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September 29, 2010

Gmail's Conversation View Can Be Disabled

Gmail added an option that allows users to turn off threading. Not everyone likes grouping messages into conversations, but this is one of the few core features that made Gmail stand out.

In most email clients threading is just an optional feature that can be easily disabled. Gmail's web interface has been inspired by Google Groups, so it's obvious that threading was an important feature.

Paul Buchheit, the former Google engineer that developed Gmail, says that Google tries to increase the adoption of Google Apps by making Gmail more enterprise-friendly.
It's my opinion that when designing products, especially new products, it's better to have some people love it than have everyone tolerate it. This generally means aiming for simplicity and philosophical consistency. If you're aiming for "everyone tolerates it", then the approach switches more towards creating a "giant pile of features". I suspect that this change is driven by their desire for greater enterprise adoption (Google apps), where the "more features and checkboxes" approach very often wins out, even if it's ultimately a worse product.

Google says that the conversation view is not for everyone. "Threading enthusiasts say they spend less mental energy drawing connections between related messages and that their inboxes are much less cluttered. On the other hand, email traditionalists like many former Outlook users think conversation view just complicates something that has worked for years."

Conversation view can be disabled from the settings page by checking "conversation view off" in the General tab. This option may not be available right away, but Google promises that it "will be rolling out over the next few days". Google Apps users will only see this option if the administrator has enabled "pre-release features".


Why would you disable Gmail's conversation view?

47 comments:

  1. I actually like threaded conversations in Gmail. What I don't like is when I open a 20+ message thread and ALL messages load, that can slowdown things.

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  2. Would I disable Gmail's conversation view?

    I'd stop short of giving up my first born to keep it (especially since she's very entertaining); on the other hand, I'd probably consider a couple of fingers. http://thehogshead.org/horcruxes-a-summary-64/ (See "4.")

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  3. I've no idea why anyone might actually *want* to drop threaded conversations. I won't ever go back :)

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  4. I'm not sure why people don't use thread view. Ever since Mozilla Thunderbird (pre-gmail), I have adopted to email thread view. How in the world can I remember what the original conversation was about w/out thread view?

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  5. I'd like them to add more thread-management controls (e.g. split/merge).

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    1. that´s the point. Sometimes it agroup message that it´s not related.

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  6. @Neil yup, agreed. That'd be way more useful than disabling it.

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  7. No way. Gmail is conversation. I like it.

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  8. No I would not, I like my Gmail conversations threaded.

    I however read many comments on the subject from people who welcomed the option.

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  9. Lots of people coming from Outlook just don't get used to it. That's a target user that Google want's to secure.

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  10. because you can't tell when you've replied last on a threaded conversation (in hotmail you can tell)

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  11. I would rather be able to disable threading on a per conversation basis; only when threading does not apply or is not working the way it should.

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  12. I was looking for this feature so such a long time. I thought this feature is already there and stupid of myself did not find it :).
    It really helps to make the searching much easier. When you get so many reply emails you tend to miss out the emails very easily. I am looking forward to see this feature soon. Thanks for your article

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  13. So, when that small but vocal minority of morons who wanted this turns out to be less than 1% of users, will Google get rid of this POS option like they did the Select links?

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  14. it's religion. The Outlook believers won't take conversation view. The die-hard Gmail believers can't live without it.

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  15. I'd rather make Outlook behave like Gmail than the other way around.

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  16. @BlackTigerX: huh? of course you can see when you last replied to a message. Your whole conversation is there in one long thread, and you see the time of _every_ mail in chronological order...

    @Hector Virgin: spot on :)

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  17. It's just another view of the same data, like a drill down, not a concession to anyone. Agreed with what someone said, better thread tools are what's needed. I like conversation view most times, but just because emails have the same subject doesn't make them part of the same conversation. For example, I often get many emails with the same subject (a system name, error, or issue) and have multiple email conversations on it (with boss, with staff, with customers) and combining makes it worse. Replying in thread view is an adventure and searching from: only brings up the same thread. Knowing "I know I sent this last week to Bob" becomes useless because the thread date is most recent. Kudos to Google for giving us a different way to look at the data.

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    1. 100% agree. Having all the alerts for a system and all of the messages that were exchanged regarding it piled up into one conversation makes gmail nearly unusable in conversation mode.

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  18. conversation view has a lot of advantages especially in case when the most part of mail consists of real conversations with people.
    but for the cases when the most part of mail consists of report-like messages, orders, documents, announcments, etc. than classic outlook-like approach could me more useful.
    however the both methodes are flexible enough to be useful in all cases. there are a lot of additional tools in Gmail to help you to configure the most optimal way of working with email messages.
    i would prefer to keep conversation view on for myself.

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  19. It's great to see that conversations can now be turned off as I don't think they make sense all the time.

    Some 'conversations' such as mailing list threads which tend to branch get confusing when presented as a gmail conversation.

    However these still need a thread hierachy to make sense of them (which afaik is not yet provided)

    Other conversations - such as conversations with a limited group of friends do (IMHO) work as gmail conversations however. As such I think it would be useful if the conversations on/off were tied to the tags being viewed.

    i.e. I give every mailing list I subscribe to a tag. Then when I filter in that tag the view changes to a threaded list. Conversations with friends have a different tag, and when I filter by that one it appears as a conversation.

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  20. I like the idea of being able to switch from threaded to non-threaded. I use email as a tool not a conversation. When there are network/server production issues I look at the timing of the emails that come in. Of course not having a true date & time column is a big hindrance. Not all emails would fit in the same "conversation". If I wanted a conversation I would use IM, the phone or see them in person. And if I wanted to see them threaded I can switch it back. That is why I use Thunderbird or Mac Mail as my clients.

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  21. @Neil - I'd love a feature to merge conversations by drag & drop... Please, please, please!

