The platform war that is destroying your inbox and wasting your time that Google should apologize for: Read vs Archive vs Delete

One of the great platform wars of our age is not – Single vs Double click
– GUI vs CL
– 32 bit vs 64 bit
– ARM vs Intel
– Keypad vs Touch
– Folders vs Search. 

It isn’t any of those. 

It is: what do people do with a new mail once they have “finished” with it?

The Apps for mail (including gmail) are creating or trying lockin through this feature area. 


The flow is:
Get a mail
See it in inbox
Open it
Act on it 
Finish with it
Refer to it
Make room in account

This flow is mostly linear and any step can be skipped. You might GET a mail and never do any of the other steps, or immediately MAKE room (delete it forever). 

FINISH WITH IT though is not a passive step. Your options are
– leave it there
– archive
– delete/expunge (MAKE room)
– or label/file it in some way

Filers vs Pilers 

The old days of Pine and Outlook etc had limited account size. So the bias for users was to MAKE immediately or else selectively FILE. 

Gmail encourages you to LEAVE it. The storage is big and you can search. 

But then your inbox gets crazy. 

So here is the basic choice:
– Mail in inbox = not finished
– Unread mail in inbox = not finished. 

Amazingly, as the gmail folks and others have sought to respond to this they have created a us folder of the inbox called Unread. While they are at it they look for better signals than read-status and created Priority and Important etc. 

Mo’ folders, mo’ problems. 


Every single system is a variation on this reasoning — Inbox Zero, Mailbox app, Gmail mobile, Sparrow, Thunderbird, Outlook (classic) and some new apps (Molto, Seed, SquareOne, Boxer). 

By the way, there are essentially no new ideas from Yahoo or AOL or other incumbents — they are somewhere between catchup mode and death spiral. 

So here is a novel idea. Ask or observe the user and give them the world they want. Don’t nag me about Zero if I like the stream. Don’t clutter my life because I don’t explicitly dismiss that groupon with four clicks. 

There are two distinct flows for users and every app demands half of users to change. 

How to do it 

More on that next time.