Gmail inbox and productivity (or Archive? my a$$)

Gmail inbox

Does your gmail inbox look like this one? Mine does.

Does having a never-ending, never-empty inbox stress you out? Yeah, me too.

Did you know *you* can have a beautifully clean, empty gmail inbox with all your emails beautifully filed away, out of sight where they’re not going to make you feel anxious? No, me either.

In fact, I just got half way through a ranting post about how unproductive the Gmail inbox was and how it made me feel stressed that I was forgetting or losing something and then I discovered…

…the ‘Archive‘ button doesn’t mean *really* mean archive. It actually means ‘don’t show in the inbox anymore‘.

I had to do a Google search, then read a whitepaper on using Gmail for GTD (Getting Things Done), then test it out in Gmail myself, before I actually discovered this. But, the good news is – it’s true. So now I have a few thousand emails to label and archive and a stress free, productivity enhancing inbox will once again be mine. Hoorah.

ok. Now for the vent…

Who was the crazy person who thought that ‘Archive’ was the right word for that button? And then who approved it? Did this get tested with users? How many? Who are they?

When you think of Archive, what associations does it carry for you?

For me, when I think of archive, I’m thinking of documents that have gone to a ‘special place’ often in a special format (where else do we still use tape, i ask you), that have gone there because we either don’t think we’ll need them anymore OR because we might need them in the future so we have a backup.

They’re typically hard to find, hard to access, hard to restore. They’re for the future… preferably future generations. They’re not intended for next week.

You sure as hell don’t get to my idea of archive using a simple keyword search!

What is the right word for this button?

Like I said before, what it actually means is ‘don’t show in my inbox anymore’. I’m thinking ‘File’ might be an alternative, but it’s got all those ‘file, edit, view’ assocations, so probably not a good option. Maybe ‘File Away’?
The folder metaphor doesn’t exist in Gmail, so we can’t use something like Outlook’s ‘Move to Folder’. Maybe it is something like ‘Remove from Inbox’ or ‘Don’t Show’ – maybe not… it would be preferable to have a positive label rather than negative here. This is nice functionality!

Hrm… so off the top of my head, I’m not sure. Anyone feel like workshopping it here and we’ll email Google and ask them to change it.

I’m not sure if I’m more relieved to have found it, or angry at how it’s been labelled… but one thing is obvious. Labels matter. Let’s spend some time making sure we’ve got them right and that our audience understands it.

OK. So tell me:

- Am I the only one who didn’t get the archive thing?

- How would you label that button?

Image credit: Ario @ Flickr (who is also interested in Information Anxiety)

14 Responses to “Gmail inbox and productivity (or Archive? my a$$)”

  1. Rachel C May 23, 2006 at 2:57 pm #

    I’ve just switched to using gmail to manage my different email accounts (still keeping those addresses), rather than Thunderbird and love the “archive” feature. I know what you mean by the word archive meaning hard-to-find-again. I wish there were a similar feature for the sent box – I like to file away sent messages but can’t seem to archive them. Has anyone discovered how to have a nice clean sent mail folder?

  2. Rachel Dixon May 23, 2006 at 3:16 pm #

    I’m not sure why, but I did get Google’s intent on this one, right from the beginning. Maybe because I’d had the labels thingy explained to me before I used it by someone who worked at Google, so I started using Gmail with the idea that it was a tool for searching email rather than an email tool itself – in the early days I mainly used it to store email from other accounts so I could search them online when I wasn’t at my own computer.

    Or perhaps it’s because I only ever used Outlook for a short time that I never thought of “archive” as “go away and don’t show me this again”. I can see why you’d be confused if you were a regular Outlook user.

    Not trying to say you’re not smart or anything, because I know way better than that, but I think it probably depends on why you first came to Gmail in the first place. Which is, I guess, another challenge for usability – anticipating the expectations people have before they use something.

    I agree with Rachel C that it would be great to have sent mail stored somewhere else over time too.

  3. Grant May 23, 2006 at 3:20 pm #

    Hi Lisa – the early Gmail UI was even harder to grok – I mean it took them /months/ to add the [delete] button in the main window (it was hidden in a menu).

    I knew about the Archive option (it was one of the big selling points of Gmail when it launched – so I read about it on a few blogs before I got invited to start an account), and it is pretty good.

    I find I rarely use the “labels” function – just archive and search. I use Thunderbird at work and have set up a similar system there. I run IMAP to GroupWise which has it’s own “Archive” function that does exactly what you thought the Google button did.

