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gmail ponderings // random thoughts - Lograh — LiveJournal

Thursday, 17.Jun.2004

8:56 - gmail ponderings // random thoughts

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So, I know a few people on Gmail, and I've seen a bunch of "OMG I love Gmail!" posts, usually followed by "I have a spare invite, anyone want it?".. While I'm all in favor of getting a star on one's belly, I haven't yet heard anything particularly remarkable about the email features offered by Gmail.

Sure, some of those features haven't been used in a webmail client before, but I only use webmail as a temporary fix for when I can't otherwise get to my primary-use computer. If I want real email handling, I use a real email client.

Can someone, anyone (if you know someone using Gmail, please point them here if they know of a cool feature it offers), *please* tell me about some really remarkable (or even not-so-remarkable-but-certainly-unique-and-slightly-usefull) feature that Gmail offers? I'm having a big problem comming up with why people seem to be loving this thing so much. Sure, it's nice to be cool and shiney-new-toy does explain some of the hype, but that can't be all there is to it.

Here are the big offerings I've heard of so far from it and the various converts:

1GB of storage
please, I don't personally know anyone who has this much email (though I do read the LJ of someone who has more). I've kept every email I possibly could (varous system crashes have left blocks of lost data, but I think I'm missing no more than 6 months total) since '97, including junkmail and spam (don't ask why, let's just say 'packrat'), and I'm just now topping 200MB. Further, I haven't ever really had an excuse to look at any piece of email older than 3 years (other than nostalgia).

better email searching
How much better could it be than my current email client? I can create all sorts of customized searches and whenever I do a search it usually turns up the correct message in the top 10 (sometimes it's so damn good that the only messages returned are either the exact one I want or replies it's quoted in). seriously, how much better could Gmail's searching possibly be?

keyboard shortcuts
in a web interface? okay, *this* I want to see. but as far as email capabilities go, it's nothing new. heck, *pine* has keyboard shortcuts! hehehe.
(for those not in the know, the joke here being Pine is a text-based email client, keyboard shortcuts are all you have as there is usually no mouse support in a telnet window).

threaded view
I don't remember ever using an email client that didn't support threaded view. no, wait, I *just* remembered one. I used to use Eudora, and I don't recall the version I used (it was a while ago) supporting threaded view. These days I have to turn that stuff off because it bugs me and doesn't work with the way I do email. but I know the MUAs (Mail User Agents, a term I'm trying to train myself to use as it seems to be the accepted 'proper' term for an email client these days) I use now all support it.

but all this is in a WEB interface
so? like I said, I only use web-based email as a temporary "I need email now!" patch for when I can't otherwise access my primary emailing computer. I might use it a few times when I'm on vacation, but otherwise I don't touch it. I'm still not a huge fan of the web. My constant use of it is teaching me to not hate it, but I don't particuarly love it, either.

message keywords
instead of folders, you get keywords. okay, nice enough. But is this truly *instead* of message folders? like, I don't get to create 30 different folders? no, the proper response is not "but you don't *have* to!". I *want* email folders. I like them. I like the psychological impact of having all my email neatly tucked away in various folders. While I admit that the keywords concept is a pretty nift idea for email, I don't see how it's actually practical, particularly if I have to manually add the keywords to every email myself. Folders are easilly enough automated with filters (espicialy in some MUAs where the filters can be any RegExp), which I make extensive use of. I don't see how keywords could be equally easilly automated, and I get enough email that there's no chance in hell I'm going to bother with manually filling (or keywording) all of it.

speaking of filters, does Gmail support them, and how extensive is the filtering system? I'm a filter-freak with my email (a quick glance at my current list looks like something over 50, and that's a small list because I'm still rebuilding the list from my last MUA switch), and I've rejected using particular MUAs simply because their filtering options weren't complete enough for my use.


[User Picture]
Date:13:28 17.Jun.2004 (UTC)
You know what else is a good term for an email client is? "email client"
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[User Picture]
Date:15:15 17.Jun.2004 (UTC)
yeah, that's the term I preferr to use, but a lot of people seem to think there's something wrong with that (not entirely certian why). So I'm trying to get used to using either/both terms. This entails a short period of using one more than the other to get used to it before I can start using both interchangably.
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[User Picture]
Date:17:13 17.Jun.2004 (UTC)
I've just started using gmail, so I can't answer questions on how different the search functions are ... although off-hand, I don't remember any email client with a built-in search option to find mail that contains X Y but not Z. you can do that by piping stuff through grep on a unix system, of course, but we're talking built-in.

