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Publisher / Editor @ CloudAve and Enterprise Irregulars. Industry Observer, Blogger, Startup Advisor, Program Chair @ SVASE (Silicon Valley Association of Startup Entrepreneurs). In his "prior life" spent 15 years immersed in the business of Enterprise Software, at management positions with SAP, IBM, Deloitte, KPMG and the like.

17 responses to “Gmail Finally Ends the Folder vs. Label War – What’s Next? Find the Answer Here.”

  1. idoliov

    Labels as folders is missing hierarchy. I cannot nest labels within labels, the way I can with folders in Outlook to help organize messages. Hence the 100’s of labels problem.

  2. Zoli Erdos

    Yes, I agree. You will NOT get all of the Outlook folder concept, but the ability to assign items to multiple folders/labels is so important IMHO, that it compensates for some of the inconvenience.

    The replacement for hierarchies would be joining several labels, i.e. label:firstlabel label: secondlabel in the search box. Ideally there should be a way to do this with a mouseclick – perhaps ctrl-click?

    There’s something else: the whole folder/label issue is less important in Gmail than in Outlook. The concept od searching instead of organizing really works.

  3. Jan

    I’m really mad. I used to have all labels (a bunch
    of them) in the right hand column. worked perfectly
    on my wide screen using a labs plugin.
    This no longer works and i have all my labels in
    the left hand column. To top it off, i still can’t
    remove the chat or invite panels.

  4. a.groh

    I enjoyed the tutorial….cleared up some things I’ve been wondering about.

    Any insight on whether something similar is coming with Yahoo! Mail? I think I read they are due for a major mail product overhaul sometime this Fall.

  5. Thom

    Your division of people that do not like Google’s recent changes to labels into the Luddite camp is pretty insulting.

    Your analysis of Folders vs. Labels is fairly accurate – but your understanding of how Google’s changes to labels scale for people that process and need to organize hundreds maybe 1000’s of emails a day seems to be lacking – as is clear by how you narrowly frame the debate.

    Let me return the favor. Anyone that doesn’t understand the huge problems w/ the recent changes concerning labels is clearly a superficial user and a shallow thinker.

    As the IT Director for my company and a long time Google fan boy – it is my professional opinion that Google failed w/ the recent changes.

    1.) They took away Right side labels functionality
    2.) Their current model breaks usability principals for people w/ over 50 labels.

    I have 200+ labels – I have to scroll for days to find what I could get in 3 clicks and no keyboarding necessary. I use my Google Apps mail at work as a complex messaging datastore for admin notifications, project management status updates, vendor news et cetera. Much of this is automated via filters.

    Using a necessarily complex automated system built on Gmail’s filters & labels actually allowed me to NOT waste my “life organizing stuff” and instead be a “productivity-oriented, innovative type” (as you so smugly put it.)

    Using nested labels (via BetterGmail2), in 3 to 5 clicks I could look at my latest backup jobs, I could check on the status of a major wireless PTP project I’m working on w/ a vendor, I could monitor the email threads of my support staff’s attack on an internal upgrade et cetera. ALL automatically filed for me, waiting at a moments click as the innovative work of my day required.

    Google’s recent changes has forced me back to the bad old days of Thunderbird as client (via IMAP) where I do hate folders but need the organizing power of them. Gmail’s labels w/ BetterGmail & Right side labels gave me the absolute best innovation any technologist could ever want.

    But their current implementation of labels has forced me to use older technology or waste too much time searching for information my projects & innovation initiatives need.

    So yes – the new drag and drop is probably awesome for fluff minded marketing mush heads but Real Power users – on the frontier of technology – we require better change from Google – not feature candy.

  6. JumbleChao

    I have to agree with Thom re: your identity of folder fans as neophobes and label lovers as neophiles – it just isn’t as simple as that. What we are really dealing with here is taxonomy (‘a place for everthing, and everything in its place’) vs tagsonomy (‘you say potato, I say potato’) – it’s a meta data issue. And there is no right and wrong, it is never a case of one always being better than the other.

    Certain types of data lend themselves better to taxonomy, whereas others do not. In almost all cases, BOTH systems have some value (if not equal value) and for that reason I think they should exist in parallel and not be muddled together like this. I think you are just plain wrong when you say ‘Folders are Labels’. They aren’t.

