#gmail

Harry McCracken:

In the end, Gmail ended up running on three hundred old Pentium III computers nobody else at Google wanted. That was sufficient for the limited beta rollout the company planned, which involved giving accounts to a thousand outsiders, allowing them to invite a couple of friends apiece, and growing slowly from there.

As much as I rag on email, it’s hard to imagine a world without Gmail. Actually, it’s terrifying. We’d still be using email, but it would probably look like this.

Charles Cooper and Seth Rosenblatt:

Microsoft went through a blogger’s private Hotmail account in order to trace the identity of a source who allegedly leaked trade secrets.

Technically legal or not, this is absolutely insane. And awkward — here’s the copy from Microsoft’s "Scroogled" Gmail campaign:

Outlook.com is different—we don’t go through your email to sell ads.

Nope, we just go through it to get information we need to use in lawsuits. You literally cannot make this up.

And if users needed even more reasons to ditch Hotmail today — beyond the fact that it’s 2014 — Google has a nearly opposite announcement today:

Starting today, Gmail will always use an encrypted HTTPS connection when you check or send email. Gmail has supported HTTPS since the day it launched, and in 2010 we made HTTPS the default. Today’s change means that no one can listen in on your messages as they go back and forth between you and Gmail’s servers—no matter if you’re using public WiFi or logging in from your computer, phone or tablet.

In addition, every single email message you send or receive—100 percent of them—is encrypted while moving internally. This ensures that your messages are safe not only when they move between you and Gmail’s servers, but also as they move between Google’s data centers—something we made a top priority after last summer’s revelations.

Where’s Mark Penn when you need him?

Great overview by Matthew Panzarino of The Next Web on just how far Google has come with regard to the design of their iOS apps.

Previously, a number of their apps were definitely amongst the worst popular apps on the platform. Now, I’d only count the ones that haven’t been updated to the new design aesthetic — namely Google Voice — in that camp. And the newest ones built from scratch, like Google Maps and YouTube Capture, are very well done.

But while the updated apps certainly look better, performance is still an issue. Gmail, in particular, sucks. There has been a bad bug resulting in the same email being sent twice. In general, the app is way too slow in every regard. Things are constantly refreshing. The only thing that makes it look good to some people is that the actual web app is so much worse.

Still, no doubt things are getting much better. Kudos to Google. I can’t wait for that Google Now iOS app (though perhaps it will be a part of an updated version of the regular old Google app?).

Nice(r). I’d still love to see an option for no subject — just who you’re sending it and what you’re sending. Or maybe even no body and just a subject line, actually. Reduce the clicks/tabs.

We’re getting closer to the “Gmail Lite" that I’ve long dreamed about. But Gmail is still nowhere near fast enough. I’m not sure it ever will be unless they do a native app. I do almost all my email now on the iPad.

Sparrow Flies The Coop

Bittersweet

I first wrote about Sparrow in October 2010, gushing about the native Gmail experience it offered to Mac users. And I continued closely tracking its progression as both an interested writer, but also as a dedicated user. It was the first app that truly made Gmail beautiful on a Mac (and more recently, on iOS). 

Along the way, I got to know founder Dom Leca a bit, so I’m very excited for him and his team today. There is no question that they will be able to tackle email problems on a whole new scale within Google, and I sincerely hope they do. We all need them to.

On the other hand, it sucks that development of Sparrow itself is stopping (though it will continue to be offered an supported). Thank god they got that Retina version out just in time for the new MacBook Pros. I use Sparrow on a daily basis to pound through email at a speed that Gmail on the web simply cannot handle.

That’s the thing: while Sparrow was beautiful and offered useful features like Facebook graph integration, it really moved things forward in terms of the UX of email. It’s a very hard problem because there are protocols and norms that have existed for decades that you have to work with. But Sparrow abstracted a lot of that and made it wonderful to do something as simple as reply with one click. 

But at least Google seems well aware about Sparrow’s passionate user base and is thinking about why they were successful. Unprompted, they sent me the following statement this morning: “The Sparrow team has always put their users first by focusing on building a seamlessly simple and intuitive interface for their email client. We look forward to bringing them aboard the Gmail team, where they’ll be working on new projects.”

