For such a smart and innovative group of people, the Google developers have really managed to mangle the Label functionality available in Gmail. I was desperately hoping that the recent upgrades to the Gmail platform would usher in some improved interfaces for working with lables. Alas, I have been let down.
Let me clarify something before I get started: Labels are Gmail’s version of tags. Tags totally rock for organization and I love them dearly. They offer a lot of flexibility over hierarchical folders and are really powerful when you start applying several tags to a single item. Fortunately, many services are starting to move away from systems of organization based on hierarchical folders and towards systems based on tagging of data. Google apparently only received half the memo. It’ is so difficult in Gmail to apply more than one label that you find yourself stuck in some wierd “only-one-tag-at-a-time” universe. You are basically limited by the same restrictions as hierarchical folders, but there is a clever “Label” mask on this system to trick you into thinking you can tag like all the other cool kids. I say bollocks!
The best way to describe Gmail’s Label deficiences is through an example. I recently ordered a gift for my hot wife from Amazon. After placing the order, I received the standard order confirmation email with all the details of the purchase. Me being a tag freak, I wanted to tag the hell out of that email so that later on I could find it as needed. I decided to apply four labels (tags): Amazon, Receipt, Birthday, Nikki. So there you go: four tags. Seems simple, right?
Here is a break down of what it takes to apply these four labels to a single message in Gmail:
- Click #1 – Select the email
- Click #2 – Open the “More Actions” menu
- Click #3 – Grab the scroll bar
- Scroll #1 – Scroll to “Amazon” in the list of labels
- Click #4 – Apply the “Amazon” label to the email
- Click #5 – Open the “More Actions” menu, again
- Click #6 – Grab the scroll bar
- Scroll #2 – Scroll to “Receipt” in the list of labels
- Click #7 – Apply the “Receipt” label to the email
- Click #8 – Open the “More Actions” menu, again
- Click #9 – Grab the scroll bar
- Scroll #3 – Scroll to “Birthday” in the list of labels
- Click #10 – Apply the “Birthday” label to the email
- Click #11 – Open the “More Actions” menu, again
- Click #12 – Grab the scroll bar
- Scroll #4 – Scroll to “Nikki” in the list of labels
- Click #13 – Apply the “Nikki” label to the email
Grand Total: 13 clicks and 4 scrolls
Am I the only Gmail user that finds this ridic-a-donk-ulous? (Now, I know you can just use the scroll wheel instead of grabbing the scroll bar, however: 1) some people don’t have scroll wheels, and 2) dammit, I’m trying to make a point here). So, is there a better way? Absolutely.
A Better Way
Here is my solution for a better interface for Labels in Gmail:
First of all, rip the labels out of the “More Actions” menu, they just don’t belong there.
There is a mile of open space in the tool bar. Let’s go ahead and add a “Labels” button there. This button will give you access to an overlay with actions specific to labels:
There is a lot going on here, so let me explain: When an email is selected, all currently-applied labels will be highlighted. Clicking on additional labels will automatically apply them, and clicking on currently-applied labels will remove them. At the top of the list of labels is a text field that allows you to enter new labels. Simply type in all your new labels separated by spaces. Once you click “Apply” the new labels and other changes will be saved and applied to the selected email. Simple as pie.
Now let’s replay the above scenario with my version:
- Click #1 – Select the email
- Click #2 – Open the “Labels” menu
- Click #3 – Apply the “Amazon” label
- Click #4 – Apply the “Receipt” label
- Click #5 – Apply the “Birthday” label
- Click #6 – Apply the “Nikki” label
- Click #7 – Click “Apply”
Grand Total: 7 clicks and 0 scrolls
This new “Labels” overlay halves the number of clicks required and completely eliminates any scrolling. Much better. So, what are you thoughts? Could this be even more efficient (you could definitely eliminate one click by making the “Labels” menu open up when the mouse hovers over it)?
Google, are you listening?