Google conversation view: Why would you disable it?

Google conversation view: Why would you disable it?

Summary: Turn off conversation view in Gmail? Perish the thought!

TOPICS: Google

In an extended cilantro metaphor of a blog post, Google announced today that it would allow users to disable what, in my opinion, is the single best feature of Gmail and one of the most touted new features of Outlook 2010: Conversation view.

As Gmail Technical Lead, Wiltse Carpenter, explains,

The way Gmail organizes mail into conversations is like cilantro. You either love it -- and, like me, enjoy the nice citrusy, herbal finish it gives to everything from salsa to curry -- or you hate it...So just like you can order your baja fish tacos without cilantro, you can now get Gmail served up sans conversation view. Go to the main Settings page, look for the “Conversation View” section, select the option to turn it off, and save changes.

Carpenter points to community requests for the feature to be optional and I have to hand it to Google for, as one poster says, "giv[ing] someone the option to turn off your great idea."

This sounds to me, however, like it is really about attracting enterprise-types who have become accustomed to Outlook and Exchange, where a conversation view only became available with the launch of Outlook 2010. Conversation view, for non-Gmail users, is a real switch, particularly 50-somethings who still have BlackBerries and live by Outlook. By making the threaded emails optional, Google can now allow users to come closer to the feel of their traditional mail client or webmail view of choice.

I'm with Carpenter on this one (and I really love cilantro): fondness for cilantro pales in comparison to my love for Gmail’s conversation view, or message threading. I haven’t had to wade through multiple messages to follow a conversation in years.

Apparently there are enough people that Google is trying to woo to Premier Apps that it was worth their development time and the threat to a feature that I consider an integral part of the Gmail brand to make it worth the change. I've been using Gmail for many years and the recent need to begin using both a BlackBerry and Outlook 2007 for a particular client has made me love threaded conversations even more than I already did. But that's me. My garden was overrun by cilantro this year because I planted so much of it.

Topic: Google

Christopher Dawson

About Christopher Dawson

Chris Dawson is a freelance writer, consultant, and policy advocate with 20 years of experience in education, technology, and the intersection of the two.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • RE: Google conversation view: Why would you disable it?

    Because, quite frankly, their implementation was downright awful. I find the GMail interface so clunky and unintuitive to use I finally gave up and set up Apple Mail to use IMAP, and manage my mail that way instead.
    • RE: Google conversation view: Why would you disable it?

      @aep528 Take heed: It is better to keep your mouth shut
      and appear [as a yahoo/hotmail user] than to open it and remove all doubt [especially on tech blogs].
      -Mark Twain
      • RE: Google conversation view: Why would you disable it?

        @dextroz <br><br>Yes it's only those of us who need email to be quick and easy and actually have correspondents, who are frustrated with Google's weird design. <br><br>To geeks (that very small minority) arcane designs are really an attraction - (see Android).<br><br>Yes I would like sort and folders. Conversations are great in theory, terrible in implementation.<br><br>If everyone in the room is losing their head and you're staying calm, then perhaps you've misunderstood the situation.<br><br>Oh and spam doesn't count, you actually need real people to send you stuff - hope you're having fun in your mum's basement <img border="0" src="" alt="wink">
      • RE: Google conversation view: Why would you disable it?

        That very small minority are the ones driving innovation for the world. That very small minority is responsible for just about any electronic device you are using including the one you used to type your message.

        And in the US where a large portion of the population don't even know where the US is located on a map and can't compete with the rest of the world, its one of the few groups that gives the US any credibility.
      • RE: Google conversation view: Why would you disable it?

        @dextroz <br><br>So, do you have anything to add to the conversation? Like an actual, convincing argument why I am wrong? No? Then I can publish quotes too: People in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.<br><br>I was just looking at the latest Windows Live Mail, and even that has a better implementation of conversations than Gmail. I have one thread that's only 23 message, and it is a real pain to locate a particular message. Why can't I expand the thread right in the Inbox? Why does Gmail show them oldest to newest, top to bottom? In an active thread I need to see the newest messages, not the oldest. Why do I have to select Collapse All when I get to the thread? Why isn't that the default so I can then quickly choose a point in the thread to jump to? Why doesn't Collapse All collapse the newest message in the thread? What part of "All" does Google not understand? And why are the controls for the threading (Collapse, Expand, etc.) located in the advertising column? I didn't notice them at first because I have gotten used to ignoring the right side of the screen when in Gmail.
      • RE: Google conversation view: Why would you disable it?


        You say Gmail doesn't have folders. This is incorrect. Gmail has labels, which can be used exactly the same way as folders. (They can also be used in more powerful ways, if you wish.)

        Try setting a filter on incoming e-mails.
        Matches: from:(
        Action: skip inbox, apply label "example".

        Voil?: a folder!

        Timothy (TRiG)
    • RE: Google conversation view: Why would you disable it?

      @aep528 nice troll. I run my business through Google apps and conversation view is the best thing ever. I am able to keep track of correspondents with customers over years. and I have over a thousand customers, so keeping track of it any other way is really almost impossible.
      • You haven't heard of folders?

        I have lots of clients and I keep each one in a folder in Outlook. It works great. I have email going back about 15 years and although Pegasus Mail worked better, Outlook keeps my Notes, Calendar, Task List and Contacts all synced with my Blackberry quite easily.
        John Hanks
  • Totally agree, only a moron would shut it off.