Congrats Dom, the Sparrow team, and Google. Now go fix email.

Sweet Jesus, we finally have functional push mail for Gmail on iOS. I’m not talking the wonky port-through-Exchange nonsense — I’m talking full Gmail messages sent to your phone in realtime. And I’m not talking a stupid little badges to let you know you have a message, I’m talking full-on message excerpts.

The app itself still mainly stinks, but I don’t plan to ever open except to search. Now I’ll get a notification, decided if it can wait or not, and then open Mail or Sparrow. 

A ton of people I know seem to be bitching about this (as it was just forced upon everyone). IMO, the new design is better than the old one (just look as Jason Crawford’s side-by-sides at the end), but change is hard and all that.

The reality is that both designs pretty much blow. Gmail itself has become a big nightmare. As a backend for email, it’s awesome. As a web app, it’s awful. 

Cool, I love data. But what kind of nonsense tool is this? You have to open a new Google Doc Spreadsheet, then find the menu item to install a tool, then find the right script. 

!?

Even after I did all that, it just hung on “installing” for 30 minutes.

As one friend said to me, “I am convinced the Gmail team is purposefully baiting you here.”

It worked!

As an aside, the Gmail Blog look and functionality remains horribly craptastic. 

Update: As Matthew Panzarino points out, this tool isn’t actually made by Google, but rather by a “Google Apps Script Top Contributor”. Still not convinced they’re not trolling me here.

Email: Archive It All. Immediately.

A week ago, I came home after a long night of drinking and wanted to vomit. It wasn’t the whiskey. It was the email. 

I had been gone approximately 6 hours at an event and subsequent after-party. I didn’t check my email the entire time. When I came home, I had over 50 new emails in my inbox (this doesn’t include the ones I automatically archive thanks to Gmail filters). 50-some emails all of which I needed to take action on in some form or another.

Fuck.

Undoubtedly aided by the aforementioned drinks, I hit “Select All” and debated hitting “Delete”. Not just for those 50-some emails. But for all 50,000+ that were sitting un-archived in my inbox. Then I thought better of it. Instead, I hit “Archive”.

Best thing I’ve ever done. 

A week into my “Archive All” world, my inbox is pretty fantastic. Obviously, I’m not the first person to do this, but I was highly skeptical that it would work since I figured that after the initial purge, messages would just start piling up again.

But at least for me, it’s more of a mental thing. It’s essentially out-of-sight, out-of-mind. I should have known this would be the case since I’m also obsessed with clearing my RSS reader every night (even though I barely use it anymore) and am a slave to clearing red Push Notification dots on the iPhone/iPad. But I was still terrified to mess with the email flow I had built up over the years.

Previously, I had tried to quit email for an entire month. That was also great. But the problem was that when I got back on the wagon, nothing had actually changed. I had missed a month’s worth of email, and people got ahold of me other ways, but once I was back on email, I was right back into my old habits.

But archiving all my mail forced me to change habits. I was sure there would be something I would miss or forget. But the reality is that there was no way I was ever going to get to all 5,000 things I had starred anyway. I was kidding myself. And I was creating a sense of dread for myself on a daily basis when I looked at my inbox and saw all those goddamn stars. 

By archiving all the old mail, I have essentially turned Gmail into a big, searchable repository for email. I upgraded my account to 80 GB of storage (I was at the 30 GB limit). If there’s something I need to reference or remember, I can pull it up easily with a search. But the flow is now to archive everything at least once a week (and ideally sooner). It’s all about admitting to myself that if I don’t get to it by then, I’m never going to get to it.

Again, I was highly skeptical, but at least for now, this works. Yes, this means I’m not responding to a lot of emails that come my way. But I wasn’t anyway. Information still has a funny way of finding a way to command your attention if you need to take action.

For many, email is now the master communication channel. But it’s actually a pretty poor one in this age of mobile computing. Email needs to beaten down into just another channel of flowing information.

Read most of it. Respond to some of it. Keep all of it. But hide it. Then forget about it. And repeat. And repeat. And repeat.