What Went Wrong With Gmail?

A month into Google's experiment with the design of Gmail, we are safely past the reactionary phase of criticism. Now, we're on to the searing and increasing hatred phase. It feels like Steve Jobs' evil ghost doppelganger went through the interface and made everything just a little bit harder to use. The problems with the new Gmail are not about look and feel; they strike right at the core usability of the software. This is the biggest step back for email since I signed up for Gmail in 2004.

Let me explain why. I use Gmail all day, every day. I also chat with all of my colleagues here and elsewhere through Gchat all day, every day. Well, the new Gmail has made these two CORE functions nearly incompatible. That is to say, writing emails and chatting with people has become a huge hassle.

Here's the problem. See that big text box in which I type hundreds of emails per week? Well, it is obscured by chat windows that I use thousands of times per week. The two basic ways that I communicate are in direct conflict with each other.  

whobrokegmail.jpg

Could I come up with another workaround? Running Gchat in a client, say? Of course, but I didn't have to worry about that before and I could have all my communication in one tab in my browser. It worked great. See that screenshow below? That's how the old interface worked. I could chat to my heart's content and email to my heart's content ALL AT THE SAME TIME. In the new one, I have to minimize my chat windows to see my email. Why would they do this?

emailwriting.jpg

It feels incredibly ill-considered not to have thought about the Gchat+Gmail use case. I mean, how many information workers today use these tools together?

Which leads me to the key question: what happened, Google? We know that designers at the company use tons of data to come up with their user interfaces, so why do things keep going wrong with the company's product releases? Is this a case of Big Data overruling Simple Common Sense? Where was the guy in the meeting who should have asked, "But what if someone wants to chat as they write an email?"
Presented by

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

How a Psychedelic Masterpiece Is Made

A short documentary about Bruce Riley, an artist who paints abstract wonders with poured resin

Videos

Why Is Google Making Skin?

Hidden away on Google’s campus, doctors are changing the way people think about health.

Video

How to Build a Tornado

A Canadian inventor believes his tornado machine could solve the world's energy crisis.

Video

A New York City Minute, Frozen in Time

This short film takes you on a whirling tour of the Big Apple

Video

What Happened to the Milky Way?

Light pollution has taken away our ability to see the stars. Can we save the night sky?

More in Technology

Just In