So, no less weighty (and, both notably and relevantly, conservative) of a source than The Wall Street Journal has weighed in on the search versus sort paradigm of gmail.
Listen, I grew up on folders. I knew what ../ meant before you were born. I’ve created folders with the best of them. When you’re paying me $100 an hour, I’ll come up with a solution for you that’s so folder-heavy you’ll need to upgrade your server just to keep up. I know how to do it. I learned how to do it. I know the theories and techniques. I’m the most organized guy in the world if someone’s paying me to do it. But in real life, in my day-to-day existence, I simply can’t and won’t do it. I subscribe to a much different metaphor than the filing cabinet: piles, boxes, heaps. I pile stuff up until it becomes an annoyance and then I sweep it into a bigger container. I have folders on my current hard drive that represent the last six computers I’ve owned. I have hundreds of folders marked “desktop cleanup” plus the date. Every year Hitachi puts out a new, faster, more reliable hard drive that for $200 can hold the combined contents of every computer I’ve ever used, so why not?
I’ve tried folders. I’ve tried Outlook rules. That shit just doesn’t work for me. I can’t put in the time. I own a box of manila folders too. It doesn’t mean I actually employ them outside the period of April 1-15 each year. I don’t think in terms of senders and topics; I think in terms of keywords, concepts, snippets. When I need to find something in Outlook, I search. When I need to find something on my hard drive, from somewhere deep in the 300 gigs of data from my last six computers, I search. And in Outlook and on Windows, search sucks. Since I started auto-forwarding every email I receive to gmail 6 months ago, I can find absolutely anything, no matter how obscure, in less than 15 seconds. Gmail thinks like I do. So does Google. Google Desktop search is a little less ready for prime time, a little too web-heavy, but it’s still better than Windows Explorer search. When I heard that Microsoft was bailing on WinFS for Longhorn, I very nearly wept, and I very very nearly sold my Microsoft stock, because if they’re not upgrading the file system, then it’s all just more XP smoke and chrome. What the hell have they been doing for the last four years? Someone needs to tie Bill Gates to a chair and make him watch Star Trek on one of his projector-walls. Dude, nothing on my computer should take 30 seconds. 30 seconds in Pentium 4 time is my entire waking life.
So Google, keep going. Make my computer do the organizing for me. Better yet, make my computer do what it’s supposed to do: work the way I do but a million times faster. Because even my dysfunctional “organization” system would work well at 1,000,000X speed.