    But glad you found it – that that GTD whitepaper looks interesting – thanks for the link :)

    Regards, Grant

  4. leisa.reichelt May 23, 2006 at 3:34 pm #

    yeah, I moaned about the crazy delete button (or lack there of) back in the day… I wonder how I never equated ‘Archive’ with all the buzz about Gmail’s ‘storage space’ (thinking back, you’re right… I guess they were calling it Archive then too, weren’t they…. it’s still wrong tho!)

    Rachel – gosh… I thought I was the only one who had a thing about tidying up their sent box! Outlook got me into the habit of it when I used to always outgrow my storage limit… I don’t have quite the same desire on Gmail due to the lack of ‘folders’… if that makes any sense!

  5. James Mc Parlane May 23, 2006 at 4:31 pm #

    Attenuation is the new aggregation.

    I don’t use my inbox in Outlook, I use the “Unread mail” and “For Followup” search folders.

    There is a movement towards productivity software that lets you quickly tag the mail in your inbox by priority and then your real inbox is the priority queue.

    eg: http://www.shahine.com/omar/SpeedFiler.aspx

    This is pretty much how I work with Microsoft Outlook now. I go through my inbox and quickly tag things as red, blue, yellow, green etc..

    red = ASAP
    blue = Some time today
    yellow = Soon
    etc…

    Then my real inbox becomes the “For Followup” folder.

    Most important things get done first. If I finish all of those in a day then I get onto the next level importance.

    I’m going to try “SpeedFiler” and see if that improves anything in my cobbled together process.

    l8r!

  6. Ralph Friedman May 23, 2006 at 7:05 pm #

    Mebbe it’s just me, but I have been a gmail user since shortly after it was announced and I never understood archive to mean anything more than “take this out of the inbox and, if it is labelled, file it neatly.” Maybe coming from a long-year software development background gives me a different perspective. I can’t really know.

    R.

  7. leisa.reichelt May 23, 2006 at 7:37 pm #

    hrm… Ralph. I dunno. It’s starting to look as though it might be me and not you…

    come on… surely *someone* out there had issues with the archive button too!

    (or, maybe not…!)

  8. Mark May 24, 2006 at 12:56 am #

    I’ve never used Gmail, but I agree that Archive is a misleading word to use, as, like you say, it’s generally used to mean “put somewhere hard to reach, just in case I find I need it at some point in the future”.

    As for what it should be changed to, I dunno…something like “Hide” or “Don’t Show In My Inbox”? Or maybe “Store for seaching”. I can’t really think of anything great. Hmm, maybe Archive is the best word after all…? :-S

  9. Michael Air May 24, 2006 at 10:13 am #

    Same as Rachel D; I got the archive idea straight away. I do seem to remember that there were little helpers when you logged into gmail for the first time to tell you what archiving was?

  10. Dmitry May 25, 2006 at 2:10 am #

    I am not sure I’m with you on this one, Leisa. I agree that archiving in the real world has a “hard to get to” connotation, but all real-world metaphors break down eventually when used in an interactive context. In this case, what breaks down is the “hard to get to” aspect of archiving, which I am personally very happy to do away with, just as I am happy that my Windows install doesn’t require me to periodically clean it with Windex. :)

    As an IA, you are surely aware that sometimes there is no perfect label for a given action, and one needs to find an acceptable compromise, even if some users run into trouble with it. You haven’t pointed out a compelling alternative label, and neither has anyone else who has commented here so far. Surely that’s an indication that Archive, while not being the perfect solution, is not all that bad?

  11. leisa.reichelt May 25, 2006 at 9:08 am #

    yes… I’m definitely beginning to think that my take on “Archive” is a minority view… at least amongst audiences who have good familiarity with Gmail, and who may have been ‘taught’ what arvice means via Google marketing…. Would be interesting to test with newbie users.

    Dmitry, yes – of course I’m aware that there is sometimes not a ‘perfect’ label… but of course I also have a compulsion to test labels and to question them when they don’t feel right.

    I guess the biggest take home is the importance of user testing and how, as an IA, you should never assume that you’re mental model or interpretation of a label or anything else necessarily translates to your audience.

  12. Tee July 12, 2006 at 8:19 pm #

    NO! You’re not alone! I found you by searching Google for the phrase “What does Archive mean in Gmail” … ROFL.

    And you know what? I’m STILL confused and stressed out. I don’t get how I do this… I want labeled folders with different names. Things are getting lost and when I need them I have to do a search…I don’t know what to do with my mail. Do I delete it so if I die no one knows my private business? What if I need something?

    So frustrating!

  13. xueming.lang June 3, 2009 at 4:48 am #

    labels it “hide” and test it with real users. i was frustrated with the archive button. i was thinking there was a box labelled “archive” and i could find all mails “archived”.

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