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  22. I like conversation view, but I'd like to disable it for certain conversations, not the entire gmail. For example: I receive my twitter stream with a service that send it to me by email. GMail shows me that as a conversation, so when I open that, I open the entire conversation and marks ALL messages al read. I wish that I could select ONE conversation, and ungroup the individual messages from the conversation into several messages that I could open I read them individually.

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  23. I think that conversation view is great for people who are used to it, or who have grown up with it. I have introduced Gmail to some people in developing countries who had never used e-mail before, and they seemed to find it natural that conversations should be threaded together. The problem with introducing innovations like this is that many people have got used to the old way of doing things, and see that as "right". It's a case of being locked in to the old way of doing things, like with the qwerty keyboard.

    My dad claims that the Gmail online interface is unusable because you can't sort your messages (by sender, subject, etc), so it's impossible to find anything. No amount of explanation can convince him to use the search box instead...

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  24. threading is great, except that it is not 100% reliable and I missed important mails. I would like the option to enable it for archive messages only

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  25. I've never been an Outlook user, but I can't stand this conversation view, glad I could turn it off. To me it's completely unclear.

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  26. Well that went under the radar.... Great news, I immediately disabled conversation view. May even consider switching to Gmail as my primary email client: conversation view was the only thing stopping me.

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  27. THE REASON WHY SOME OF US do not like the conversation thread (on our smartphones) is for security reasons:

    I have a webcam that sends an automated email notification, with 5-second video snippet, whenever something "trips" my security camera.

    Since the SUBJECT HEADING is always the same (ie:"garage secuity cam alert")... my Andriod phone with GMail will only notify me "one time" only... even if there are repeated/threaded security cam alert emails.

    UNTIL GMAIL UNDERSTANDS WHY SOME OF US NEED a ON/OFF funtionality for threaded conversations (for smartphones too... not just desktop email apps), I'll use another smartphone email app!!!

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    Replies
    1. I'm right there with you.......I closed my gmail account, and I won't open another until Gmail allows no threading/conversation on smartphones

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  28. if hte subject line is more than some 200 odd characters Gmail threading aka conversation history isnt working... is taht a known bug???? or was it implemented purposefully?

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  29. Thank god google has seen the light. Hate threading as i lose messages all the time which is impossible with regular mail. Google fixed something that wasn't broken and now at least are giving us the option to use it the way we like it. Now the wait to get in android so i can bin k9 mail.

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  30. Finally! I LOATHE threading! It's another way of dumbing down an app' - in this case an email client. I will organize my emails in a manner that suits MY needs - not the app' developer's idea of how they think my correspondence should be organized, thank you very much. I was ready to dump gmail if I couldn't find a way to kill their conversations or threading "feature". THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!!!

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  31. Threading: if you've got to force this crap on users, that's a pretty sure sign that it's merely a designer's flight of fancy, and not a 'feature'. Tools are meant to serve users' needs, not the other way round. When I've got to arse about and look in my inbox for sent messages, there's something very wrong with that picture.

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  32. These designers/developers are just too damn precious. Join the real world, and give people what they want. I want to have a sort feature because the "search" feature is primitive to say the least. I want to separate the "spam" I get from companies I do online business with from the online bills I get from them. By sorting by the sender field, I can just highlight a big block of them and delete or archive or whatever. Using search forces me to pull up every email that has the name eBay in it, for example, and then go through the resultant list one-by-one to make sure I'm not deleting something I want to save. I don't have time to bother with all the labeling. I just want to sort-highlight-delete some stinking spam... I've notice companies use a number of sending email addresses for their sales spam, so just when I think I know what to "search" for I end up missing some.

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  33. This is the most amazing feature gmail has ever introduced! I've also lost many emails in the conversation view and stopped using gmail as a result. Maybe it's because I don't use "reply" just to get back to people on the same topic.. I often hit reply to avoid typing in the email address when sending a new mail.

    Now I wish Google stops my Android gmail forcibly attaching conversation history to my emails! If I write a message of 3 lines, I don't want 500 lines of previous mails to go with it - what a waste of bandwidth!

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  34. because this is so annoying to have to look for some recent important piece of data inside all conversations, which happened lately... people sometimes change conversation topic, you know

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  35. Too many false positives, especially with automated emails.

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  36. Conversation threads should make things easyer, but i always end up looking and searching wich email i read, and wich not. I really dont like the way it works, and i think its a bigger mess then separate emails. Conclusion: Conversation threads sucks big time!!
    Why always this new crap? Email should work the way it is, nothing more. Those new features etc. almost never makes things better. And if you still want to do those things, then at least make an option to switch it off. Then everybody is happy! But hey, that is just my opinion...

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  37. Glad you can disable conversation view in GMail. Now it's time to make the GMail Android app do the same.

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  38. Now just fix the conversation view in the android app!! The majority don't like conversation view! I have to use a different email app just so I don't have that stupid conversation view! While your at it, add a pinch to zoom feature like every other app on the planet. I can't believe Google has dropped the ball so bad on their own software!

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  39. Whilst it is good that we can turn off conversation view. We are now left with a large number of unrelated mails.

    We still need message threading so we can follow a thread of a branching conversation.

    Just like in desktop email clients.

    I like Gmail, I like archiving, I like tagging, I actually like the conversation view - I just wish it handled branching conversations rather than lumping them all together.

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  40. Need to be able to turn off conversation threading. Leave it as an option, fine, but need to have the choice.

    -bob

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  41. I can't believe this issue is still going on.
    Google gave us the choice to disable conversation view in the web version of gmail a long time ago. They need to do the same for android. Get 'er done.

    -bob

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  42. I just disabled it. It annoys me to no end. Hopefully it makes reading my emails easier now.

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