Google Relents On Threaded Conversations

Gmail users now have the option to turn off threads for a view of email that's closer to Outlook and other popular email services.
Posted September 29, 2010

David Needle

Gmail users now have a new option for how they can view emails. Wednesday, Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) announced that Gmail users will have the choice of turning off Gmail's "conversation view," an innovative feature in Gmail that the company admits not everyone embraced.

The threaded, conversation view combines the back and forth of online messaging into a single email message. When a new message in response to the original email exchange arrives, it's combined with the earlier messages as a single email thread or conversation that shows up at the top of the Gmail user's inbox as a new message.

"Conversation view is perhaps Gmail’s most hotly debated feature," Google software engineer Dong Chen said in a blog post. "Threading enthusiasts say they spend less mental energy drawing connections between related messages and that their inboxes are much less cluttered. On the other hand, email traditionalists like many former Outlook users think conversation just complicates something that has worked for years."

While not quite admitting the change was overdue, Chen did concede it took a while for Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) to recognize that some user's didn't like the threaded conversation model. "We really hoped everyone would learn to love conversation view, but we came to realize that it’s just not right for some people," he said in the post.

David Ferris, whose firm specializes in messaging and collaboration research, said Google is smart to give users a choice. "Personally, I welcome the change," Ferris, an analyst with Ferris Research, told "Quite often when I have to look at the entire email conversation it's a bother."

The news comes at a time when Google is trying to unseat Microsoft's (NASDAQ: MSFT) Office as the dominant productivity suite in the enterprise. It's already introduced several features designed to win over users of Microsoft Outlook. One of those, Google Apps Sync for Microsoft Outlook, lets users maintain the Outlook interface while using Google's email software.

“I personally prefer threaded conversations, but as an administrator who still needs to support some long-time Outlook users on Gmail, the unthreaded option is like gold." Russ Midford, senior information systems engineer at Sanmina-SCI, said in the Google post.

User's who choose to toggle off the standard Gmail conversation feature will see every email as an individual message in chronological order in their inbox. Google said the new feature will roll out over the next several days.

Google has also recently introduced other new features to Gmail. Earlier this month it added Priority Inbox, an optional view that automatically prioritizes how emails are organized. .

David Needle is the West Coast bureau chief at, the news service of, the network for technology professionals.

Tags: Google, Microsoft, Google Docs, Gmail, Microsoft Outlook

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