On my never-ending quest to better handle e-mail, I started using Google Mail as my primary mail client last year. I was traveling so much it made sense to automatically forward all my gaskin.com e-mail to my Google account. That way, no matter where I was, there was my mail (a tip to Mike Azzara referenced in this column). If I had done the column on Everyone.net last year, I may be using them instead of Google.
It took some time to transition from cursing Google Mail because it didn’t do things the way I expected to appreciating the differences. I loved folders for messages, and Google doesn’t do messages, they use labels to search and find messages. That was different.
Now I think this difference is critical to moving to the next step in e-mail evolution, which is a better way to share existing mail messages. After all, if you can’t find a message, you can’t share the information.
Why are mail labels better than folders? Because mail messages can have multiple labels, but they can only be in one folder. Multiple labels still mean a single mail message, maintaining data integrity. Copying messages to multiple folders means you lose data integrity and are never sure if a modified message is the correct message.
Think of mail labels as meta-tags, like on Web pages. One page, but multiple ways to find that page. Maybe we can redeem mail someday if we keep thinking of better ways to handle existing mail messages.