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Gmail Inbox Changes

by @ 9:48 pm
Filed under: email,google

GmailBeginning about 3 or 4 days ago I've noticed a change in the way Gmail groups emails together. It seems to be a subtle algorithm change but it appears that the glue has been watered down a bit. Email messages definitely don’t hang together the way they used to. Now many come In as separate items.

Back when Google introduced the free email service, Gmail, it also introduced a relatively radical shift in the way emails are displayed to the users. There are no folders, instead one can use filters to apply labels to emails which sort of mimics the folder functionality of organizing and categorizing messages. There was also a new approach in displaying emails in that conversations within a thread are grouped together in a thread-like format (much like a forum) and a counter is applied to show the number of messages in a particular group.

It took some getting used to Gmail's way of displaying messages, but I have grown accustomed to it. I don't consider it revolutionary though, it's just different. I'm fine with the traditional way used in Outlook or Yahoo mail. The difference with Gmail, at least at the time it was introduced, was their superior search capability. One could easily recall past messages given a keyword or two.

I'm not sure what the exact grouping algorithm of Gmail is, but I suspect it has to do with the timestamps, senders and receivers, titles and contents of the messages. At any rate, that algorithm has now been tweaked to loosen the condition by which messages are grouped together. This became evident to me a few days ago when I noticed that my inbox suddenly had a large influx of messages. My Gmail inbox receives a number of automated messages that used to be grouped together, perhaps based on their titles. A closer look revealed that those messages that used to clump together, are now presented as separate items.

I assume the change was introduced to make the inbox more usable for most people who were unaware of new messages arriving and getting filed under existing messages with similar titles. In my case it meant adapting to the new methodology and creating new filters to keep my inbox from getting too unwieldy. I suspect many others won't even notice the subtle alteration.

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Gmail Mail Fetcher

by @ 11:28 pm
Filed under: email,google,web

A colleague of mine sent me a note today regarding a new addition to Gmail, Google's free email account. It's called mail fetcher and it allows a person to import mail from other email accounts using the POP protocol. It's a trivial feature which other services such as Yahoo and Hotmail have had for years, but it gives Gmail another advantage to attract new users who might have needed that excuse to join, while holding on to their current base of users who might have defected to other services if Gmail didn't have this feature.

Not all users have this option yet (including myself), but I assume it will be rolled out to all Gmail users soon. This is indeed a convenient service for those who have multiple accounts and would like to have all their emails flow into one inbox. The catch is that those external accounts would need to provide the POP service for this to work and not all services do. This is specially true of other free services like Yahoo and Hotmail who block POP access as some users might opt to import their emails elsewhere and that would mean fewer page views (thus fewer banner views) on their respective sites. Ironically in a show of goodwill, Gmail has provided its users with a POP download service to allow them to view their emails from other locations. If all services provided a two-sided POP access, it will be up to the users to choose the service that best suits them for viewing their messages. That would mean that the site with the superior interface and features would claim a bigger slice of the much coveted eyeballs.

Personally, I don’t have a need for a POP service. I converted to Gmail years ago when they blew away the competition with their giant 2 Gigabyte storage, and I have been a faithful user ever since. What concerns me however is the old adage of putting all my eggs in one basket. And this is a free basket with no guarantees. What would happen if Gmail suddenly decided to cut off my access? Of course they wouldn't just block access to their users willy-nilly, but suppose they decided to pull the plug on some of their users for whatever reason? Perhaps you unknowingly violate an obscure term of service; off with your head. What would be the recourse? Who can you complain to? How or where would you defend your case? You can write to Gmail support, but who knows if they will answer, or how long it will take before they restore your service, if ever?

It's a free service after all, and I suppose they have every right to terminate whoever for whatever reason. Meanwhile all your incoming emails, all your existing emails, all your calendar appointments, and all your contact lists will be out of reach. What would happen to your business, that solely relied on Gmail for customer contacts, now that your access has been cut off? I wonder if people ever consider the downside of this arrangement. It's easy to forget that when the service has been working flawlessly for years. I do wonder about that sometimes. When I enter my account and password and wait for the screen to reload, I wonder if this will be the time when I will be greeted with the message:
Sorry, your account has been disabled. For more information about Google Accounts, please consult our Help Center at http://www.google.com/support/accounts/.
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