How to Switch Off GMail Conversation View

By Craig Buckler
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Even the most ardent Google basher has a GMail account. What’s not to like? It’s fast, free, offers several GB of storage, and has one of the best spam filters available. It’s great — even if you only use it for throw-away website registrations.

However, one of the more controversial features is “conversation view”. This groups related messages into threads and it’s been the only option since day 1. It’s a hotly-debated topic: the view works well, but takes a little mental re-configuration if you’re used to a traditional inbox such as (pre-2010) Outlook or other email clients.

According to Google’s blog:

We really hoped everyone would learn to love conversation view, but we came to realize that it’s just not right for some people.

Many people simply prefer a non-threaded inbox. If you’re in that group, you’ll be pleased to hear that Google has made conversation view optional. To change it:

  1. Click the “Settings” link at the top-right of the screen.
  2. On the General tab, select Conversation on or off (it’s the sixth option down).

GMail conversation view

(Note that the facility is being rolled out this week so you may have to wait another day or two before it appears. Business users should ensure “Enable pre-release features” is selected in the Google Apps control panel.)

It’s a welcome addition. I know several people who abandoned or struggle with GMail because conversation view is too different to their previous experiences. Automated threading has benefits — especially if you receive a lot of mail — but standard inboxes can be easier to understand and work well for many users.

But seriously Google, it’s taken 6 years implement this option! Better late than never, I suppose.

Do you love or hate threaded email views? Did you abandon GMail because of it? Does the new option encourage you retry the service?

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  • DEVlady

    When I saw this news this morning, I really couldn’t understand why some people hate Gmail’s built-in threaded conversation.

    • Some people have been using email for 20 years in a non-threaded view. GMail’s approach could benefit them, but many don’t like change and prefer the traditional inbox (which, to be fair, works fine in most situations).

      Remember also that conversation threading was only recently added to Outlook in the 2010 edition (and, from what I hear, it doesn’t work well). Outlook to GMail migration is less of a hurdle now.

      • DEVlady

        Craig, you’re right. And yes, Outlook and even Apple Mail’s conversation threading feature don’t work as great as that of Gmail.

    • Tom

      Why ? because it doesn’t always work as it should. Let say you have contact form on your web site and many request paer day for a quote – gmail will connect all this request (not only form single day) to loooooong conversation . Sure you can modify web form and create unique subject etc. but i can understand why ppl don’t like it. BTW Hotmail did conversation and i love it – it is easy to switch between views and work really good

  • Natalia Ventre

    I love threaded conversations, but at work I received responses to newsletters, and Gmail threads them, and it’s very hard to read all the messages. I hope the option is on Google Apps too, because all the cool new features are for Gmail only and I could really use some improvements at work.

  • Ngumbe

    I love Gmail threaded conversations! Keeps my inbox less cluttered and I can quickly track a conversation – it’s also pretty neat that you can search through emails. All in all, I’ve got Google love almost as bad as my dubli love :)

  • Gmail’s threaded conversation view is the reason I love Gmail so much

  • Same here. I love the threaded conversation. I’ve been using email for about 13 or 14 years and after using Google’s threaded conversations, I hate going to work and using my normal email client that doesn’t have threaded conversations.

  • Archie

    Hi Everyone,

    Personally I like the conversation view much. Today I finished a discussion of some project – there were 28 threads in total. I can’t just imagine, how I would take out all that trash from the inbox/sent box when the project is done. Additionally, if you need to reread something, you don’t need to scrooooooooll it down – you just open the needed thread an read.

    • wesko

      i totally agree with you its way more convenient

  • Anonymously

    From an evolutionary point of view it’s a step back… users hate change, and to be honest some if not most do not know what’s best from them.

    For example, I’ve heard people complain about threaded viewing before, but I’ve also heard people complain about tags vs folders. Should we really allow users to go back to using folders instead of tags? Really???

    Change is what it is, change… if we make it so easy for users to just except the status quo, or the state in which they exist, that’s what they’ll take.

    Personally I want to live in a world that is progressing, and not just happy to use what I’ve become accustom to using. Craig simple state that the reason to add this “retro-feature” is because users are unable to see the value in threading. Then that’s the issue.

    By the way, GMail rocks… to me, it’s by far the most stable, yet evolutionary tech product on the market. And it is the future platform of Google… within a few years all the messaging and document products will be bundled into a central interface, and I’m looking forward to it… :-)

  • [ DigitaL ]

    Good move!

  • Please don’t copy-paste-edit-a-little news, it’s sooo annoying and unprofessional ;(

    • Anonymously


      Where was this cut-n-paste from… people don’t write news, they write about news, I don’t get your point. What’s your point?

    • Hello ChrisPL,

      Have you read this post elsewhere? This is an original article, but note that SitePoint content is scrapped by those who can’t or won’t write their own material.

    • I have not read this exact text elsewere. My point is that this is rewriting what Google wrote without really adding anything new to the subject, just using other words. If you add a comparison with some other solutions, post your point of view on this etc. – that would be interesting. IMHO, no offence

      • I’m sorry you feel that way, but isn’t that exactly what I did? I compared it to Outlook and mentioned that the option should have been in GMail 6 years ago?