Watch out Google. Because of its user interface, you just lost a Gmail user to, of all things, Microsoft Hotmail.
Well, I'm not completely quitting Gmail - I'm keeping my account open, but I just started using the newly revamped Hotmail to read and respond to email.
The reason is simple. Unlike Gmail, Microsoft gives users a choice whether to view mail in reverse chronological order (the most recent message always on top) or in what Google calls "conversation" mode.
The way Gmail works is that replies to messages follow the original message in a single group or thread. That can be a great way to keep all related messages together but it can also make it harder to find the most recent message.
I have nothing against this format; I just think it should be an option and if Henry Blodget's sources are correct, Google may soon be offering this option. So, if you're listening Google, please count me among the people who want a choice. Conversations are good, but being able to quickly find your most recent messages is also very good.
I understand why some people like the Google method. On his blog, my friend Dave Taylor defends the conversation mode, calling it "one of the more desirable features of Google's Gmail service. I disagree.
I find it confusing and because new messages can be buried under old ones, I sometimes miss important messages. When I check email, I almost always want to see the latest message. I'm rarely interested in the history and, when I am, there are other ways to find that out.
Using Hotmail to access Gmail
There are some workarounds, but not within Gmail. For example, you can access your Gmail in reverse chronological order using Outlook, Thunderbird or any other traditional email program. Or you can forward your Gmail to another webmail service like Yahoo, AOL or Hotmail. Hotmail also allows you to add Gmail as an extra email address allowing you not only to read your Gmail from your Hotmail account but to respond from within Hotmail and display your Gmail return address.
The new Hotmail has some other nice features including the ability to view messages from social networking sites, your contacts, groups you belong to and even delivery notification in separate folders. The service also makes it easy to locate attached photos and attachments from Microsoft Office and open them online using Microsoft's new free web-based Office applications.
Happy to switch back
Of course, I'm always happy to switch back to Gmail as soon as they fix this problem. And, for me, switching email services isn't a big deal since, for only $10 a year, I have my own domain which allows me to have a unique address that is automatically forwarded to Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo or any other email service. To their credit, both Hotmail and Gmail display that unique email address as the "reply to" when I send out mail.