Sunday, May 13, 2012

i remember when gmail was good

Google made themselves famous by being great at search and creating fast spartan interfaces that get the job done quickly.  How much that last statement sounds true to you probably depends on how old you are, but those are some of the reasons I've been a loyal Gmail user since way way waaaaaaay back when the service first launched.

If you can't tell from the heading, my opinion has changed.  I'm now constantly having "WTF moments."  Generally it's been the fact that Gmail is now ridiculously slow.  Back when I was accessing e-mail with a dial up 14.4kbps modem (I don't think there was Internet e-mail till then), I'd recall having to wait for e-mails to load and send, but that seems fast to Gmail today.  I often find myself counting 1... 2... 3... 4... 5... 6... 7... as I wait for messages to load, returning to my inbox, and sending messages.  I'm pretty sure dial up was faster.  Plus with dialup I could see progress as each 8-bit character was received and displayed on my screen.  Now I only get to see Gmail claim to send my message "in the background" as I attempt to do something else in the foreground (it never works).

Anyway...  I'm rambling.  I'm really here to walk through my most recent shitty Gmail experience.  I wanted to check when my parents are coming to visit and what times their flights were.  Here goes:

  1. Search Gmail for "betsy seattle"
    Makes sense.  A full page of results, but mostly chatter about other topics.  The most recent travel itineraries are a series of trips I took to Cleveland in the summer of 2011.  FAIL.
  2. Look in my "Mom" folder
    I know Gmail search sucks, so I abandon it hoping I can find it through my labels/folders.  I go look.  There is too much stuff in here for me to find. FAIL.
  3. Search "seattle" in my "Mom" folder
    I see many itineraries for trips I have taken in the past to visit my parents.  I do not see the one I am looking for.
  4. Search "july" in my "Mom" folder
    I get two conversations.  Neither is what I am looking for. FAIL.
  5. Go to Outlook and hope that I left myself some clues in my calendar
    This should be a sign of failure since if I had this info I wouldn't be doing the search in the first place.  Somehow I see that I marked the arriving flight as flight 5451.  I didn't note down their departing flight, however, so I still needed to find the itinerary.  I didn't note the airline, which doesn't help.
  6. Search "5451"
    If I search the exact flight number, I should get the itinerary, right?  WRONG.  Zero results. FAIL.
  7. Search "5451" in all mail items including deleted mail
    In case I deleted it.  Nothing.  FAIL.
  8. Guess they are flying United.  Search "united cleveland"
    This should got get me anything special.  However, I see a bunch of new items.  I open one and see a flight to Seattle.  I think I have a winner!  Wait...  that's one for me flying back to Seattle, not my parents.  I keep looking down the list and see an e-mail from my dad about a schedule change. I open it.  I WIN! Here's a few things the e-mail contained:
    • Forwarded by my dad to my mom, Betsy, using her Gmail address.  She is in my address book under her name.
    • Contains the string "Seattle/Tacoma" twice.  Basically, my first search should have worked, although you could argue that you shouldn't expect a very shitty search engine to find "Seattle" in "Seattle/Tacoma" or "betsy" in her e-mail address that contains that string.  If you think this is what to expect from Google, then you're saying that Google is a very shitty search engine.  It really makes me wonder.
    • Has dates in the ddMMM YYYY format (e.g., 09JUN 1969).  I wouldn't expect a mediocre search engine to find july.  I expect a good search engine to.  I think we've already found that Gmail's search is shit.
    • Contains the string "5451".  I expect even a shitty search engine to find "5451" when my query is "5451".  WTF is wrong with you, Google?  At this point you don't even make it to the "shitty search engine" standard.
    • Contains "Cleveland" three times
    • Contains "United" 13 times
Next time, I'll remember that if I want to find something in Gmail, instead of searching for unique terms, I should search for really common terms that I expect to find multiple times and then manually go through many many emails to find what I am looking for.

Note that all this is happening with an inbox that is 9% full with 9,797 messages.  It's not as if I'm challenging Gmail to search through an insane number of messages.

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