    The best example I can think of is the classic taxonomy of living things, into domain, kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus and species. This ‘folder’ system works very well and for a lot of uses is obviously superior to a tagging system like ‘furry, scaly, feathered, smooth-skinned, skinless, large, small, scary, friendly, water-dwelling, flying’, etc.

    Neither are perfect however, and when you are trying to classify a platypus (or some data equivalent) you may find yourself inventing branches on your tree just to accommodate it, when simply applying a ‘weird’ tag would better!

  7. Zoli Erdos

    @Thom, @JumbleChao,

    I obviously had no intention of insulting anyone, but if you read the post again, you’ll find that right there I apologized in advance for the extreme characterization in order to make a point.

    Hierarchical folders: yes, I recognize a lot of people will miss them, and a potential solution could be the ability to select multiple labels in a single search. But ideally this would be supported by the graphical UI (ctrl-select?), which is not the case now, so you need to type in complex search criteria.

    Keeping BOTH systems: for me “merging” the two results in a streamlined UI, but each to his own.

    Case in point: Zoho Mail, which now offers both labels and categories, separately. They are not a favorite with the “innovator types” (an extreme characterization again), but corporate customers with an Outlook culture love it.

  8. sviergn

    Thoughts in a similar vein (with somewhat different conclusions) about folders vs. labels and Google’s motivations in making labels more foldery.

  9. Conner

    I keep seeing people completely misconstrue the problem here between Labels and Folders.

    I think its a truism that the majority of people who want folders can live with the labels.

    However, where the real problem is is that you can nest labels natively.

    All I want Google to do is take the great Label / Folder system Google Docs uses and plug it into Gmail.

    Is it really *THAT* hard?

  10. Ordeningen: de charme van de restbak « Doc 1.5
  11. Now Tell the Difference Between Folders and Labels | CloudAve

    [..] But of course it’s all semantics … and I don’t want to quote my posts from a year ago … I suggest you read it (yes, shameless self-promo) because in the original post I laid outquite a few concepts for the improvement of folders / labels / tags.. whatever we call them. [..]

  12. Now Tell the Difference Between Folders and Labels

    [..] But of course it’s all semantics … and I don’t want to quote my posts from a year ago … I suggest you read it (yes, shameless self-promo) because in the original post I laid outquite a few concepts for the improvement of folders / labels / tags.. whatever we call them. [..]

  13. » Tags, labels, folders… To the end user, the difference is merely technical and should

    [..] , aiming to complement my folder hierarchy with tags. But inertia affects all, and I actually never went beyond happy experimentation.As Zoli Erdos puts it in his eloquent description of Google’s 2009 breakthrough in ending the tags vs. folders war: [..]

  14. Staying connected to our users

    […] of Gmail that Google had to adapt to more traditional users’ expectations. Remember the folders vs labels war of a year or two ago? Gmail’s original author staunchly refused to provide folders, wanting to help people adapt […]

  15. Johnross1968

    I keep hearing people say “Labels and folders are the same thing”.
    If thats the case then why not let the user decide if he wants LABELS OR FOLDERS.
    I would have switch fully from Hotmail to Gmail years ago if they would only add FOLDERS to Gmail.
    Oh yeah btw LOVE how insulting your post is to people who want folders instead of labels. Its not that I don’t want to learn how labels work or i’m too old and set in my way its I WANT FOLDERS AND NOT LABELS. How would you feel if you really liked a service like say Gmail but they said “NO LABELS FOR YOU…YOU MUST USE FOLDERS, AND LIKE IT!!!”
    (yeah I yell a lot)
    You sound a lot like the Linux fan boys who bash anyone who wont switch to Linux from windows. “Linux Rox and Windoze suxs and so do you for using it” What a load of crap.

    Im going to assume you just miss-worded what you were trying to say instead of possibly mislabeling you an ass.

  16. Empty your inbox with Gmail filters | Alexandra Samuel

    […] I use “folders” and “labels” somewhat interchangeably, because the labels I use on Gmail turn up as folders in Mail.app. If you find this confusing, or want to understand the nerd mojo behind the distinction, read this post/ […]