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Gmail "archive = delete" followups

Sounds like I need to better defend my position that "archive" = "delete" on Gmail.

First of all, the full translation of what I meant to say, but was apparently not getting across:

"archive" on Gmail is the same as "delete" on pre-Gmail e-mail systems.

At least, that's how it is for me. I've got nearly every message I've received in my personal e-mail since the fall of 1996. A simple procmail rule has created a monthly backup of inbound mail through my Linux server ever since I discovered I could. Even in 1996, disk space was so cheap that it didn't make sense to throw mail away. This has saved my butt dozens of times, when finding proof that someone made a promise, serial numbers of web-registered software, or just, generally, e-mail that I deleted.

The workflow was simple. My inbox was mail that I still cared to read, or remember I had to react to. A sort of todo-list of active discussions and items. When I was done with something, I deleted it from my inbox, totally assured that I still had a copy of it in my backup folders. If the message clung to some sort of theme or contact thread (in my case, groups by friend/family/work, and subgroups for each meme or person, depending on how general the discussion was), then I'd file the messages appropriately instead of deleting them. One of my coworkers has nearly every message she's received in 3.5 years of working here in her Inbox, for the opposite reason. If she deletes something, she might not be able to find it when she needs it. I just choose to use the "out of sight, out of mind" approach. She uses search a lot more than I do, I suspect.

(For those comparing how useful Gmail will be, my mail archives currently occupy 1428megs of disk space, of which 812 is the inbound stuff, and 6 are sent mail. Or, in other words, I'd have about 818megs of my Gmail account in use, had I gotten it in 1996. So, I expect Gmail will have a 8-15 year lifetime for me, at its current offered capacity).

Alright, so, why'd I say "archive"="delete"? 'cause that's what I do right now, and that's exactly the translation that is happening as I use Gmail more and more. When I'm through with a Gmail conversation, I hit "archive", just like the handy little gmail getting started guide tells you to. It just so happens, and the reason I was commenting, was that the "y" key, an apparently overloaded "archive/remove label" key, does exactly this, modulo the ability to apply several labels to a message. In effect, it does exactly the same thing as delete does on my current folders, assuming I ever copied a message to multiple folders, instead of moving it to one specific one.

So, yes, "archive"="delete". Gmail doesn't want you to ever delete a message, so you're supposed to shift your mindset to "archiving" mail that you want out of your attention threshold. If I'm in a label's conversation list, probably populated mostly by a Gmail filter, and I hit "y" while reading a conversation, it gets "deleted". Just like my existing e-mail system, it's not gone, merely forgotten. That's the way Gmail's designers assume you're going to use it, and that's exactly my point.

I've been using an inferior pre-pre-beta of a Gmail system for 8 years, and I have to retrain myself to use the beta release.


To continue my refrain:

"archive" on Gmail is the same as "delete" on pre-Gmail e-mail systems.

At least for me it is.

I think a more proper way of phrasing of this, that has a more clear meaning: "On pre-Gmail e-mail systems I archived my deleted e-mail." That's my interpretation of what you're actually trying to say, and phrased that way it doesn't try to conflate the definitions of delete and archive. Otherwise, taking your bold statement at face value, I don't believe that it makes sense to most other people.

On Yahoo and Hotmail, delete really means delete. It goes into a Trash folder, and when you come back it may or may not be there, and it definitely won't be there next week. On Eudora, there is a setting to periodically clean out the trash bin as well. I'm also betting that you may find some companies out there who make it corporate policy to remove messages from the IMAP trash bin after a set number of days, especially given the embarrassments associated with subpeona'd e-mail. In general, the nature of a trash bin implies that the user doesn't expect the information to stay around forever; at some point in time a trash man can come around and empty it out. Most people don't have a custom backup script that archives their procmail. Most people don't even run their own mail server for that matter.

It seems to me that two trends are being conflated here. The first trend is that applications and operating systems have attempted to make it more difficult to delete. There are undelete programs, undo/redo commands, auto-checkpoints, Trash/Recycle Bins, track changes in MS Word, etc... Part of this trend is due to the availability of cheap storage; users aren't worried about running out of hard drive space, so semi-deletion is offered as an insurance policy. One anecdotal analogy is that in Japan, they introduced new dish soap that was more concentrated, and less of it was required to clean dishes. The companies selling the dish soap discovered that they needed to modify the dispenser, because people were still using just as much dish soap as before, which was defeating the whole marketing advantage.

In workflow terms, delete has always meant delete. It just happens that prior to cheap storage, people often delete items as an attempt to conserve space; GMail is trying to emphasize that conservation of space should not be a motive.

As a side note, I think the attempt to make deletion more difficult by keeping the deleted item around has lead to lots of consumer confusion in applications in MS Word; many a person and company and government has been embarassed because what they thought they were deleting was really sticking around. Note that this isn't equivalent to archiving; if it was archiving the user wouldn't be so surprised to find out that the information is still available.

