Friday, April 10, 2009

Gmail, a shift of paradigm

I have stated in this post how Gmail labels completely blew my mind when I discovered them.
Technically this is not an "Holy Shit!" per se. This is not a major breakthrough like the birth of internet.

However, as I said, the simplicity of the concept amazed me, because it is the first time where I really saw programmers design software that is not merely a copy of what we do "in real life".

Let me explain.

So far, email had been designed as an alternative to traditional mail. Letters, sent to an address, and unsurprisingly, stored in a... folder, just as you would do on a real desktop. Everything seems pretty normal so far, doesn't it?

But hey, wake up people! We are on a computer! We don't need to store data as we would do for real! We can have the data stored as one big blob, and have a computer retrieve it for us.

So why have we kept the traditional folder approach? What's even more surprising is that in typical email clients, mail is stored in a large file, and there is a reference to which "logical folder" it's stored in. So why only one folder? I wonder. Maybe it's because designers were afraid to confuse the end users. I think that it's probably because in fact nobody ever just thought a step further.

For the first time, I feel that the application is actually a computer application, not just "real life ported to a computer". My mail box is a kind of multidimensional storage engine that I could not even reproduce with paper folders.

And I'm trying very hard, but I don't think of that many applications that take advantage of the fact that we are on a computer, except by using raw processing power to do complex algorithms or huge storage space. Well apart from the fact that the labels concept is now mainstream and used in lots of web apps, this blog for instance.

2 comments: said...

GMail's labels are "web tags" applied on emails. Instead of tagging your blog articles or your pictures in Flickr, you tag your emails. It's just 2 well known technics (tags and emails), but put them together and you get a new way to manage your emails.

I saw the same kind of thing happen when I discovered ICQ in 1998. In this time, I knew IRC, email and Web for many years. But instant messaging was something new; it was a communication revolution. It wasn't a technical quantum leap (just a client/server program, not a big deal), but the functionality was amazing. Seeing your friends online/offline status, start a new discussion with one click... So simple, so easy, so new!

So yes, for me instant messaging is like what you see in GMail: functional revolution, well-known technics, and not a simple digital version of a real-world usage.

anti spam service said...

I agree. Google has been experimenting with gmail with storage functions, but their current model of bandwidght storage is limited.

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