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Matts (1087)

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I work for MessageLabs [] in Toronto, ON, Canada. I write spam filters, MTA software, high performance network software, string matching algorithms, and other cool stuff mostly in Perl and C.

Journal of Matts (1087)

Wednesday May 12, 2004
04:26 AM


[ #18710 ]

I haven't written in my journal for ages, so instead of trying to catch up on all the things that have happened since I last wrote I figure I'll just skip that stuff...

So gmail. Someone nice gave me an invite. I wanted to see how their spam stuff works, what the hoo-hah over the conversations interface is all about, and and generally have a play. So I created an account to play with (postmaster and mailer-daemon were taken, "abuse" and plain "help" were too short).

In short I'm not that impressed.

First the good: The conversations stuff is quite smart. Though I don't prefer it to hierarchical threading. The problem is the only place I use threading is in mailing lists, and there I prefer to go and read specific threads, rather than read mails in the order they arrive. Gmail assumes you want to read things in the order they arrive, while still giving you access to the previous mails in the thread.

The UI is quite slick. It tries very hard to be like a local application. More on this below though. Nice to have keyboard navigation in a web app.

Ability to add more than one label to things is good.

Now the bad:

The filtering (labelling) sucks. I wouldn't mind it so much if it labelled but moved stuff out of my inbox. When I subscribe to a high traffic mailing list I want it out of the way of my other mails. That should be easy to fix though.

In order to make the UI "slick" they've gone all out on javascript. In making keyboard navigation work they've made keyboard navigation not work. What do I mean by that? Well the back button doesn't work in gmail! This is fundamental stuff! Mails don't have URLs in gmail - they're just accessed via some opaque javascript stuff. This makes using gmail really painful for me.

The size isn't all that impressive. I figure I could easily fill a gmail account if I subscribed to a few mailing lists. I realise this isn't what's expected of a web mail system (you wouldn't subscribe to lkml through your hotmail account) but it has to be expected when they set themselves up as email for life.

Lack of being able to delete things concerns me.

Their spam filters suck. It has yet to stop one single spam for me (I've only had about 20 so far, but that's a pretty appalling track record!). I have not "trained" the system yet, but I'm a big believer that I shouldn't have to. There are very good anti-spam systems out there that don't require the user to tell the system what is and isn't spam.

All in all I'm in the "fail to see what the excitement is all about" camp.

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  • I figure I could easily fill a gmail account if I subscribed to a few mailing lists.

    I would not be surprised if the next step in the Google world domination plan would be a centralised mailing list archive, along the lines of, that gmail users could 'virtually subscribe' to, getting the messages but only having them stored once system-wide.

    • In fact, one exists that already fits their naming convention [] :-)
    • This was announced today, and I saw the announcement on Slashdot before I read this post. I was going to reply here and say if the services were integrated, they could easily store one copy of a "Google Groups 2" message so that it didn't count against the 1Gb total of potentially many subscribers with gmail.

      J. David works really hard, has a passion for writing good software, and knows many of the world's best Perl programmers
  • Matt -- have you seen my review of their spamfiltering []? I compared it to SA 2.63 + some rules, and Found It Wanting (FP: 0, FN: 10% vs FP: 1.32%, FN: 31.42%).

    Also, I agree regarding the broken URLs and back button. drives me nuts.

    But I do like the Conversations -- I'm hoping to persuade a few open source apps to follow suit with that thread-display format ;)

    PS: take a look at those referrers on that page! Wonder who http://team/sites/hotmail/do/Lists/Worthwhile%20Blog%20Posts/AllItems.aspx and http

    • Yeah, I did see that. But what I don't want to do is compare a spam filter by forwarding. That way you're doing content filtering only (really). We detect most of our spam (at MessageLabs) now via non-content methods (mostly related to the SMTP session), and I thought it only fair to let gmail do the same.

      Looks like they could do to hire some good anti-spam people ;-)
      • 'Looks like they could do to hire some good anti-spam people ;-)'

        But only if they're PhDs in the Valley... reportedly ;)
  • Does everybody else on the entire planet have an invite to play with GMail apart from me...

    <sulk> :-)