What Was Google Thinking??? (A Rant about the Gmail Editing Toolbar)

I’ve been meaning to blog about this for 6+ months now. Since it’s a sunny Sunday morning in Seattle before I leave on a week’s vacation, I’m finally letting loose.

Here’s the bee in my summer bonnet (which has stung me enough times to write this post about it). For better or worse, I’ve been using Gmail as my primary email client for several years now (after being convinced by Adam Engst at TidBITs) and I’m about 90% happy with it. It has it’s share of quirks and bugs, but it also has awesome features like labels (not folders) and conversations (automatic thread tracking) that revolutionized how I manage email. And last fall they changed the main editing window to a new format that fixed several things  that made me even happier with it.

Except for one. One design decision that has me scratching my head so hard each time I have to use it I’ve just about dug a rut above my right ear.

It takes just a few pictures to explain. First, here’s a shot of the toolbar that now appears at the bottom left corner of a GMail email editing window.


One thing I immediately liked about this change was the big blue Send button which is always in the same place  (a big improvement over the previous interface where you often had to scroll to find it and could easily mistake it for another button).

And with just three other buttons, it does look wonderfully clean and “streamlined”, which is what I understand Google is trying to achieve across all it’s products.

But that’s where the rub meets the road. Because guess what those three buttons do?

The A Button

The first button is the “shortcut” for bringing up the text formatting toolbar. In other words, when you click it, you get this:


Great. Good job, Google. Now you just added an extra click  EVERY TIME I WANT TO ADD  TEXT FORMATTING TO AN EMAIL MESSAGE. Except if I want use a shortcut key. But—quick—who can remember the GMail shortcut keys for…

  • A bulleted list?
  • A numbered list?
  • An indent?

What’s worse, there ARE no shortcut keys for changing text color or background color—something I frequently do in email to highlight important text.

Which means I end out clicking this button almost every email I write. The only justification I have been able dream up for this bizarre design decision is that Google wanted the editing toolbar to look the same on all devices, and the text formatting toolbar was too big to fit all on one line on a smartphone.

But why penalize everyone who uses Gmail 90% of the time on a giant monitor like I do? With all the other Javascript wizardry in Gmail, why not just detect the window size and auto-expand the toolbar whenever there’s enough room?

Okay, so that’s bad enough. But it gets worse.

The Paperclip Icon

The second button is, together with the Send button, the other thing Google got right here. It’s the attachment icon. One click to add an attachment to your email. Works the same way all the time. Thank you.

Only ironic as hell because now Gmail supports drag-n-drop attachments. Just pick a file in the Finder, drag it anywhere over the body of the message, and let go. So I can barely remember the last time I used this button.

The Plus Button

Now we finally reach the main subject of this rant. The third button, the plus button, is…what?


Usually the + button means you are going to add something. What would you add to an email message? An attachment? But wait, isn’t that what the paperclip icon right next to it is for??

So try clicking the button and—whoa, this is really interesting—YOU CAN’T CLICK THE BUTTON! Because as soon as you hover over it, you get this:


The + button disappears and expands out into…FIVE MORE BUTTONS.

Seriously, Google: five more buttons? You want to force us to do a hover—not even a click—for FIVE MORE BUTTONS??

That might be fine if these were the “five buttons you’re never gonna use for the rest of your life”. In fact, four of these buttons just might meet that test:

  1. The Google Drive button is handy but you can also just cut-and-paste any Google Drive URL and Gmail already recognizes it as a Google Drive document.
  2. Same with Photos—much easier to just drag-n-drop it into the message.
  3. Emoticons DESERVE to be hidden away.
  4. The Calendar Invitation button lets you issue a calendar invite directly from your Gmail. Seems like a good idea, right? But: a) it only works with GCal; b) there’s already a way to issue an invite directly in GCal; and c) you always have to check your GCal calendar first anyway. So why would anyone do it here?

But—and this is a huge BUT— ONE of those five buttons absolutely DOES NOT meet that test.

The &^%$#@! Missing Link Icon

That’s right. The link icon.


The button you need every single time you want to turn email text into a link. Unless you remember the shortcut (quick—know that it is, right? Command+K for Mac users).

But keyboard shortcuts are not always a “shortcut”. To wit, my normal pattern is to go back and add links to an email message AFTER I’ve written it. When I’m doing my editing pass. WITH MY MOUSE. When my hands are NOT ON THE KEYBOARD. So it would be soooo easy to just CLICK AN ICON.

