Gmail Labs, the “Settings” section featuring optional, experimental features for Google‘s webmail program has just received two new additions: “message sneak peek” and “nested labels.” Now the sneak peek we definitely like – it lets you preview a message without opening it so you can take immediate action. Handy!
But nested labels is a somewhat curious addition. It turns Gmail’s once-revolutionary “tagging” system into something that more closely resembles the traditional folder structure found in email programs like Outlook. So now you can drag-and-drop your email into these so-called labels and you can create hierarchies, too? Oh, c’mon, Gmail, let’s just call them folders already and be done with it.
The Tagging Revolution
Wait! Before you rush into the comments and declare your love for nested folders, the option you’ve been waiting for since the day you got your Gmail invite back in 2004, hear me out.
I get it – nested folders are great. I’ll probably even use them. (I am nothing, if not a Gmail filter junkie. Nearly everything get tagged upon arrival and a lot gets pre-filed, too).
The point is that these labels were introduced as a major improvement over folders because you could – Wow! – tag email messages with more than one label. That means mail could be tagged “Travel,” “Coupons” and “Southwest Airlines” all at once. And wasn’t that just amazing?
But the problem with Gmail’s tagging system is that there’s no easy way to surface the combination of these tags. For example, what if you want to see all mail tagged “Work,” “From Boss” and “Project X?” Quick! How do you do it? (And don’t tell me to type in some long, complex search query with colons and Boolean operators, either. Tell me how the average email user would do it). The answer? Most people don’t know how. They’re just going to enter a few search terms into the “search mail” box at the top of the screen. Or maybe they’ll head over to the “From Boss” folder and then search for “Project X.”
Sadly, it seems that Gmail really missed an opportunity to take labels to the next level. For example: why can’t there be an easy-to-use function somewhere at the top of the inbox to filter your mail by labels? Why isn’t there an email intelligence system that learns how you label your mail and then starts auto-tagging it for you? Why can’t Gmail figure out that if a particular message matches a filter you designed to label your incoming mail that means the message is not spam?
No, instead of integrating a sense of intelligence into its filtering mechanisms – efforts that seem well within Google’s capabilities – Gmail’s labels are turning back into the ever-so-innovative folders they were meant to replace.
That’s fine, I guess. I never really thought folders were that bad – it was filtering that needed an overhaul. (Have you used filters in Outlook? Gmail’s are much easier.) But let’s call a spade, a spade. Sure, you can label an email with 10 different tags if you want, but don’t expect to find it later via some sort of advanced filtered search. Gmail’s labels are folders. And tags, god bless ‘em, are dead.