Why I Hate Gmail's Conversation View

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Why I Hate Gmail's Conversation View
I have a confession to make: I am a hater. Not in general, mind you, just when it comes to Gmail's Conversation View. I hate it more than Sarah Palin hates the liberal media. And now that Gmail has announced the ability to disable Conversation View (hooray!), I'm finding out just how unpopular my opinion is.

Most people in the tech industry, including a certain PCWorld editor, seems to think that Gmail's threaded view is the best thing since, well, Gmail. As much as I'd like to agree with that certain PCWorld editor, I can't -- not on this topic, at least. Here are just a few reasons why I'll be turning off Gmail's Conversation View as soon as the option appears in my account.

Less Clutter

I agree that Conversation View can, in theory, keep your inbox uncluttered. By grouping messages into conversations, Gmail

Illustration: Robert Neubecker
can make my inbox a little bit neater. But, in reality, this organization system is the same as sweeping everything off the top of your desk and into your top drawer. Sure, anyone who walks into your office may think you have a tidy work area, but if you're looking for a box of paper clips, you could be digging through that drawer for a long time before you actually find it.

That's how I feel about Gmail's conversations: they're like messy drawers. While your inbox looks neat, the conversations themselves are often a mess, full of forwards and replies that branch off in so many directions that they're often not even all that related to the original message anymore.

This situation is made worse when you have a conversation that involves multiple people. Say, for example, that Sam forwards you an email from Bob. You reply to Bob, and now you have multiple emails in your conversation. But then you have a question for Sam, so you forward him the email from Bob. Now you have even more messages in your conversation. Then Sam e-mails Bob, and cc's you. Let's face it: your conversation view is a mess. Finding a specific message in there is no easier than hunting down those paper clips.

No More Missed Messages

Another problem with Conversation View: I consistently find myself missing messages because they get pushed back in a conversation thread.

This problem happens a lot with group e-mails: if two people reply in close succession, one of those messages gets pushed out of top-level view of my inbox, and I don't always know it's there. I can see that the most recent message has arrived, but if I decide that I don't want to open that message right away, I don't open the entire conversation thread. Then I've completely missed the message that arrived just minutes before -- and that message may have been the one I wanted to read.

Gmail's Search Is Good Enough

One argument for using Conversation View is that it speeds things up when you're looking for a message. As PCWorld's Ed Albro writes:

The treaded approach makes it much easier to keep track of the twists and turns of one topic. By default, you only see the messages you haven't read yet; the previous messages are collapsed. But if the most recent message mentions Joe's point about pencils, you can easily expand the previous messages to find it. Compare that with the unthreaded approach, in which you have to get out of the email you're reading, search for messages from Joe and find the one that talks about pencils. Much more of a pain.

Illustration: Hal Mayforth
I disagree: Gmail's search function alone is pretty darn impressive. So if I'm looking for Joe's message about pencils, I can search for it and find it within a matter of seconds. I find that it takes longer to dig through a conversation, expanding and collapsing emails, hoping to find the right one, than it does to type in a quick search query.

I'm a Bit of a Control Freak

As you may have guessed from my messy drawer analogy, I'm a bit of a neat freak. And a bit of a control freak, too. I like to decide what goes where, and I like to put it away myself. So I like an e-mail client that presents me with a neat, orderly list, a list that displays one message at a time. That way I can scroll through the list and decide which messages to keep, which ones to file, and which ones to toss. Conversation View adds an extra step to this process; instead of going through a neatly ordered list, I have to dig through a messy conversation first. Bleh.

I know my opinion is unpopular, but I know I'm not alone. What do you think of Gmail's Conversation View? Let us know in the comments.

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