The Benefits and Perils of Gmail and Google Apps Mail's 'Conversation View'

February 5, 2014 by Staff Writer
The Benefits and Perils of Gmail and Google Apps Mail's 'Conversation View'
For many years email was a straightforward affair – you set up your server and used a desktop email client like Microsoft Outlook to download your emails. Seldom – if ever – did anyone consider using the server-based webmail that came with your server. It was generally slow, difficult to use, and lacked the flexibility that a PC-based client offered.

Fast-forward a few years (a decade?) and the bulk of people that I know now totally avoid even using an email client. They setup their servers for third party email and that generally means Gmail, Hotmail (now Outlook) and Yahoo! Mail. These days the use of Gmail and its (paid) business cousin Google Apps Email appears especially on the ascendancy.

Although the way people receive their email has changed substantially, the format of every email client used to be the same. An email was received, and it went into a list with the most recent arrivals at the top, descending to the oldest emails in the list at the bottom (although you could change that to oldest at the top if you wanted). Of course, Google being Google, they had to change that level of simplicity!

Although they might not have been the first to use it, Gmail introduced the ‘Conversation View’ in a big way. It changed the traditional format of email – rather than a descending (or ascending) list, emails were now grouped as ‘conversations’ based on the topic in the subject line.

Overnight two things happened:

1. People went on forums, etc. to praise the new approach;

2. Others went online to complain about lost emails!

Here is a screenshot of an email exchange I sent myself using a couple of email accounts:

Note the emails are in an order – newest to oldest. This is the traditional email view.

Now look at the same emails in conversation view:

All of the emails that have the same subject line (Test Email) are in the same line. To reveal them, you have to click on the cluster:

Why ‘Conversation View’ is cool:

If you have your email in Conversation View, all the emails in a particular conversation are put together, meaning you do not have to search for replies you might have sent someone – everything is all there in one list for you to see.

Why ‘Conversation View’ is not so cool:

If you are in business, the Conversation View setting can cause problems.

When you are emailing friends, you usually add a unique subject line to an email. If all emails sent with that same subject are clustered together, generally there is no problem. In a business environment, however, it can cause issues.

Imagine you have a travel website and customers make hotel bookings through the site. The emails are automated and the emails sent to your inbox have the same subject line: ‘Hotel Inquiry’. You might receive 1,000 emails a day, and because they share the same subject line, they are all grouped together.

Under such circumstances, finding a particular email can be a nightmare. Search for a particular customer or hotel and you will come to the cluster of emails that an email resides under, rather than just that particular email. To find a specific email, you will have to read them all individually! Not good at all!

Changing ‘Conversation View’ to a traditional view:

Gmail or Google Apps email accounts have ‘Conversation View’ set as default and I strongly recommend changing this if you are in a business environment. To do this, go to settings:

Then click ‘Conversation View Off’:

It is as simple as that… Never again will you have to worry about not being able to find a customer’s message or missing it when it arrives.

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