Fake Organization, with Gmail

A little while back, Google released an update to Gmail that included a new tabbed interface for your inbox. Google decided thatsometimes it feels like our inboxes are controlling us, rather than the other way around and they set out to make a change.

New customizable tabs put you back in control so that you can see what’s new at a glance and decide which emails you want to read and when.

I enabled the tabbed interface when it got rolled out to see what it was like. It was trivial to set up – go to settings and check which tabs you want. I checked the boxes next to all of the tabs and got ready for my call from NAPO.*

After 4 months and (sadly) 0 calls, I have disabled the tabs. One morning while reading email a thought hit me – why do I even have this enabled? I realized that all it was doing was forcing me to spend more time categorizing my email. My workflow went from Read. Label. Read. Label to Read. Label. Click next tab. Read. Trash. Read. Drag email to new tab to help Gmail learn. Label. Go back to tab. Read. Trash. Click next tab. etc. This made me realize something:

The Gmail a tabbed interface is just fake organization.

You still have to read the email that comes in. You still have to label or trash it yourself. You still have to deal with it. No matter how good Google gets at reading and organizing your mail, you still have to deal with it. No amount of automatic organization is going to stop you from dealing with your email.

One of the biggest things that irked me was that I never knew what was behind that little new icon on each tab. With a single inbox, I can quickly scan new mail and decided if I want to deal with it now, or later. With the tabs, I was forced to click each tab and see what came in. And maybe that’s the whole issue. The point of the tabs is to hide away emails that probably aren’t important, but Gmail’s algorithms aren’t quite there. I had too many important emails end up in my Social tab that I couldn’t risk it anymore.

Someday we might have a smart enough email client that can organize our email perfectly – instead of working perfectly only 60% of the time. But I don’t think today is the day, nor am I sure that the day will ever come.

Oh yeah, and it’d be great if someone could finally figure out those spam filters too.

*Yea, apparently that’s a real thing.