The Future of Gmail: Less is More?

By James Fallows

If you use Gmail, you may have noticed recently a little line of red type in the upper right hand section of your screen, saying "Preview Gmail's new look." You can see it in the screen shot below, which is of the contents of my Gmail spam folder a little while ago. No need to look at the specific items (though you can click for a bigger shot -- especially if you interested in great values in Nigerian bank loans, enlargement pills, and so on.) Just get the general impression:

KennedyB.png


Here is the same folder with the same messages a minute later, after "Gmail's new look" has been applied. Again, just get the general impression:

KennedyA.png

What's the difference? With the new layout, I get to see a lot more empty space, and a lot less "stuff." On the stuff front, the current layout shows me 15 email messages at a time, versus 7 with "Gmail's new look." If I change the screen-font size (on the 13" MacBook Air I am using right now), I can see 21 messages at a time with the old look, and 11 with the new.

When it comes to spam, of course I'm happy to see less rather than more. But I wonder how this is going to work out when Google mainstreams it. A crucial and valuable part of Google's credo is that measurement of user behavior trumps all. And maybe it will turn out that people really want to see less of their email when they're working on email, and more blank white space. But I'll be surprised if that's so. (If this is anything like Google's previous offerings, users will have the option of sticking with old settings, or using a "dense" version of the new settings with more info shown.)

Someday I would like to know the reasoning behind this "new look." Check it out for yourself.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2011/07/the-future-of-gmail-less-is-more/241673/