An icon that the Google designers, in all their infinite wisdom at a company that MAKES BILLIONS OF DOLLARS A YEAR OFF OF WEB LINKS, decided to hide behind another icon THAT YOU CAN’T ACTUALLY CLICK but instead have to HOVER JUST RIGHT so you can SEE THE REAL ICON THAT SHOULD HAVE BEEN ON THE &^#%$# TOOLBAR IN THE FIRST PLACE!!!!!

Okay. There. Rant done. I feel better already. In fact, so good that I think I’ll go take a week’s vacation.

And my dream is that when I get back, in the infinite magic of cloud computing, some Google designer would have realized (or seen 100,000 tweets suggesting that they realize) how simple it would be to put the link icon permanently on the toolbar right next to (or even in place of) the almost-never-used Attachment icon.

And the next time I open up GMail—voila—there it would be, fixed.

(I can dream, can’t I?)

Posted in Customer Service, General, Usability | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

The Way, Way Back

The_Way,_Way_Back_PosterTime’s so tight these days (putting my boys through college and working on Respect Network) that I only have time to blog about the really special movies.

The Way, Way Back is one of them. My wife and I saw it last night in a nearly empty theatre after only one friend had mentioned it to us, so I was a little skeptical going in. But we chose it because:

  • I love Steve Carell, especially in sharp character roles like the one he played in Crazy Stupid Love.
  • Ditto for Toni Collette, if not more so—Little Miss Sunshine is still my all-time favorite comedy.
  • It was the only movie playing at our favorite local theatre that wasn’t all comic book heros and explosions.

What I didn’t realized is that it was written and directed by two of the three writers who earned an Academy Award for their adaptation of The Descendants. Or that they act in the film too (you’ll never guess who they are).

While it covers familiar coming-of-age territory, scene after scene had a sharpness and surety of tone that quickly won me over. And rather than land you in a closing shower of syrup, it twists into one of the most satisfying endings I’ve seen in years—one that drew an unexpected tear and made me want to give it a standing ovation even in a nearly empty theatre.

And one more thing: they nailed the soundtrack. I’m not big on buying music but I just bought the album. I hope it keeps the film with me for a way, way long time.

Posted in Movies | Tagged , | Leave a comment

T.Rob and I Have Another Vulcan Mind Meld and This Time I Didn’t Even Know It

mind-meldSo if you like that wild Vulcan mind-meld stuff (that Zachary Quinto now does as well as Leonard Nimoy did—both are stellar in the latest Star Trek), you’ll love this. Yesterday on my new Respect Network blog I did a post called Internet of Things, Meet the Internet of People. It was inspired by a Techcrunch story about how fast the IoT is heating up. My counterpoint was that if you think the IoT is cool, wait until it connects with the IoP.

The thrust of my enthusiasm for this topic was all the energy around personal clouds at the Internet Identity Workshop three weeks ago in Mountain View. It was like a tsunami rolling through the conference: the collective realization that individuals having their own personal, portable, lifetime “piece of the cloud” under their exclusive control is going to be as revolutionary as the personal computer.

One of the most articulate voices in the conversation was T.Rob, who brings his hard-fought wisdom about security, networking, pub/sub messaging (MQTT), and other highly relevant topics squarely to the intersection of IoT and IoP. In fact my last blog post, titled T.Rob Wyatt Explains the Respect Trust Framework (And May Not Even Know It), is about how perfectly one of his blog posts described the purpose of the Respect Trust Framework, the legal basis for the Respect Network as a personal cloud network.

In any case, in the IIW sessions I attended with T.Rob it was patently obvious why he recently made the jump from his longtime position on IBM’s messaging security team to his own full-time consulting  business called IoPT Consulting. But there was so much going on at IIW that I never got the chance to ask him: What does IoPT stand for, anyway?

So imagine my surprise when, after my blot post about why the IoT needs the IoP, T.Rob writes:

Nice post, Drummond! Did we do the Vulcan mind meld at IIW and I didn’t realize it? The “IoPT” in IoPT Consulting stands for “Internet of People & Things.”


Doh! A second Vulcan mind meld and this time I was the one who didn’t even realize it.

Congrats on a cool name, T.Rob, and I look forward more than ever to working with you to help bring the IoP and IoT together in a giant win/win for humanity.

Posted in Blogging, Internet of People, Internet of Things, Personal Cloud, Respect Network, Respect Trust Framework | Tagged , | Leave a comment

T.Rob Wyatt Explains the Respect Trust Framework (and May Not Even Know It)

How to explain how we got here?

