June 21, 2004
A friend hooked me up with an invite a few days ago. I'm pretty sure I still don't have enough mail for the progress bar to say I'm using any of my quota. But here's what I've got so far.
So far I've only seen one ad, and it's off to the side where it could very easily be missed. It's even less noticeable than the ads Google puts in its search results. As for the privacy concerns, I see sniffing for ad words the same way I see sniffing for spam -- perfectly fine if it's voluntary.
(As a side note, I tried to send an e-mail last week with the subject "Keeping [so-and-so] up to date" and the destination spam filter rejected it because of the phrase "up to". Keyword-matching alone isn't good enough for a spam-blocker.)
One thing that annoys me though is the lack of a delete button. Yes, I know I have a gig of space, which is room enough for at least 20,000 e-mails (assuming a large e-mail is 50kB). But some e-mails aren't spam but are still useless. The "welcome to GMail" e-mail I received when I set up my account is one of them (though since it's unrequested it's technically spam -- maybe I should've reported it). I don't want to keep it around, I don't want to "archive" it, I want it dead.
If you ever need to use the delete function, it's in the dropdown list labeled "more actions" next to the "report spam" button. Oddly enough, the archive command is duplicated in the list, even though it has its own button just a few pixels away. Be careful though, since I'd be willing to bet that the dropdown deletes an entire "conversation". If you just want to can a message, click the "more options" link next to its subject then click on "trash this message". It sounds complicated, but it does make some sense -- usually an entire set of e-mails will be useless, not just one.
I've received one attachment so far, and got a 500 (server) error when I tried to download it. It may be the browser, or it may be the beta status of GMail. But it was annoying.
Conversations. Messages are grouped by subject in what Google calls conversations. This keeps everything in the same general area, but it's kind of easy to break. If you change the subject of an e-mail, GMail treats it as a new conversation (and within GMail you don't appear to be able to change the subject). I assume that changing the subject breaks the sorter because there's nothing within an e-mail to let GMail know it's a reply. There are a couple RFCs that govern how newgroup postings can say what they're replying to, but I don't think that crosses over to e-mail. Some e-mail clients implement it, though, and it would be nice if GMail could use that. (Hey, maybe it does, I dunno.) Oh, and while conversations are nice, threading would be even better. But I think threading would be impossible for the same reason.
Searching. It searches by conversation, and highlights the search term in any one you view. The border around the conversation <IFRAME> changes from blue to green, and sends you back to your search results instead of your inbox.
Mutli-labeling. This may not be new in GMail, but it's new to me. Conversations can have multiple labels, like blog entries can have multiple subjects/themes. (Well, blogs not written by me can :) ) That way I could find e-mails about a client both by looking for the client name and by looking for freelance stuff. Nice.
Archiving. As a holdover from Brady, I archive anything business-related. This usually means saving the displayed e-mail in a directory on my hard drive with a file name like "2004-06-16 Figuring out GMail.04.html", meaning that I sent/received it on June 16th, and it's the fourth e-mail about figuring out GMail. (And that wouldn't work at Brady, because I'd have to include the sender or recipient's initials, and limit the whole thing to 31 characters so it'd display on a Mac.) In GMail the number isn't needed because it's in context thanks to the conversation, and it's labeled in addition to having its own subject line. So archiving just hides the conversation when I view my inbox. Sure it eats storage, but like I said I can keep at least 20,000 e-mails with no problem. I can see that being particularly useful if I ever need to access a freelance project from another computer a few years down the line. It looks like you can only archive things in your inbox, though, archiving isn't available in label views or from the sent-mail folder.
All in all it looks pretty solid. The friend who set me up with the account theorized that Google's trying out "curing" us of our habit of deleting e-mail, and that's why the function's hidden. Could be, or maybe with 1000MB of storage deleting truly isn't necessary most of the time. But anyway, if you can make it through the privacy issues without grabbing your tinfoil hat I think you'll like it.
If someone gives you an invitation.