How I Learned to Stop Trashing Old Mail

I’ve joined the Google craze.

Many of you have probably already heard of Gmail, Google’s Webmail service that’s not yet open to the public. I was lucky enough to get invited to get an account and I have to say, it is leaps and bounds above the competition.

The 1,000 megabyte storage capacity is just the beginning.

The biggest usability improvement I’ve seen in Gmail is the ability to archive old messages and literally have them "disappear" until you want to find them again. This takes a bit of explaining to properly understand. Let me start over. This is how I used to work with my email:

  1. When I get a new email message, I would first look to see whether or not it should be filed in a special category. This process is at first time-consuming but eventually can be automated with filters and/or rules.
  2. Then, after reading the message, I would decide whether or not it is important enough to save. If so, I would need to file it manually and save it someplace on my hard drive. There are two major disadvantages to this necessity:
    1. Once saved, it was difficult to find again after some time. I don’t really remember titles as well as I remember the content of the email, and all these old saved emails are just files on my computer somewhere which means I’d need to remember their filename.
    2. If I was on my laptop or away from home, I wouldn’t have any access to my old emails unless I kept SSH running on my home computer, and then I’d need to log into the computer remotely anyway. That’s a hassle.

The Google-way™ of emails is much more intuitive:

  1. Get a new email, read, and respond. If it needs a special marker, such as being a "Business" letter, I can apply a label to it right there and then.
  2. Archive it to clear it away from my Inbox.
  3. Should I ever need to find it again, I can search for it by content. For example, if I need to find an email about an old client project, I simply type the client name and presto. Google’s search takes care of the rest.

To be honest, this was very difficult to get used to during the first week or so. I found myself constantly trashing emails out of habit instead of archiving them. It was also difficult to see how big a convenience the "search, don’t sort" methodology was because I didn’t have that many emails to begin with. Now that I’ve been using it for a while, I rather like it and see many benefits over using POP3 email client programs.

In essence, Gmails benefit can be summed up in the following sentence: Gmail makes the computer organize and store my information, while all I have to do is call it up when I need it. As I said previously, this is far more intuitive.

I’m still debating setting up a few email forwarders to funnel all my work-related email to a Gmail account. I still want clients to contact me through my own email address, that is, my email account. By setting up a forwarder to my Gmail account, I can direct all emails sent to over to Gmail. Then I can set my reply-to address at Gmail to my account, and voila…transparent email changing! I’ll test this Gmail thing out for a while longer before I do that for real, though.