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16 Oct 2007

Dear Gmail – I know it’s been a while since we’ve spoken—come to think of it, I don’t think we’ve ever really communicated directly—but I’ve got something I just need to get off my chest. Please just bear with me and let me get it all out before you say anything. OK, here goes.

“I felt betrayed. Why must you do this? Is it jealousy? Do you not want me meeting new people? I just don’t understand.”

First of all, I want to say that I still like you... I just don’t know if it’s love anymore. In fact, I don’t know if it ever was love. Maybe it was just the excitement of a new relationship. The way you organized all of my emails into conversation threads? That was something no one had ever done for me before. It blew my socks off. Then there were the labels, which, while not completely original, were still quite welcome. I thought I had finally found “the one,” the webmail that would make all my dreams come true.

Lately, though, I’m starting to wonder. I still think you’re a great webmail, but some of the things you do get on my nerves sometimes. I realize that this is a normal phase in the development of any relationship. Once you get past the initial infatuation, the cracks start to show and you have to face the reality of your partner. I never expected you to be perfect—that’s not the problem. The problem is that I just don’t feel like I can talk to you about these things. I’ve tried, although you probably don’t even remember.

I’m sorry. That was passive-aggressive and a low blow. I shouldn’t have said that. I’m just frustrated. My point is that I don’t feel like I’m being heard when I try to talk to you about these problems. I did send you an email or two in an attempt to explain how I felt, but I never heard back from you. Even sending those emails was a chore—your help center is like a big run around designed to prevent me from communicating with you directly. That’s why it has come to this. I know it’s a grade-school thing to do, like passing notes around the playground at recess, but I just don’t know how else to make myself heard. I’m hoping that maybe someone who knows you better will have some advice, or that maybe even you yourself will read this and respond. One can always hope, right?

Enough generalities. I said that some of the things you do get on my nerves, and it’s only fair to let you know what they are. Actually, I can live with everything else, but the way you handle my spam is driving me up the wall. When we first got together I was amazed at how you managed to keep all the clutter out of our lives, how you made sure that only the email that mattered got through. I never had a false positive, and only rarely did a piece of spam slip through into my inbox.

These days, much more spam slips through, maybe one spam mail every day or two. But in the greater scheme of things it’s no big deal, and I can live with it. It’s the false positives that are killing me. My website (the one you are reading right now) has a contact form that sends comments to me via email. I used to handle this email through the webmail program provided by my host. It was very bare bones, with no flashy interface, no conversation threading, not even a built-in spam filter. But I rarely got spam from that form, so I didn’t mind.

Then one day I decided to trust you with my site comments and set up that account so I could access it through your interface. At first I thought everything was fine, but one day, as I was skimming through the spam, I saw a site comment in there. I quickly selected it and told you that it wasn’t spam, and you dutifully shuttled it into my inbox. When it happened again, I grew suspicious. I don’t remember how long it took me to realize what was happening, but it shocked me when I did—you were throwing every site comment from someone not already in my contacts into the spam folder. I’m not sure if you realize how serious this is. In a word, anyone who had not emailed me before was destined for the spam pile.

Maybe this is no big deal for some people, but I happen to get a lot of first-time email. For some reason, your dad (the big G) loves me, and I get a lot of people who find me through Google searches and drop me a line to say hi or ask a question. While I love hearing from friends and family, it is these emails that really make having a website worthwhile. I just love the fact that I can put a little piece of myself out there and people whom I’ve never met before—and in most, but not all, cases probably never will meet—will respond to that. It makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

So it was a tremendous shock to find out that you were thoughtlessly throwing all these precious emails into the spam pile. I felt betrayed. Why must you do this? Is it jealousy? Do you not want me meeting new people? I just don’t understand. What I have the most difficulty comprehending, though, is why you give me no say in the matter. I can’t do anything about these emails getting labeled as spam. You would think that there would be some way to make sure certain emails don’t get spammed, and I’ve talked to fellow Gmail users who swear that there is a way, but no one has been able to give me a specific solution.

It is easy to make sure that email from certain addresses doesn’t get labeled as spam. All I have to do is accept an email from a certain address and all future mail from that address will go into my inbox. But let’s say I want to make sure that all emails with a certain phrase in the subject line, for example—whether I’ve received email from this person before or not—go into my inbox and not into my spam folder. Unfortunately, there is no way to do this. You offer a bunch of options when creating filters, but none of them help me here. For example, I can trigger a filter based on the sender, the recipient, the subject line, a group of words that the email should contain, or a group of words that it shouldn’t contain. Then there are five options, five things that can be done with these emails: “Skip the Inbox (Archive it),” “Star it,” “Apply the label: [dropdown],” “Forward it to: [textfield],” “Delete it.”

But none of these help in my particular situation. As far as I can tell, attempting to archive these messages does nothing, and they still end up in my spam folder. I obviously don’t want to delete them, and if I’m going to forward them to another email address (if it would even work—I suspect that you might be unwilling to forward what you consider spam) I might as well just use another webmail. So the only options I have left are to star the messages and apply a label. I do both, but this does not prevent all those emails from ending up in the spam folder. It does make it easier to sift through all the spam to find these emails, but I shouldn’t have to do this.

So what’s the deal? I can handle your other quirks and idiosyncrasies. You’re growing, and I understand that. We all are. No one’s perfect. But this is enough to make me tear my hair out, especially when I forget to poke through the spam folder and find out a week later that an email had escaped my attention. If I had a thousand won for every time I had to start an email with an explanation of your weird behavior I could probably retire. It’s embarrassing, to be honest.

I’m not saying that we’re through or anything like that. I’m willing to work at this relationship, and I’m pretty happy with the way you handle my other accounts. It’s just this one account—all the email from my site—that is not getting the care and attention it deserves. It pains me to say this, but I have needs too, and I may have to look elsewhere to meet those needs. It’s nice to have all my email in one place, but is it worth the frustration and aggravation? The more I think about it, the more I am inclined to answer in the negative.

But I’m willing to give you a chance. I’m not getting my hopes up, because you’ve never before responded to my attempts to contact you directly, but I’m hoping that Google’s inexplicable (and, to be perfectly honest, slightly creepy) love of my site might bring this to your attention. It’s more likely that others who have experience with you might offer advice or consolation. The bitter irony of this is that I will have to trawl through my spam folder to find most of these emails.

I don’t know if there is a solution to this, but I just couldn’t keep quiet anymore. I had to let you know how I was feeling. OK, I’ve had my say. If you’re still out there, if you’re still listening, if you still care about me like you once said you did, then it’s now your turn to talk. I’ll be waiting.

(To my regular readers: this is not the entry I was referring to at the end of my last note. I had thought that this was going to be just another quick note, but I guess I got a little emotional. At any rate, it shows that the theory behind the notes actually works—I’ve written an entry that I wouldn’t have otherwise written.)

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