88Pro Thinking

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Wednesday, October 13, 2004

GMail! Who's idea was it?

I was reading through “The Inmates Are Running The Asylum” by Alan Cooper

Many email users get dozens or hundreds of email messages everyday. Most communications are sent either in response to some messages, or in expectation of a reply. These sequence of messages, called threads, bounce back and forth between two or more people. …

And yet not a single email program available today treats email messages as part of a sequence. They act as though threads either don’t exist, or are an insignificant attribute of only few emails.

It’s easy to understand that viewing threads instead of messages lets the user clearly see the connections and flow between individual messages and how they form coherent conversations. When examined from a task or feature point of view, all you can see is that you need to either send or reply.

It’s not a particularly difficult programming problem to handle email as a series of threaded conversations; it is just that it has never been done that way, and programmers are reluctant to innovate on the user’s behalf. [Extract from “The Inmates are Running The Asylum”, Chapter 4, Page 61]


The book was published in 1999 and in 2004 we had Google’s Gmail with feature Cooper has talked about in his book on threaded conversations which an email client should have if it is trying match user’s goals. I really thought this was Google’s original idea and it does not seems to be the case, and I can’t believe that from 1999 no one (even the big players) did anything to include this feature into their email client very well knowing it will disrupt the way email is used in day to day life. I am glad that Google took the first step and I am sure there will be lot following the trend in the future.

PS: Alan Cooper is also known as Father of Visual Basic.

posted by 88Pro / Wednesday, October 13, 2004

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