Does Anyone Prefer Gmail E-Mail Threads? I Thought Not

Since e-mail began, it was always sorted the same way. Every e-mail received ended up in an inbox including replies, forwards and everything else. Google has attempted to change all that by sorting emails in the form of a conversation thread. The idea is to make e-mail more like a text message conversation, but, honestly, does anyone prefer this?

This would make sense if all your e-mail conversations were actual conversations, but they aren't. Often, particularly for business, these are quick call and response moments in time and being able to sort them that way makes it easier to find and track them later.

Here are a few reasons why the e-mails sorted by conversation concept is a bad idea.

E-mails are not text messages.

When sending text messages back and forth with someone, it makes sense to group them all by the person. Because people don't regularly text with strangers, having all your messages with that person in a single thread is convenient and probably easier on the memory of your phone. But, most people send lots of random e-mails to various people and places. We get newsletters and send customer service requests. Trying to sort the thousands of recipients is awkward and uncomfortable for everyone.

Sorting and storing individual e-mails is nearly impossible.

For work and for lots of other reasons, I keep my e-mails stored in folders, some in the cloud and some on my computer. They are often sorted by company or by a particular event. For example, when I recently purchased a house, I kept every e-mail relating to that in a single folder. Of course, I got e-mails from a lot of different people and often many responses to one e-mail from a host of individuals. Were those e-mails sorted by conversation, it would be nearly impossible to find things quickly. No one wants to use search by default.

In order to find things in conversation view, search is a must, but it is clunky and often inaccurate. Most people don't use the search function on a website let alone want to have to employ one for finding an e-mail from a friend. Yes, there are complex search strings that can be used to weed out all but the information you want, but that type of thing is more the wet dream of a gaggle of engineers than a useful tool for the average e-mail user.

E-mail clients still prefer sorting e-mails one by one.

Most e-mail software, particularly Outlook, which is still the most-used e-mail client in the world, still prefers to show e-mails in lists rather than as conversations. There are a few that have attempted to embrace the conversation view and Mail on Mac iOS has done its best to convince us this is the better option, but scrolling quickly through a bunch of messages on a phone is very different from sorting them on a desktop. If Outlook won't go quietly -- go figure that I would be advocating for an old technology supported by Microsoft -- don't expect conversation view to gain traction among average users anytime soon.

It is easy to miss e-mails that you would otherwise see.

A friend of mine recently realized that she had never seen a message someone sent her weeks ago because it was hidden inside a conversation. If you are the type of person that doesn't zero out your message count (that little red bubble over your e-mail icon), you run the same risk. The only way to avoid this is to make sure every e-mail is marked as read, but so many people don't do that. As a result, it is difficult to see when a new message has been received inside a conversation. That is a critical problem for this type of e-mail sorting and a key reason why it isn't the optimal way to view them.

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