  1. I wrote a blog post called Please Send Wicked Simple Email inspired by the jaw-dropping great messages T.Rob Wyatt was sending to the VRM (Vendor Relationship Management) and personal cloud mailing lists. I lobbied for T.Rob’s thoughts to be going onto his excellent blog for easier & longer term sharing.
  2. Today T.Rob does just that and puts up a killer blog post about why we need VRM from a privacy and personal data rights standpoint that argues the case as strongly as anything since John Kelly’s killer talk on personal clouds at Gartner Symposium or Doc Searls book The Intention Economy.
  3. I read T.Rob’s post and realize he’s nailed it so well that he explains exactly why we needed to define the Respect Trust Framework before we could build the Respect Network.

Here is the paragraph where T.Rob nails it:

VRM, or Vendor Relationship Management, is a new approach to conducting business in which the missing physical constraints [for protecting privacy and personal data] have been replaced by technological and policy constraints that restore the balance of power between individuals and their vendors, and perhaps to some extent also their governments.

Now read this purpose statement from the first line of the Respect Trust Framework:

The purpose of the Respect Trust Framework is to define a simple set of principles and rules to which all Members of a digital trust network agree so that they may share identity and personal data with greater confidence that it will be protected and only used as authorized.

Separated at birth…and I don’t know if T.Rob has even seen the Respect Trust Framework.

genieGiven the depth of his knowledge and research, I wouldn’t be surprised—I just haven’t heard him mention it yet. But no matter—he came to exactly the same conclusion as those of us founding the Respect Network: the privacy-invading technology genie is out of the bottle and there’s no stuffing him/her back in. So the alternative is to “restore the balance of power” a different way, with an opt-in network where everyone agrees to play by a new set of rules.

I can hardly wait to get the network fully operational—all I can say is that the 24 Respect Network Founding Partners are working like mad to get there. If you want an in-depth progress report, come see us at the next Internet Identity Workshop coming up in Mountain View May 7-9.

Posted in Blogging, Digital rights, Events, Identity Rights Agreements, Respect Network, Respect Trust Framework, VRM | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Please Send Wicked Simple Email

no-emailMy day job right now involves developing newer, smarter forms of Internet messaging. But until that’s available (stay tuned), we’re still stuck with email. After 20 years of averaging a third of every working day doing email, I realized I could save hundreds of hours a year—and collectively we could save hundreds of millions of hours a year—by just writing wicked simple email. Here’s how:

#1: Treat the Subject Line as a Tweet

Despite all it’s faults, Twitter has taught the importance of brevity. In particuar, the 140 character limit has forced us to figure out how to filter messages in that short space. Apply these learnings to email!

  1. If you want a particular person to read/respond to a particular email, put his/her name directly in the subject line—just like a Twitter @reply.
  2. If you want to signal that an email is about a particular topic, put a #hashtag in the subject line (especially helpful for mailing lists).
  3. If you want to signal that an email is time-sensitive, put the date/time requirement in the subject line.

#2: No Sigs

Over the last year, I began dropping my sig on more and more of my emails, and I noticed others doing it too. I suspect it’s spreading from Facebook messaging, where no one uses a sig. In any case, here’s why it’s a good idea:

  1. Unless you have your sig auto-attached to every message (a stupendously bad idea—please stop immediately), it saves at least a few keystrokes every email even if all you’re adding is your first name or initials.
  2. For 99% of the messages you send, it’s extraneous anyway. Pure dead weight. Your recipients know who you are or can easily find out.
  3. Eliminating sigs makes messages less formal, more conversational, and more immediate—all encouraging them to stay short and lightweight.
  4. In many cases it’s not even needed to signal the end of your message. If yours is the first message in a thead, just stop when you are done. If you are replying inline (below), just add your replies and delete the rest of the message.
  5. Most importantly, it interrupts the flow of inline replies. Read on….

#3: Reply Inline Whenever Possible

Modern email clients default to putting each reply in a thread above the previous one. Thus started the biggest time-suck in email history. Why?

  1. The context is already there in the previous message. You don’t need to repeat one word.
  2. Replies can extremely short and precise. Just add your reply at the exact point needed. Don’t wait until the end of a paragraph—or even the end of a sentence. Just pick the precise spot where you need to respond, click Enter, and type.
  3. The thread remains clear—right down to the “voice” of each sender, which can be much more important than you think.
  4. Deep threads are discouraged! Read on….

