HONEY, I SHRUNK THE EMAILS!
By Francis Wade
Tuesday, November 16, 2010.
In prior posts I have made the point that Outlook and Gmail have become much more than email programs. While they both started out as email managers, they have become the primary portals that people use to manage time demands of all kinds. I have argued that they do a poor job for the majority of users because they are designed for email management, rather than time demand management.
Recently, Google opened up a site to ask for suggestions on how to improve Gmail.
So far, they have gotten 2844 votes on all aspects of the program, but to my biased eyes, it seems as if there is a theme emerging.
Instead of just using lists of tasks, users want to integrate them into their calendars. (In the 2Time ranking of skills, it equates to an upgrade from Yellow to Orange Belt in the practice of “Scheduling.”)
I read through a few hundred suggestions and it struck me that anyone who is interested in creating a time management portal could use the information as market research — after all, this is a lot of data gathered from some very committed users of Gmail who are essentially asking anyone to come up with something better than the Gmail portal they are forced to use now. I am not too optimistic, however, that Google will be able to make the leap that users want.
As I read through the suggestions, voted on quite a few and added some of my own, it struck me that the worst thing to do would be to figure out the most popular requests and simply add them to the list of features to be developed in the next release.
That’s a little like polling one’s family members to find out which surgery they think Great-Grandpa needs in order to get better. In other words, it’ a bad way to make a decision of this complexity.
What Google really needs is not a bunch of suggestions, but some kind of time management philosophy around which to design an entirely new kind of portal that will be fully integrated into Gmail, and Google Calendar in a holistic way that mimics the habit patterns that users are likely to follow.
In my articles and on my blog The 2Time Management System, I offer a philosophy of sorts, and there are a number of books and websites that do the same. Adding more features willy-nilly will simply leave the door open to a competitor who gets it, and offers users a portal that puts the task of email management in its place alongside a number of other tools that people use to manage their time.
This isn’t to say that the research Google is doing is useless. Far from it. But it needs a context or framework to make all those suggestions come to life, and to prevent Gmail from simply becoming another Outlook in terms of its zillions of features, and heavy ponderous feel.
Francis Wade is a management consultant based in Kingston, Jamaica. He blogs at The 2Time Management System.