The second trend is that archiving is being made easier. My previous comments about Lifestreams relates to this. People view archiving as a difficult task: the picking and choosing of folders to file information in is considered an annoying and time-consuming task. One of the goals in Lifestreams was to make archiving automatic, even removing information from the immediate view after a certain period of time. Weblogs and Photoshop Album can be viewed as extensions of this trend: both make archiving automatic.

I would even go as far to argue that auto-archiving is one of the reasons for Weblogs being so popular; it removes much of the maintenance task of composing Web pages. The front page is the inbox, and at some preset time entries disappear from this view but remain on their appropriate archive page. To argue, however, that auto-archiving on blogs is equivalent to deletion because it removes it from view would be absurd.

GMail makes archiving really easy and deleting harder. In fact, my Trash folder appears to be still holding the first e-mails I "deleted," and there is a menu option to "Delete forever." This doesn't make archiving and deleting equivalent. I think GMail is playing the role of the dish soap manufacturer here: making deletion harder to emphasize how much disk space they are providing.

BTW, I don't think the "y" key argument is defensible: as I said before, they don't expose the same functionality in their drop down menus. If you use the pull down menu for "archive" it doesn't strip the label, and "archive" isn't even available when you read a conversation in the labels view. Personally, I find the dichotomy between the two disconcerting. What they call "archive" in the GUI is not equal to the "archive" associated with the "y" key. The "y" key means "remove the current label," the "archive" buttons mean "remove the inbox label." Given that keyboard shortcuts are clearly targeted at geeks with their vi-ness, I think they should clear this dichotomy up and stop calling "y" archive.

Having used GMail a bit more, I think I'll soften my assertion that GMail is making it more difficult to delete e-mail. I still believe that they do, but there are reasons other than marketing for not making it really simple.

I think that could partly be motivated by "safety" issues. I've already had some minor chaos result with the keyboard shortcut keys. Between javascript bugs, multiple frames open but hidden, and accidentally shifting the mouse focus, there are a number of ways in which keyboard shortcuts can be accidentally triggered. I've already had a snafu of this type occur, and it's still unclear to me exactly what happened.

Having deletion triggered by accidental typing would be more unfortunate than most other accidental typings; with the exception of "report spam," all of the other keyboard shortcuts do not remove the e-mail from the "All Mail" folder, and moving an e-mail to the trash makes it searchable only if you go to the advanced search options page. Placing the Trash action under a pulldown menu, where the only other action close to it on the menu is "report spam," makes deletion less of an accidental, and more of an intentional act.

I'll save my complaints about the worthlessness of the report spam shortcut for some other time.

I never thought I would need to worry about this (at least for a long time), but does archiving messages in gmail result in a net gain in account storage space? Though I can't seem confirm this, it appears that the answer is no. Can someone please confirm/disprove this?

The scary background: after using a more "conventional" email service with a 2 MB storage limit with local mail download capability for years, I switched to gmail. Keep in mind that with the old service I would download messages to my local machine every 2-3 weeks. After 1 week on gmail I have used 30 MB (3%) of disk space! At this pace, in about 8 months I will be out of space on gmail.

Other questions that I need to worry about: - it appears messages can't be viewed by size in gmail - there is no message export capability in gmail (at least not yet).

Any suggestions?

Thanks in advance.

No, archiving won't give you more space. I think gmail, in general, expects you to keep pretty much everything on your account, which counts against your 1Gb quota.

Unfortunately, Gmail doesn't make it very easy to get at the size of a message. I haven't seen any way to search or filter based on size - I tend to mark big attachments into a special label, just so if I ever run out of space I can go back and weed out easily enough. It really is an inconvenience in the long run, to be sure. Likewise, since there's so much of a focus on conversations, you'd think there'd be a way to dump just the attachment from a message, thus preserving more of the flow of a conversation.

No, there's no export capability in Gmail yet, though they keep promising one will exist, perhaps not for free, before official launch. Likewise, a feature that they do have, but might start charging for, is the ability to send a copy of your messages to another account - you could combine this with your old account, where you download the content regularly, without having to give up Gmail's vast search and management features - you'd just have to go through and clean out some old content periodically.

I also used a lot of my gmail space quickly, but my growth of usage has slowed. I've accumulated mail at the rate of about 1 Gb every 5 years, across the last 10+ years. Unfortunately, it's an increasing trend, and I'm up to 94Mb since April.

My guess - Gmail will expand again in a few years, or offer more space for pay once it launches. That, plus an export feature, will do fine for me for a while. Especially, since it deletes spam - I'd been specifically avoiding deleting spam all these years, just segmenting it off to a specific folder. Why was I keeping it around?

how to get the mail which is archive. what is the difference between the archive and delete.

Regards Prasad

how can i get back my deleted messages in gmail which are deleted through 'deleteforever' button under spam section.

"Delete Forever" appears to really mean that. If you're looking for mistakenly caught spam, make sure you use "Not Spam".

Unfortunately, you're probably out of luck. Can you ask the sender to send you another copy?

Can some one help me please.... How can i get back the mails i deleted using 'Delete Forever' option at 'trash'??? i did that by mistake and want it back!!!! F1 F1 F1 F1 F1 F1 F1 F1 F1 please...

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