Sunday, December 27, 2009

The one button that breaks Gmail's conversation presentation

The one button that breaks Gmail's conversation presentation: FORWARD.

The most difficult feature for some people to get used to in Gmail is the way it ties all emails about the same title into a single conversation type view. It is also one of the greatest features of the email client, perhaps its true differentiator.

So whats wrong with it? The issue comes when there are different people involved in each email.
When can this happen? Most commonly it happens when you forward an email to another person and then have a separate conversation shoot off from the original thread. However it could also happen just by adding people to the reply email.

Why is it broken? The card stack design pattern that Gmail applies means that these different conversations spawned from the same conversation are now mixed together without any regard for their potential differences. The only factor being used is the time facet. Visually the conversation metaphor becomes confusing.

Now, I do not know if there is a technical limitation that forces Gmail to act this way, but i do know that there is at least one feasible presentation option based on the information readily available in the email conversation today: breaking up the conversation stream in different people/group panels. That is, any time there is a different combination of people on a given email in the stream break it off into another panel. The conversations should also be presented spatially within each panel in regard to their general conversation chronological order.

All of this is probably redundant as the number of conservation, comments, thread type apps appear around the web and also as the usage of google wave starts to kick in.. but i think it is an interesting presentation/UX interaction problem that such a design pattern could be applied.

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