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Tuesday, July 6, 2004

Looking Back on Gmail

After using Gmail on a constant basis as my main email account, and after my first review, here is an additional look on it. Before you read on let me note Gmail is still the best free web mailer around, in fact you won’t find any other even playing in this league. But hey, we come to expect that from Google. Some things however we do not...

Links want to be links

One of the main problems with Gmail for me at the moment is that it is not intended to run in multiple windows.

Ever so often I find myself writing a mail to someone, when I realize I want to include a photo from another email. Or I want to look up something inside another email.

Of course the easiest thing to do would be to right-click the “Inbox” link and select “Open in new window”. This would allow me to search through my other mails while keeping the current reply open.

Easy? Not with Gmail! In Gmail, links just aren’t links; links are cleverly scripted pieces of text which just happen to be blue and underlined. And they listen to a restricted set of user events. Right-clicking them to open the context-menu, unfortunately, is not in their feature list. By being so clever, these pseudo-links also become inaccessible.

So what do I do? As last resort (next to pasting my draft into a temporary text file, or discarding my changes) I can press Ctrl+N to open a new window in Internet Explorer. Still this goes to show Gmails’s lack of standardization and HTML-native accessibility* is becoming a problem in everyday use.

*I’m not even mentioning the fact that parting with the most basic HTML standards will also render Gmail unusable for “exotic” clients, like hand-phones, older browsers, and so on. OK, I am mentioning it, because it’s a bothersome development. HTML as Google outputs it – being a very noble exception, what with its recent XHTML relaunch – favors major browsers as opposed to W3C recommendations most reasonable people decided to agree on.

That’s not Spam

Sorting out spam is no trivial task. We don’t even know if machines ever get to be smart enough to decide on their own wether or not they should pass on that mail. But there are some rules even a basic spam filter should be able to follow.

One problem with Gmail is that it often dumps emails from my friends into the spam folder. Now I wonder – with all the smart spam algorithms Gmail surely got under its hood, wouldn’t it be the easiest thing for it to not treat mails from people in my contact list like your average spammer?

One person with multiple addresses

It’s nice to use Gmail’s labeling feature to store mails from certain friends in certain folders. Though I can set up Gmail filters containing OR syntax to label different email addresses all the same, it would be much easier if I could assign different email addresses to one and the same person. Currently this does not seem to be possible. In the Gmail universe, one person has exactly one email address.

Gmail vs Google Answers

Google Answers is a great Google service where around 500 researchers worldwide answer your questions for a price from 2 to 200 dollar. Though I’m a Google Answers Researcher myself, this doesn’t stop me to frequently consult the other researchers (which are often experts in one field or another).

Now whenever there is activity on a question I asked, Google Answers will send out an email to me. The mail arrives in my Gmail account, but even though I checked the “Don’t ask for my password for 2 weeks” box last time I logged into Google Answers, I have to login again.

The madness doesn’t stop here – as soon as logged in to Google Answers following up on the email reminder, I’m automatically logged out of Gmail. I just can’t use both services at the same time so whenever I get Google Answers reminders these days, I’m pretty much forced to ignore them.

How can this happen? Well, I chose a different user name for Google Answers and for Gmail. Apparently, that’s a problem. Because these days Google tries to use the same cookie (that little piece of information stored on my computer) for most of its services.

Now you might think I could simply change my Google Answers profile to enter my current Gmail address, to then let Google figure out I’m one and the same. Not possible – as soon as I change my Google Answers account email to my Gmail address, it tells me “a user with the email you specified already exists”. (The Gmail account settings also do not allow me to do any helpful changes to merge my two accounts.)

Buttons vs Select-boxes

This is a minor usability issue which nevertheless has become the trap I’m falling into most often. Whenever you select emails, you can perform different actions on them. You can mark them as spam, move them to the trash folder (pardon, trash label), or drop them into the inbox.

However these actions are always found in different places. There are several buttons plus two select-boxes. So when you open the select-box frantically looking for your action, it’s probably written on the button you overlooked. And sometimes, you can’t find the button you are looking for. It puzzles me why Gmail just won’t decide which way they want to have it, and either create some nice buttons or go the way of the select-box.

Gmail Spoof

Apparently there is a Gmail spoof going on. The page in question asks Gmail users to change their password:

“As we have modified our database, we ask you to create a new password to your account. This process may happen again until Gmail become steady. (...) This update also guarantees that your account remains active after the all implementations of the services!”

[Via Justin.]

Gmail Agent API

Johnvey Hwang created Gmail Agent API, an open source Gmail API for .NET. You can view the project page or join the discussion here.


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