This is a follow on to last week’s “Thoughts On Gmail’s Preview Pane“, with a concrete proposal for the next big ActiveInbox update.

Let us first disclaim ourselves: normally for Labs, especially ones as extensively breaking as Preview Pane, we can’t support them. BUT it seems Preview Pane has struck a chord. So, to balance those two things, I want to make some changes that are generally beneficial to all AIB users, but also make things work better for Preview Pane users.

Jettisoning The Dead Weight

The inbox/search-results row cube will not survive. I find it increasingly to be ugly, dysfunctional and meaningless (actually, it’s main crime is being a meaningless symbol, those other attributes are just a by-product of that). I will keep the ability to right click a thread and see a preview popup; although it’s low priority and it may be a while before it works fully with the many new inboxes that Gmail is showcasing (“Classic”, “Important First”, etc.).

Seizing Control

Most importantly, we want super fluid control of Statuses, Deadlines, Projects etc. in the inbox/search-results view.

One popular idea is to add the HAB to the header, but that adds an awful lot of vertical space and unnecessary duplication for people who don’t want the full HAB in this view. If it gets included at all, it should be toggle-able. (The two advantages I can think of for having it: at-a-glance visualisation of a conversation’s status, and the calendar for deadline selection).

A more elegant step is to extend the power of the standard Gmail ‘Labels‘ dropdown. The tricky bit is deadlines. But given the discussions we had in the last blog post about Deadlines, I think we will restructure the deadlines labels into the single-label format of D/yyyymmdd (e.g. D/20110823 for the day I posted this). With this, the Labels dropdown could be used to just type out the date.

We could also augment it to recognise special keyword terms like ‘today’ and ‘tomorrow’; maybe even adding these visually to the bottom of the menu.

Lingering Shadows Of The New Preview Pane

The one thing that’s going to be really difficult in the new Preview Pane is the ‘Conversation Notes’ and the ‘Previous Emails’ feature, because I can’t easily detect which conversation is actually being viewed.

So, for the time being, Conversation Notes and Previous Emails are going to be dropped for users of the Preview Pane lab. Hopefully we can bring them back later.

Liberated! By The Keyboard Resistance

The main reason I’ve not yet got around to keyboard shortcuts is indecision about which keys to use; and who will remember them. In fact, I must confess I’m hopeless at remembering the shortcut keys in Gmail.

Due to this combination – of not having many keys to choose from and the difficulty in recalling the keys we introduce – I’m proposing instead we get Alfred inspired.

The keyboard director will popup when you press a configurable combination (e.g. ctrl+m), and then you can begin typing to auto-complete where you want to go. E.g. if you enter a label, and you’re in a conversation that doesn’t have it, the first choice will be to add it; the second choice to search for it; the third choice to preview it in a floating popup and so on.

The most useful bit of this is that it’ll have two keys to complete: Enter will simply do it; Tab will do it and then reset the keyboard director so you can type the next command… effectively enabling you chain commands together.

What do you think?

Have I made any glaringly bad assumptions? What will add the most value for you?


This was written by Andy Mitchell