Friday, January 27, 2006

humility: the gmail delete button

As a Gmail user, I had grown so used to opening the drop-down box and tabbing down to the delete option that when I didn't see it, I thought something was broken.

You see, I had come to accept Gmail's "Thou Art an Ass if Thou Throwest Email Away" point of view, and had resigned myself to being the sort of ass who deleted stuff.

So when I finally looked to the left and saw the "delete" button, I wasn't quite prepared for it.

That said, I like it. It says something important about software - you never know how people will actually use your product until you let them. Google paid attention, and reacted correctly.

I've learned to recognize that the way I imagine customers using my products is often very different from how they actually use them. Here's an example of this, but turned around a little.

I've had a bunch of conversations with our sales team lately - they've been wondering, "Hey, Bob, you were the InstallShield PM, and you used Update Service with it, tell me what you liked about it." What blew them away wasn't that I used it to send updates (which, while cool, is rather prosaic) but that I relied on it to know how fast new versions were adopted, what my product mix was, and stuff like that.

Their point of view on the value of the product was "ISVs need to send software updates". My point of view (as a customer) was "I need to know what's going on." And as a customer, my point of view wins.

Just for giggles, I've asked our developers to sit down with our own setup authors to see what aggravates them about InstallShield. They are, after all, customers. It may make your brain hurt when you realize that we use InstallShield to build our installations for. . .InstallShield. We've been listening to external customers for a long time, but we haven't listened as well to our internal customers.

Maybe we'll create a delete button. I'd like to think we'd do something sensible like that too.


Roger L. Cauvin said...

While we can be humble and accept the will of the users, the key to the Gmail delete button issue is to understand the reason for the demand for the delete button.

I've mentioned that putting a delete button in an e-mail reader almost certainly is not a requirement, but a design choice.

The underlying requirements are:

1. Ease of finding old messages of interest.
2. Scalability (not running out of storage space).

Gmail addresses these requirements - and extremely well, I might add - without including a delete button.

So the question remains: what problem does the delete button solve that Gmail didn't already address without it? Here are two possibilities:

1. Privacy - ensure that people looking over your shoulder or reading your e-mail won't see certain messages. For example, if your significant other has access to your e-mail, you might want to spare them the love letters from your exes.
2. A purely emotional (perhaps even obsessive-compulsive) need for a tidy inbox.

bob said...

A few thoughts. . .

Humility, by my way of thinking, describes an openness to and acceptance of the non-self. When I used that particular word in the title of the post, I wasn't suggesting any abasement on the part of Google to the primacy of end-user will - rather, I was applauding what I sensed was an openness to an alternative way of using their product that didn't jibe with their original design.

With regard to the two potential motivating factors you describe, neither privacy nor compulsive neatness were top-of-mind for me when I deleted messages from my Gmail account. That's not to say that they're both valid use-cases.

What motivated me to reach for delete from day 1 was the fact that I've got personal mail - which I plan on archiving forever, if possible - and non-personal mail - which is just a step above spam.

I subscribe to a number of mailing lists whose messages' value to me is ephemeral. White Flower Farm, United Airlines e-fares, a Games Workshop newsletter, Deep Discount DVD. . .there are probably a few more.

They land on the top of my inbox, I scan them, and then I want them out of my stack, since they have no lasting value to me.

Essentially, deleting email from Gmail keeps my "signal to noise" ratio at just the right level for me. The concept of "wasted storage" isn't the driver - it's the concept of "unnecessary data".

Well, maybe I'm a little compulsive. I'll admit to that.

Thanks for the comment.