What I Hate About Gmail...And How It Reveals Google's Achilles Heel(s)

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As frequent readers will know, I recently had to abandon my 12-year relationship with Yahoo Mail and climb in bed with Gmail instead. 

I did not do this because I had been lusting after Gmail.  I did this because Yahoo Mail had become so buggy,  inconsistent, and unreliable that I didn’t have any choice.  (And I’m a Yahoo shareholder and employee* who is nervous that Carol Bartz will get sick of my ranting and can me, so you can imagine that this defection was not a happy one).

In any event, now I’m a Gmail user.  And there are a few things I love about it:

  • It usually works
  • The SPAM filter is vastly better than Yahoo’s new one (Yahoo’s old one was damn-near perfect. But then about six months ago, they switched to a new, terrible one)
  • The integration with the iPhone was pretty easy
  • Setting up forwarding, etc., from Yahoo was pretty easy
  • The IM feature is actually useful as a backup for AIM (Enough people are apparently on Gmail that I can reach them that way when AIM isn’t working).

But now for the things I loathe about Gmail…and what they reveal about Google’s Achilles’ heel(s).

First, our whole company recently switched to Google Apps (including Gmail) from a bunch of disparate providers.  We were REALLY excited to do this.  We were already using Google Spreadsheet, Google Docs, etc., and liked them, and we were eager to take the full plunge. 

From my perspective, except for what I loathe about Gmail, this switch has been fine… because I don’t have to deal with it.  The person who does have to deal with it, however, our COO Julie Hansen, complains incessantly about it.  And if the problems continue, I suspect we won’t be using Google Apps for long.

As best I can tell, the problem with Google Apps is the same problem Google has with a lot of its products: The company underinvests in and under-focuses on any product that doesn’t happen to be called “search.” 

Google keeps making noises about how it wants Google Apps to become the new Microsoft Office.  Well, if Google is serious about this, it is going to have to start investing SERIOUS TIME AND MONEY in making Google Apps a much simpler, more reliable, and more user-friendly product for the folks who actually have to make corporate purchasing and operational decisions–such as our COO.

I have no doubt that Google is CAPABLE of doing this.  I just wonder whether they’ll ever recognise and admit it.

And now, finally, on to Gmail.

It is hard to express how much I hate the “conversation” format that Gmail and Google are imposing on me.  I understand that some people like it, and, for those folks, I’m glad that Google offers it.  I’m glad to see Google trying to innovate with email, and I hope they continue to do so.  But I personally HATE the conversation format.

(Why?  Because I can’t easily find the exact message I’m looking for.  Because I have to scroll down to the bottom of each “conversation” to find the new email.  Because I can’t change the headline of a message string if I want to just hit reply and change the topic.  And a bunch of other reasons that stem from my being used to regular old email and thus preferring it.)

I understand that, in the eyes of Google’s engineers and people who love the conversation format, this makes me as old and dumb as a rock.

I don’t care.  And my apparently having mush for brains doesn’t lessen my hatred of Gmail or persuade me that Google is being anything but tone-deaf stupid here.

There are lots of folks out there who, like me, prefer the regular old email format.  So why won’t Google just give me a simple settings switch that allows me to display Gmail in EITHER “conversation” format OR regular old email format? 

What could be more simple that that?  And what good reason could there possibly be for not offering me and other users this simple choice?

Only one answer seems plausible, and it’s the answer that gets to Google’s Achilles heel:


Google has apparently decided that the conversation format is “better” than regular old email.  And so the hell with me.

That’s Google’s prerogative, I suppose.  But it’s a bad business decision.  And it leaves an opening for someone, somewhere, to come along and do what Google once did to Yahoo and the rest of the late 1990s search oligopolists:

Do it better.

Unless Gmail has a change of heart, I, personally, am looking forward to that.

* Host of Yahoo Finance video show, TechTicker

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