    That is the A#1 best feature of Gmail and if one turns it off, they may as well use Hotmail or Yahoo, which suck.

    I can't believe Google bent over on this one. I really thought they'd just let someone else write an app for it. *sigh*
    • that's right magnoliasouth ... you must be MS ... omnicient

      @magnoliasouth that's right magnoliasouth .. you must be Microsoft god .. omnicient ... no one must need or want it any other way, and to allow them the choice ... well THAT must really be the crazy thing...

      Both views have their benefits.... for me.. the only thing threaded view does, is hide Google's f**ked up help forum notifications, in which I get a email for each of my replies in a single help topic

      eg. I start a help topic, get a notice when someone replies.. if *I* go back in and reply to that someone.. I get another copy of the update to the thread ... if I've replied to 5 others that have posted under one thread, I've got 6 copies of the email when one person adds to it... yeah.. intelligent design ....

      Its only fair to everyone, if you allow people THE CHOICE to decide for themselves. And its because Google wants to appeal to a greater audience regardless of the client they are use to, that Google would finally realize there are enough people bitching (about time google realized it) to see they needed to offer the option.. the real stupidity and moronic behavior, is for google NOT to have offered the option from the get go..
    • RE: Google conversation view: Why would you disable it?

      So whats wrong with choice ? If its enabled by default and you can disable it if you dont like it whats the problem ? There is nothing worse than having no options to customize and being told STFU this is how youre going to use the program regardless if you like it or not. Maybe Mozilla can learn something from this .....
  • RE: Google conversation view: Why would you disable it?

    nah, nothing to do with enterprise. I hate this feature. If I remember getting an e-mail from, say, Fred last Friday. I can't just scroll down to last friday and look for e-mails from Fred. No -- too simple/easy. I have to sort through my conversations (which are in seemingly-random order) looking for the last-time I replied to a Fred-e-mail and then click through the whole conversation until I find the e-mail I want from Friday. I can see why some people like it, but I don't. It seems to complicate things unnecessarily. I'm not a computer newb or an oldie or a business user. I'm just used to sorting my e-mails chronologically and this has been the main thing keeping me from transitioning to web-based gmail.
    • RE: Google conversation view: Why would you disable it?

      @roadnottaken I totally agree. what kills me is if I know I got an email from someone, say someone named "Jane" with some information that I needed -- say a phone number. In gmail, if I searched "from:jane" that email would be somewhere in the results, but I would have to read through ALL the threads. Without threads, I'd see JUST the emails from jane, and i could page down a few times and find the email. I actually find myself going to to do that and that alone. Now I can do it all in gMail!
    • RE: Google conversation view: Why would you disable it?

      Gmail's motto: "Don't organize, just search"
      You have the most powerful search machine right a few pixels above your cursor. Why would you click on column headers and other stuff?
      I don't split or sort anything in there. Just search!
    • RE: Google conversation view: Why would you disable it?


      Click Search box

      type fred

      hit enter

      super fancy way:

      type: fred after:2010/9/23 before:2010/9/25

      hit enter

      Conversations are hard-wired to time/date- oldest email in the thread is always at the top, most recent email is at the bottom. Always.

      Hope this helps :)
      • RE: Google conversation view: Why would you disable it?


        And all that typing is preferable to a simple scroll and click?
      • RE: Google conversation view: Why would you disable it?


        How many people are looking for the oldest emails in a thread by default? Why can't I have the option to show newest ones first?
  • RE: Google conversation view: Why would you disable it?

    This is another classic example of how Google is so discombobulated in their priorities vs. actions. There are nearly 50 amazing features in their Gmail>Settings>Labs options for years that should have made it as 'default' for all users by now who don't know what they're missing yet unfortunately.

    Instead, they come out and announce a regressive act as a 'feature'.

    On the other hands, the Gmail contacts > Android contacts is COMPLETELY broken (try the address fields or lack of it) which they haven't addressed since inception, even when they recently updated the Gmail Contacts menu.

    Also, try going to - tada! be presented with the months old shitty interface/elements.

    PS Android gmail client still can't process calendar invites. One would think that's the highest business priority. It looks like Google hires it's own fair share of industry rejects.
    • another person (dextroz) that must be god

      @dextroz Again.. a person that must be god.. because **YOU** don't think it should be so.. if you want to REALLY lay the blame ... GOOGLE should have made this an option for users to make the choice... FROM INCEPTION of their offering.

      I'm sure someone back then said.. "you know.. I hate email the 'outlook' way" and designed the web client to do threaded view. At the moment THAT person designed the web client to do threaded view.. THAT was when this "feature" should have been an option for people to choose.

      Same can be said of Microsoft's Outlook ... in 2010 ... they finally came up with threaded view in the corporate enabled mail client.. WTF were *THEY* smoking not to have included it in every version of outlook since 97?

      Look.. Dextroz .. its the allowance of our differences that helps us see the value in everything, and helps us empathize with "the other person" ... you want someone to feel your desires are important.. well you have to see the value someone else has in their different view point on the same things.
  • RE: Google conversation view: Why would you disable it?

    I wouldn't disable it. The only reason why i switched from yahoo to gmail is because of the threaded conversation.