttons for quick access to important functions
    4) alternate line colors for better viewing
    5) plaxo integration :-)

    I know that you can obtain many of the features above through Greasmonkey, but I use Camino and, anyway, it slows your pc down.

  • http://www.stocktickr.com Dave

    I wish that GMail would suggest the proper spelling for something I search for when I misspell it, like Google proper does.

  • Pat

    I like the idea of alternate colors for better viewing. I’d also like to be able to alternately color starred messages and/or the message my cursor is currently sitting on (in inbox view).

    You have to be careful about spelling corrections a la Google though. IIRC, Google doesn’t actually spell check against a dictionary. It’s more like a cross-referrenced statistical match so if enough people make a spelling mistake the errors will start to get suggested.

  • http://tim.oreilly.com Tim O'Reilly

    Re. Google and spelling mistakes. It’s important to keep in mind how the language evolves. Language purists don’t like it, but ultimately, the vernacular becomes the dictionary. So one year’s spelling mistake or grammar faux pas eventually becomes “correct.” Like television before it, the Internet accelerates this process.

  • http://www.reflectit.com/ simran

    Being able to view some stats on emails received and sent (and perhaps quirky stats on the contents of the emails) would be great.

  • http://www.reflectit.com/ simran

    Forgot to mention… but one of the top of my wishlist would be the ability to “export” all mail as a compressed file…

    I can setup a pop client and download everything, but that’s kind of a kludge.

    Can’t wait till google make platypus public (hopefully it will have the ability to sync a copy of your gmail to your local disk as well).

  • Andrew

    IMAP access, please.

  • Scott

    I second that! Give us IMAP! Good list of suggestions.

  • http://omnibuscreative.com Ben Hirsch

    Love just about everything in Gmail but I certainly agree on your issue with contacts. GMail just does not make it easy to find contacts quickly and efficiently.

  • joshwa

    IMAP! Please, G(oogle)od, IMAP!

    Also, there’s a page where you can vote for your most-wanted gmail features (not hosted by google, but they’re probably aware of it):

    http://gmailfeatures.grytoyr.net/

  • http://www.stocktickr.com Dave

    Tim, I agree. It would be great, though, if GMail would do a “cross-referenced statistical match” (as Pat mentions above) of the words in my own Gmail account (including my vernacular and my contacts).

  • Josh

    I wonder if I’m the only one that misses having a “sort” function in their email client. If you have a mailbox of 250 messages from 10 people (25 messages per person) all jumbled up, and you need to delete or archive all of the messages from from 9 of the 10 people, you can’t simply sort and mass select groups of the messages, or even do some sort of “inverse” search, you have to do 9 searches total (and know exactly what you’re looking for). It’s totally frustrating.

  • Bertil

    1 & 2 already work fine on my GMail client.
    I beleive this feature is only for Firefox users.
    To talk about that with the developers, go to ‘Help’, then the Help Forums and follow the threads about feature requests. So far, they have answered avery bug report with speed, and every query with difficulty to implement, relevance to users and a time frame.

  • http://tim.oreilly.com Tim O'Reilly

    Bertil — Can you say more? I’m using firefox, and it certainly doesn’t work that way for me.

  • Tony

    It is β software, which people seem to ignore now. I bet it will have all 5 in some fashion by the time it’s released.

    Anyway, #1 works fine for me, I get a search box above quick contacts and a suggest prompt thing while I type in the to field. #2 is also present for me. I’m using Firefox 1.5.

    Also on the ads, I don’t mind them either, especially the recipes for spam salads and such in the spam folder!

  • http://treehugging.org albe

    I agree with everyone for what concerns contacts’ management: they are the weakest point of GMail, at the moment. An exact copy of Hotmail’s bad way of doing things.

    I have a very messed up contact list – GMail keeps saving the contacts I don’t need. I’d rather do it manually everytime – in good old GNUS style (: shortcut to save to address book!)

    Would also like:

    – Search by size (e.g. “emails with attachments whose size is bigger than 2MB”)

    – Notes (I keep notes in drafts, but it would be nice to have a dedicated service)

  • Phil Bowman
  • http://www.sivachidananda.org Swami Ramaswarupananda

    I wish to get all my hiddne e-mail address from my laptop to my incredimail address book. How do I search and get them automatically?

  • Anonymous

    DISABLE THREAD VIEW IMMEDIATELY. Or else I will commit suicide to you all.

  • http://azli.dapat.com azli paat

    My gmail mailbox is 100% full. I have a label that consist of 32,000 emails. After I clicked the label and use select All functions. It doesn’t delete all the emails only 50 eventhough it has a prompt reminding me that gmail is going to delete 32,000 emails.

    Is this happening to other users?

    AP

  • samir raza

    my gmail account did not show quick contact option i am not able to talk or chat to others so plz give me suggestion what is the process for quick contact because in my account option is not available

    i will be grateful to you

    thaking you
    samir007123@gmail.com

  • Ann Brommage

    Have just signed up – went to send an e-mail but cannot find e-mail address book – can someone let me know where the icon is please or, what I have to do.