On fixing what ain’t broke

I’m human (for those of you who were wondering), and like most humans, I’m not completely comfortable with change.  We like the familiar.  That’s why we invent traditions and customs – to ensure future generations do things the same way as us so that we don’t have to change.

However, along with a significantly smaller proportion of the world’s population, I also recognise the need for change.  As stated previously, without change we run a big risk of stagnating.  Blindly adhering to tradition is usually more damaging than not adhering to tradition at all.

But, and this is a big but, change for the sake of change is pointless, causes unnecessary stress and just makes life difficult.  Take the one supermarket in my town.  They went through a phase where the organisation of their aisles changed every two months.  I would walk in there and nothing would be in the same spot as it was the week before.  This is particularly frustrating if you were only going in to pick up one item and had intended to walk straight to the relevant shelf, only to find that it had been moved and the aisle directory had not yet been updated.  (At the moment that supermarket’s shelves are divided into two separate grocery sections with cleaning products and the like in between.  They also have petfood and hardware in the same aisle, with garden and kitchenware sharing another).

The people who run the internet like making changes.  A few weeks ago I logged in to WordPress one morning to find the appearance of the dashboard had changed.  The changes were only cosmetic and I quickly got used to it, but it was disconcerting at first.  Facebook last week introduced Graph Search and apparently they’re busy changing the timeline appearance as well.  Thanks to Graph Search there’s a new flood of panicked messages of how to protect your privacy which don’t know what on earth they’re talking about (here’s an article that actually does), so naturally everyone is sharing those messages indiscriminately (to my growing frustration), but at least they have been warning us of the changes for some time, so I’ve been able to prepare myself.

And then there’s Gmail.  I’m a big fan of Google (except the glasses).  I can’t imagine going back to a life without an Android phone, Google Maps or Google Translate, and I’d rather quit the internet before going back to Internet Explorer.  But they have really managed to upset me with these inbox tabs of theirs.  (For those of you who don’t use Gmail, they’ve decided to help their users manage their unread mail by automatically sorting it into categories on which Gmail arbitrarily decided.  That means if you log in to your e-mail you no longer see all your unread mail, but your unread e-mails are distributed among up to five different tabs, necessitating you to click on each tab individually to see all your mail.)

First there’s the implication that I’m not able to sort my own mail.  Second, it’s completely superfluous.  You already have the option of a priority inbox to separate important mail from everyday stuff and read mail can be sorted with one mouse-click under labels over which you have complete control.

But now they feel unread mail needs to be sorted as well.  For me (and I’m aware there are many people who disagree and think this is a great idea) this is actually wasting time because now I have to go look for new mail in several different locations.  On my PC I can at least disable this feature, but the Android app on my phone and tablet don’t allow the same (oh, you can go to settings and deselect categories, but there’s no option to save the changes).  And when I open the app it only shows the mails in the one tab which have already caused me to miss mails during the day laying in a tab that was hidden by the app (because against all logic it went and sorted two mails from the same sender into two different categories).

I think what irks me most is the suddenness of it all.  There was no warning that a major change to the interface was coming, and when it came it was simply activated – there was no option to opt in like they did with the new compose interface.

I would have been able to handle it if I could customise it, but at present you have to use Gmail’s predetermined categories.  And you have to train Gmail to sort your mail correctly.  Training my e-mail doesn’t make my life easier; it doesn’t save time, it wastes time.

Not that Google cares.  They know it will be more disruptive for me to get a new e-mail address than to just grind my teeth and get used to the new interface.  And they’re close enough to having a monopoly that they don’t really have to care what anyone thinks.

It would still have been nice if they actually gave their users a choice in the matter.  Or if they didn’t go changing things that are already working fine.  Or maybe I’m just not as open to change as I like to tell myself.

How do you feel about the new Gmail inbox?

9 thoughts on “On fixing what ain’t broke

  1. Arrrg yes, this has been driving me mental! I came across the Gmail change the other day and like you’ve mentioned I don’t see the point of it, it just makes manuring the emails more awkward.

    As for Facebook I hate the stupid thing and I wish they would stop changing things about it so I have to keep hearing about it, lol!

    1. All I hate about Facebook is the panic that ensues among uninformed users every time a minor change takes place. I take it you’re not a user?

      I just wish Google would sort out the Android app so one can turn this feature off. I sent them a message using the feedback option on the app. Hopefully enough other people did the same that they’ll notice the problem and fix it.

      1. True. Unfortunately I am a user. I got rid of my original account when they first brought in the timeline, I didn’t like the idea of it and I was just fed up with Facebook in general, but I had to start up a new account again in order to converse with people on my course on assignment etc. Once that’s over though I’m getting rid of it again!!!

        Hopefully they will, good luck!

  2. This sounds like something that would insult my intelligence if I used gmail. I wonder if clicking the various tabs counts as additional pageviews for them. If it does, they probably get extra advertising revenue because of the change…

    1. You know, I wanted to use the phrase “insults my intelligence”, but didn’t want to infringe on your copyright.

      You could be right about the ads. Why do anything if it doesn’t generate money somehow? One tends to forget that Google is just another profit-driven company as most of their services are free.

  3. I turned off the Google mail changes – took me a while to get back to status quo, but I did it. I often wonder with this and all the other adjustments on perfectly good products whether it’s being just done for change’s sake. We’re conditioned, I think, to think that if something hasn’t changed for a wile, it’s old – the word ‘refresh’ (pronounced, in this context, US style – “ree-fresh”) gets used in this context and pretty much sums it up. Like you, I do wonder why it’s done, sometimes.

    1. I think you hit the nail on the head there. Seth Godin also writes about it often. He focuses on the marketing aspect and cautions against change for change’s sake.

      Maybe the reasoning is that we get so used to the product that we don’t think about using it anymore. Question is, is that necessarily a bad thing? I’d rather have people using my product without constantly thinking about it than have them thinking about it with anger and frustration.

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