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Google Labels feed the Folder Mindset

Today, Google announced changes to the way you see and use labels in Gmail along with tips in the official Google Blog on how to us them.  The intention is to make the labels act and function more like folders.

For many GMail users out there, you probably didn’t even know there were labels.  You would not be alone, as most people never used the feature. I tried to use the labels in Gmail, and I quickly found that they added no value to the Gmail experience for me. Why would I label my messages, when I knew I could just type in my search term to retrieve the message?  If I wanted to see my messages from my wife Julie, I would just type her name in and not create a label for all of her messages. Now the labels are evolving to appear like folders.

The best thing I liked about Gmail is that I don’t have folders.  I archive every message, and when I want to see it again, i type in my search string.  I have actually gotten so used to not working in folders, that I created one dumb folder in my Yahoo mail, in a lame attempt to recreate the Gmail experience.

So is Google completely off base with their move to make labels appear more like folders?  Though Google will miss the target when trying to appease my own desires, they probably will capture the larger portion of the populous who NEED to see folders.

OfficeFoldersVisualIn my previous life and many moons ago, I was involved in leading the project for a corporate Content Management System.  The story itself is a long tale of confusion and resistance with an ending I care not to reveal for those who have not experienced it.  One important lesson I learned on this project is the users need to conceptualize folders.  Despite my best efforts to explain that there really weren’t any folders, and that it was all just a database field, the user interface needed to have a graphical view of a folder structure tree.  While a handful in the group grasped the concept that each file was tagged or labeled in a database, the rest would not survive the process if it was not for the visualization of folders.

I think these updates will help a lot of people transition into using Gmail.  The new functionality of drag and drop is something people expect when using folders and I think it will be effective at capturing a large portion of the populous.

The only downside is that folder driven individuals may never know a better way of working.  While it is a step forward in increasing adoption rates, it is a step backwards for evolving users into more efficient ways of working.

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