I don't remember ever seeing a threaded email client before, but some of the clients I used may have had this and I didn't know. for example, we used eudora when I was in e-support; threading would have been important there, but I don't remember anyone mentioning it when they trained us.

threading in gmail has one nice feature in that "conversations" (as they call them) move to the top of the inbox when you have a new message in that conversation, and the new message is one you see when you open that thread. conversations include both sent and received messages.

labels are folders, really. I don't see any difference, except that there's no drag-and-drop. oh, I guess there is one other difference: a message can have multiple labels. one good thing is that if you send a message, then assign it a label, all future messages in that conversation are automatically assigned the same label. when a message is in your inbox, it shows whatever label you assigned it; when it's archived, it only shows up when you click that label on the left (where you would expect folders to be.)

gmail has filters, although I've never had to use it. it has automatic spam filtering, but I'm getting no spam at all, yet. there's been a lot of fuss about the ads, but I've only seen them a couple times, and they are like the ads sidebar in ordinary google. what I haven't heard anyone mention is that google gives you ads and relevant links in the sidebar, as if you did some ordinary google searching. someone could send you email about an open source project, forget to include an url, and gmail will tell you where to find it.

really, though, you're asking the wrong question, here. you can't really compare gmail to eudora or pine, because those are different kinds of mail. gmail is webmail; you use it when you need webmail, and use popmail when you need popmail. that's why the other features of gmail (keyboard shortcuts, 1 GB) don't seem that great in comparison to pine. it's not meant to compete with pine, it's meant to compete with hotmail (2megs of space, now, unless MSN lowered it again.) gmail wins in the webmail category hands down.
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[User Picture]
Date:21:40 17.Jun.2004 (UTC)
hrmm.. okay, that search is nice.. I'll have to check if my current client allows for "X AND Y AND NOT X" type of searches. that would be nice, though.

I seem to think I remember threading on eudora.. or that could just be because my immediately following email client did do threading (this I'm all but certain of) and I'm just getting them mixed up.

a message can be in multiple folders (labels). that would be nice in a few situations. I'll admit, that's a plus in Gmail's favor -- though not a huge one. :)

Oh, I know I'm "asking the wrong question" regarding Gmail vs. MUAs.. I'm just curious what is making all the people I'm seeing talk about it say how great it is and practically worshipping this thing. Further, they are talking about it like they use webmail every day, and the Gmail ads seem to promote this. Which means that it is trying to compete on the "daily email use" ground, which is MUA turf. I only even *consider* webmail when I'm not at my machine, and I can't easilly get to it. I've been known to install vpn and ssh to tunnel through the campus firewall and connect to my system rather than use webmail. Even if someone points out a great feature of Gmail, I'll still not use it. I simply don't do webmail, it's not in my lifestyle. I do, however, honestly want to try and understand why people are getting so excited and happy over what is, in my eyes, just another webmail system.

But yes, I will agree, Gmail is better than either Hotmail or Yahoo or damn near any other webmail service out there. Too bad I don't use them, or I'd be dying to switch. :)
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[User Picture]
Date:17:32 17.Jun.2004 (UTC)
the keyboard shortcuts are extremely helpful to a mouse-phobic user such as myself. hitting "r" rather than clicking reply is much easier, just as tab-enter is quicker for me than clicking send.

i don't know if this is a login-required page, but it gives the key commands.

as far as the threading is concerned, it is extremely useful. for those who only have web-based accounts, it's a new world.

i haven't set up any of the filters because i have yet to receive any spam there. it looks like the standard "from | to | subject | contains | doesn't contain | has attachment" filters.
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[User Picture]
Date:21:29 17.Jun.2004 (UTC)
hrmm.. I suppose those filters are a start.. it's better than nothing, I guess.. But if there are no folders, what would they do? just automatically assign a label and call it quits? if you can use a filter to launch another few filters, that'd be a step in the right direction.

that page is login-required.

I'm still curious how they accomplished the keyboard shortcuts in a web browser. I don't use IE, so if they are IE-dependant, I'm SOL.
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[User Picture]
Date:3:07 18.Jun.2004 (UTC)
the key shortcuts do not appear to be ie-specific as i use firefox. it's looking like a script but i can't be arsed to dig around deep enough to work it out yet. firefox has some of this ability natively anyway.

login protected? here they are in a nutshell:

c Compose
/ Search
k Move to newer conversation
j Move to older conversation
n Next message
p Previous message
o or [Enter] Open
u Return to inbox
y Archive*
x Select conversation
! Report spam
r Reply
a Reply all
f Forward
[Esc] Escape from input field
[tab] then [Enter] Send message
y then o Archive and next
g then a Go to 'All Mail'
g then s Go to 'Starred'
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[User Picture]
Date:23:49 17.Jun.2004 (UTC)
Gmail doesn't really cater to needs like that at this time. It'd be cool if they offered IMAP/SSL for reading, but even then gmail can't beat the power I have over my own domain's email and the ability to register unique addresses with various sites to track spam origins and such. But do keep in mind, these things aren't aimed at geeks, they're aimed at hotmail and yahoo and such users. :P
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[User Picture]
Date:7:56 18.Jun.2004 (UTC)
yeah, I need to keep remembering the 'G' in Gmail doesn't stand for "geek"..
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