Significant "Cloud" Improvement: Nested Labels in Gmail


I've meant for several weeks to close the circle on the biggest change in my own computing life in many years. This is my shift to virtually all-cloud operation, as prefigured here. Full chronicling some other time. Symptoms of the shift are: I haven't loaded Outlook in nearly two months, after moving my old PST files into Gmail*; and I haven't thought about which of my computers had the "current" version of a file, or copied files from one to another, in about as long.

The two indispensable enablers of this change have been:

  - The marvelous and utterly reliable SugarSync, which means I can get any of my files from any device, whether netbook or laptop or desktop or mobile phone, while also knowing that the files are all safely backed up. For later, why I think this is better and more flexible than alternatives like DropBox, and how to make it work with Mac programs like Scrivener and DevonThink, whose files are tricky to sync.

 - Gmail rather than Outlook as the ultimate repository for my mail, which I can then get at, via IMAP connection, from any of my computers in a variety of ways. I can use Thunderbird, Apple Mail, Outlook if I want, normal online Gmail on the web, offline Gmail via Google Gears (details and quirks of offline use later). No matter how I get at them, the messages themselves show up in the right classifications -- still-to-be-answered, nagging-but-never-will-be-answered, archived, etc -- from any machine.

About a month ago SugarSync announced a major new feature (details here), which I meant to mention at the time. I am piping up now because Gmail has just introduced a significant improvement: "Nested Labels," which allow you to create a sophisticated organizational structure in the vast swamp of info that is your Gmail message repository. Information here; illustration below.

Often there is no point to "organizing" messages; you just assume that you can search for what you want when you want it. But at other times it's handy to classify some info, and at those times labels are far superior to "folders," since a single item can have many different labels.** The nested, or hierarchical, label system is one more step toward Gmail's being a main base of one's computing life, a la Outlook of yesteryear for me. More later, but that's the news for now.
* Yes, I retain all the PST files for backup. The difference is that I don't have to re-archive them every day, because of Outlook's habit of marking a PST archive file as "changed" every time it's opened under Outlook, even if not a single byte is different.

** The combination of IMAP and Labels is slightly odd, in that IMAP systems seem to create a duplicate mail item for each Label a message is assigned to. This is theoretically inelegant but in practice it works fine. Labels are the way to go. Again more later.
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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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