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Let's Stop the Google Conversation: Unthread


Two months ago I said:

"If you fully understand Google's threaded email conversations, you can't help but like them. Although there are rumors that Google will provide an opt-out of this trademark feature, threads are a requirement of the Gmail client today and something you need to understand as soon as possible."

Well, the rumor was true.

Google now provides you with an option to disable this trademark feature. You may see this as good news and will rush out to flip off the switch, but I'm guessing you'll be disappointed. Unthreaded email takes more work, seems boring, and messages are isolated from their proper context. See my earlier column for more.

How to Disable Threaded Conversations

1. In Gmail, click "Settings" in the upper right hand corner of the screen:

Screenshot of Gmail Settings.

2. Towards the middle of the list of setting options, you will find "Conversation View." Select "Conversation view off".

Screenshot of Conversation View settings.

3. Click "Save Changes" at the bottom of the screen.

That's it. Go back to your inbox and enjoy. Or, realize that I was right all along and turn Conversation View back on. You can toggle the setting back-n-forth as often as you desire.

A Note of Clarification

If you have Conversation View turned off and label two individual messages with two different labels, when you turn Conversation View back on, the conversation will have both labels, but you will not be able to see which message had which label.

Change is Sometimes Good

Gmail provides many of the most innovative approaches to email available today. Features like Conversation Threads, Labels, Priority Inbox, and Calendar integration are all designed to make the laborious task of reading and responding to your email easier and more productive. Efforts to keep things the way you had them before, like turning off threads, won't help you in the long run. I encourage you to keep an open mind--maybe change can be a good thing.

I leave you with a quote from Edward Carney, our tech support colleague from Speech Language and Hearing Sciences:

"Heaven help me, I just realized I can't go back. One look at that sea of unorganized e-mails and I quailed. Is conversation view really a good idea or am I just wearing rose-colored Googles?"


Thanks for posting this, threading is incredibly annoying. Now everyone will be happy - those who tried it and like it, and those who tried it and hate it.

I don't find answering e-mails to be a laborious or onerous task (or when I do, it's got more to do with weeding out spam than the inefficiency of my mail program). I don't know about Windows, but on mac mail, which I use at home, I can sort e-mail by name, date, or subject heading, and subject threads are highlighted, making everything easy to find and perhaps even a little more flexible than gmail. I'm actually not anti-gmail, nor am I against change. But I see g-mail's system as merely a different way of doing things rather than an improvement.

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