#4: Hold Deeply Threaded Conversations Elsewhere

We’ve all learned it by now: email sucks for deeply threaded conversations. It always will. So:

  1. Avoid going more than three levels deep—four at the most. Beyond that, start a new thread (following rule #1 above).
  2. Even that only works if responses stay short – preferably a few sentences.
  3. For anything else, use a real threaded conversation forum—a blog, wiki, Basecamp, social network discussion group, etc.

#5: One Screen Max

20 years has taught me one simple lesson: if it’s longer than one screen, don’t send it as an email. In fact if it takes more than a paragraph or two it probably shouldn’t be an email. Why?

  1. If it’s got that much thought in it, it should be reusable—and linkable. Email is where thoughts go to die.
  2. Longer writing should use real writing tools—headings, bulleted lists, images.
  3. People don’t like to read long emails. They want to process their email quickly to determine how to prioritize the rest of their time.

So if what you want to communicate is more than one screen, do this: type it up as blog entry, Google doc, social network group post, Basecamp post, or anywhere your recipients can read, refer, and respond to it (i.e., have that threaded conversation). Then send a short email with a link and an executive summary explaining why recipients should read it. The summary is really important—many folks get far too many links to read, so give them a few bullet points about why to read yours. And, of course, make the subject line of that email the tweet you would (or will) send to share it on Twitter.


  1. This blog post started as an email I wanted to send to members of a mailing list I’m on that’s experienced a recent sharp increase in volume. Then I applied rule #5 and here it is.
  2. The one place where it is natural to use a sig is on an introduction email, just like you would a written letter. So use it there and leave it out everywhere else.
  3. When joining a new thread, I may still add my first name as a sig at the end of my reply just for context. But in future replies it’s usually not needed.
  4. I left out one other golden rule of email—never send an emotional email—because that’s a different subject altogether. But it’s still a rule I recommend very strongly.
  5. My good friend Victor Grey adds one more tip: always assume that the recipients of your email will forward it on to anyone else that you mentioned.
  6. Another good friend Steve Greenberg suggests another guideline: Ask only one question per email.
Posted in Email, Messaging | 10 Comments

The Second Personal Cloud Meetup


[UPDATE: See the detailed writeup on this meetup (including highlights from all 7 talks) posted to the Respect Network website.]

The first Personal Cloud Meetup in San Francisco last month was so successful that the second one is upon us already. Hosted by Orange Silicon Valley, it’s next Tuesday night from 6-9PM at their offices at 60 Spear Street between Mission and Market in downtown SF.

There’s already a full lineup of speakers, including Kaliya “Identitywoman” Hamlin, Executive Director of the Personal Data Ecosystem Consortium; Miten Sampat of Neustar; T.Rob Wyatt of IBM; and Joe Johnston of Respect Network.

Respect Network CEO Gary Rowe and I will both be there, and with crowds converging for RSA next week as well, it should be a ripe opportunity for personal cloud connections.

Signup on Eventbrite.

Posted in Events, Personal Cloud, Personal Data Ecosystem | Leave a comment

The Real Killer App for Personal Clouds

safe-w-gold-barsI’ve been working for several years now on building infrastructure for personal clouds (that’s the entire goal of the Respect Network based on the Respect Trust Framework). I’ve helped design, discuss, and debate dozens of powerful new apps for personal clouds (see several that were shown at the SWIFT Digital Asset Grid session in Osaka last October). During that time I can’t count how often I’ve been asked: what will be the killer app for personal clouds?

But just in the last few weeks—since the first Personal Cloud Meetup in San Francisco last month—the answer has started screaming at me: the killer app IS the personal cloud!

What does this mean? Read this (about having all my digital gear stolen). And then this (about having Facebook access turned off). And then this (Phil Windley’s latest blog post about the Tesla car spying fiasco). And then answer me: do you have a place to safely store all of your personal and household digital assets (files, photos, receipts, contacts, calendars, financial records, medical records, product usage data, etc.) where you know:

  1. They will always be safe, even if your house burns down or you lose all your devices?
  2. You, your spouse, or your family’s access to them cannot be turned off by a third-party service provider because of its own terms-of-service provisions?
  3. If you permission apps or services to store data there, you alone will control the rights to access and share that data (like you do on your own computer)?
  4. You can share any of your digital assets with any party you want on your own terms?
  5. All of your personal digital assets are all fully portable, and ideally mirrored across multiple independent service providers?

If your answer is yes, please tell me more. If your answer is no, now you know why the personal cloud—a truly PERSONAL cloud that can deliver all of the above— is the killer app.

Posted in Data Portability, Digital rights, Personal Cloud, Privacy, Respect Network, Respect Trust Framework | 2 Comments