Google unthreads Gmail messages, sticks by search over sort

Google has listened to users who say they don't care for threaded conversations and has added a feature that allows users to go back to a traditional inbox.

One of the things I like most about Gmail is the threaded conversations. For me, it helps keep the inbox organized in a way that helps keep the back-and-forth correspondence of an email exchange in an easy-to-follow format.

But many of you feel otherwise and have said, repeatedly, that you dislike the threads. I hear you loud and clear - and apparently, so does Google.

Today, the company is announcing that users will now be able to turn off the threaded conversations and switch their inboxes to the more traditional style - something that's sure to be welcome to many. From a blog post announcing the new feature:

Conversation view is perhaps Gmail’s most hotly debated feature.  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 just complicates something that has worked for years.

In making this change, Google has finally admitted that, despite its best efforts to deliver what it considered to be a better email experience, some users aren't willing to give up what's familiar to them. And yet, the company hasn't quite given up hope yet on one feature - search.

One of the things that kept Google from putting in a bid to convert the state of California's e-mail system to Google Apps was the inability for Gmail to "sort" messages. Google still considers searching for messages, instead of sorting them, to be superior and isn't budging on that feature.

Personally, I find search to be a better and faster way to find messages, but I've also mastered some of the common search operators, such as "from:joe," "subject: meeting," and "has: attachment."

More often than not, those search terms deliver the results I'm looking for. Still, the users have been very clear about wanting to sort messages. Even though I applaud Google for giving users the option of displaying messages in threaded or unthreaded views, I have to ding the company for not going far enough.

If they really want to convince both consumers and businesses to "Go Google," they're going to have to offer users the features they want - not the features the company wants them to want.

Related coverage: Forrester: Email may be here to stay but it definitely needs an overhaul