How Gmail could be better

18Aug09

I’ve been using Gmail since the earliest days (Oct 2004), when you had to know somebody with spare invites, and I’ve always liked it. Now that I use it at work as well as for personal mail I find that there are a few niggles that I’m sure the Google guys could sort out:

  1. Label before sending. Labels are indeed a great way of organising things, but why is it that labels can only be applied to received emails? Surely the label drop down (and the new drag and drop labels) should be available when composing a fresh email.
  2. Bring back options for plain text line wrap. Wrappping at the 78th char might be all well and good for some ancient standard, though it was only a few months back that this behaviour emerged, and it seems that protests have fallen on deaf ears. Fixed width might be fine for anybody still using a TTY terminal to read their email, but it looks rubbish on a BlackBerry (and presumably any other mobile device) where the screen width is less than 80 characters. I’m not sure what the non standard approach was breaking, but things seem worse now.
  3. Make the add contact semantics more consistent. Sometimes I can add contacts by clicking on the down arrow next to Reply and selecting add contacts, other times that option isn’t there, and I need to click on the sender name, click on the down arrow beside ‘Video and more’, select ‘Contact details’ and then hit ‘Move to my contacts’. I’ve not been able to figure out why the behaviour is different from one mail to another.
  4. Allow me to edit contacts in mailing lists (groups). This is perhaps more of a Google Apps issue than Gmail, but it’s closely enough related to deserve some time here. Firstly I’d like to be able to go back and edit a line in a mailing list so that I have full name in plain text beside the email address. I know that if I followed the “Name” <[email protected]> convention at initial input then I could get what I wanted, but sometimes that’s pretty clumsy. It would also be great if there was some way of importing contacts to groups from the contacts app, and from Google spreadsheet (and perhaps others using .csv).
  5. Make better use of white space. To the right of the reading/composing window I end up with a column of white space where the ads would be in regular Gmail or Apps Std Edition. This isn’t much of an issue on a normal screen, but is a big waste of space on a Netbook. I never even use the ‘New Window, Print All, Expand All, Forward All that live at the top of this wasted real estate. Surely there could be an option to stick them on a horizontal ribbon?

I’m sure some of you will now comment along the lines of what a dufus I’ve been, and that such and such can be achieved by doing so and so. Bring it on.



4 Responses to “How Gmail could be better”

  1. 1 Cygal

    It’s not really an ‘ancient standard’, it’s still used _a lot_ on mailing lists and usenet, and so on. And persons who post on those lists are used to plain text mails. It’s not a matter of screen size anymore, it’s a matter of habits, since gmail is used a lot with mailing lists and groups now.

    Now, if the BlackBerry does not support html, I guess that’s an use case they did not think about.

  2. 2 Chris Swan

    The problem with the Blackberry isn’t around support for HTML (which
    would hardly matter for
    plain text emails anyway). It’s that when you have a linefeed every 78
    characters mixed with a
    screen that’s less than 80 characters wide then the result is ugly and
    difficult to read. Like this.

    On the other hand if Google gave me the option to just send very long lines then the device receiving it can slice them up to fit. All I’m asking for is an option. Maybe the default could be for mailing lists, or maybe the default could be in favour of mobile devices – I don’t care, I just want the choice.

  3. 3 Cygal

    Actually I understand your problem, I was just referring to the fact that this behavior only happens in ‘Plain text’ mode, and the only reason that I see of using ‘plain text’ is to write on mailing lists, and on those the behavior makes sense.

    And I do understand that it is ugly as hell if you have less than 80 columns. :)

  4. 4 Chris Swan

    I’ve always been a bit of a rich text and HTML refusenik for email, which is why I’ve stuck with the plain text mode. Maybe I should drag myself into this century, and just not bother with any fancy formatting. Seems a shame though for the sake of a simple option.


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