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(San)deep's World. Wise observations from Prof. Sandeep Krishnamurthy, Associate Professor of Marketing and E-Commerce, author, educator, Dad, coach, racquetball player, evangelist, speaker and thinker.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

How Gmail Changed My Behavior.

I(Prof. Sandeep Krishnamurthy) got my very own GMail account on June 15, 2004. I have since used it regularly for a variety of purposes.

It has been frustrating to see how GMail has been characterized in the media. To many observers, the only point of GMail seems to have been the increased storage space. "The E-mail Storage Wars", the pundits say. You may have noticed that Hotmail and Yahoo have responded to GMail in only one way- increased storage space (and that too, mostly for paid subscribers). I cannot tell you how deep a misunderstanding of GMail this represents. I wonder if the pundits at MSN and Yahoo noticed a tiny phrase on the front page of GMail ("Search. Don't Sort."). This is what is important and new.

Most e-mail users(I am thinking of those of you who use Outlook, Outlook Express, Hotmail or Yahoo) find old messages by sorting. When I try to search for something on Outlook, it takes FOREVER and my computer starts making funny noises. That always makes me nervous. Moreover, the Outlook results are not stunning, to say the least.

On the other hand, GMail lets you search through your INBOX to locate old e-mails. The results are displayed along with snippets(just as in the Google search results page) and are delivered seemingly instantaneously. This is something I am not used to and it took me a while after I got the account to use it. Now, I am quite addicted to to it.

More importantly, GMail has changed how I compose my e-mails in these ways.

First, I try to provide more information in the subject line since GMail's search covers subject lines. If I am e-mailing myself a file, for instance, I tend to now fully describe the nature of the file- e.g. "this is the analysis of Kamehameha I wanted for class number nine" rather than a more cryptic "class lecture 9". This allows me to search for more things. For instance, I could search for Kamehameha rather than class. The "class lecture 9" is, obviously, a bad habit I developed due to sorting of messages.

Second, I no longer put every message I get in a sub-sub-sub-folder. Bye bye- "class lectures>Spring 2004>commerce in ancient hawaii>lectures>lecture number 9". I can keep everything in one messy INBOX and find stuff by searching, not sorting.

Third, I am now able to retrieve messages based on the content of the message rather than the properties of the sender. I ask 56 students to send a 2 paragraph writeup on the future of the web, say. I can search for the phrase "future of the web" three months later when I have to grade them and find every message without having to sort for a name. The problem with sorting for a name is that people have funny ways of saying their name. Consider a name- "Anastacia Reddy". This may be organized as "Reddy, Anastacia", "Anastacia Reddy", "A. Reddy" and "Student Government President, Anastacia Reddy". It is a nightmare to find a message when you remember the person one way and the person says their name in another way. No more. Search on content- not on people's characteristics.

In closing, here is my memo to pundits. GMail is not about the storage. It is about the search. Remember- "Search. Don't sort".

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