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The Problem with Webmail

I’ve been thinking over the past few days (god above knows what caused this train of thought….) about one feature I have never seen implemented in a Webmail system. I’ve used a few different systems in my time, Yahoo! mail, Excite, Squirrel Mail, Horde, a couple of other dodgy implementations that I can’t remember, and most recently GMail (which I’m still pretty much in love with.) But still none of these have let you see multiple email accounts in the same page.

Now, I know that the big providers let you access another account, typically by POP3, but these just download the email from your other account and dump it into your webmail inbox.

Compare this to an email application on your Desktop – whether that be Outlook, Mail.app, Outlook Express, Thunderbird, etc – when you add multiple accounts with those systems, you view each account completely separately. Some offer a unified inbox (which is great) but I also want to be able to split my email accounts out.

Ideally, I’d like to be able to access them using IMAP as well (but because of bandwidth, etc, that’s a bit of a pipe dream)

Thinking about this more, here’s how I would like it to work in Gmail.

  1. Emails are downloaded from my other accounts via POP3
  2. The “inbox” label is used for all emails downloaded – this becomes my unified inbox
  3. A link below the “Inbox” link on the left should be shown for all of the different accounts. This would include the default GMail Inbox. Clicking on one of these would show the inbox of just that account.
  4. A separate “account:” search flag is created for each account. This makes searching easier.
  5. The “Multiple Inboxes” labs feature could be used split out each account at the main inbox screen as well.
  6. Labels and filters work as they currently do.

What do you think Google? How about it?

Categories: Computers Tags: , ,
  1. June 16th, 2010 at 10:10 | #1

    I’m sure a combination of POP3 download (supported by GMail) some custom filters (filtering on the “to” field) and a greasemonkey script to put a couple of label links below the Inbox link would achieve most of this without requiring the intervention of the Google coders? I know this has a few faults, for example the to field is not so good to filter against because of emails you are BCC’d/etc, but it’s a pretty good 95% solution, methinks? You wouldn’t use account:hotmail to search, but instead label:account/hotmail (again, this could be changed through a greasemonkey script). You could even write your own GMail plugin and include it from Labs, that way you don’t need to install the greasemonkey script on all your web browsers…

    What I really want from GMail is a way to filter based on generic email headers.

  2. June 16th, 2010 at 12:10 | #2

    I did think that you could do it with some reasonably simple filters and labels – and I’m sure I could work fine like that – but for the general unwashed masses, there’s always the danger of removing the label which indicates which account it came from; hence the idea of having the search tag.

    The other problem is that I don’t always use Firefox, so the GreaseMonkey idea doesn’t work for me. I use FF at work for my personal account (but Chrome for my work’s Google Apps account), Chrome on my Windows laptop (or maybe FF, or Safari for my work account), on my MacBook Pro I use plain-old Safari (as installed) and on my old Mac Mini, I use either Safari or Camino. If I’m at my parent’s house, I’d probably use IE! As you can tell, I’m a browser whore! I do like the idea of writing a Labs script, so I might have a look at that!

    Thinking about it further, there would probably be issues with the threading as well – you’d possibly get a bit confused if the threading went over several email accounts so you probably don’t want to thread over different accounts.

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