Why Can’t Gmail Search?
Hey! There is a followup post here!
Google, the King of Search.
Gmail, the darling of geeks everywhere for mail.
I am my family’s IT Director for our house (in her day job my wife has been an IT Director, so it is occasionally an ironic situation). Long ago, I used a Cyrus-IMAP server in my server closet to provide email for both of us; it worked really well. I still have pages of notes on how to compile and set it up under Debian; it was a bear, but once set up it worked for years without a problem. Via SSH, we could both get to our mail from work; you could even throw a tunnel to Squirrel Mail for web-mail access. Life was good.
Then came the seductive invite to Gmail; I forget how I got it, but that early invite made my geek palms sweat. Soon I was reveling in threaded conversations, archiving with abandon. That was a while ago; at this point I have been using Gmail/Google Calendar for a long time, having ditched the in-house IMAP server after moving my wife’s email to Gmail. My iPhone is fairly happy with Gmail as well.
But there’s this little problem, why may drive me away from Gmail entirely:
Gmail’s search functionality sucks rocks.
Seriously. Why is Gmail’s search so primitive? Isn’t search one of Google’s core competencies? I understand that email search != web search, but come on, it really stinks. To illustrate:
I had previously bought some Zaggs’ Z.buds for my iPhone. When they died, I needed to the email receipt for my purchase in order to get them replaced. No problem. Open up Gmail, search for “Zags”. Nothing. (Shouldn’t be any; I spelled it wrong) “zbuds”. Nothing. “zag”. Nothing. “headset” (reaching now!). Nothing.
I give up. I go to my Yahoo! Mail Account, which gets a copy of all my email. Total disorganized mess of thousands of un-tagged, un-foldered messages. Search for “zag”. Bang, it finds the the substring in Zagg. How helpful. Back to Gmail, search for “zagg”, boom, Gmail finds it.
Curious, I troll around the web looking for information on how to substring search in Gmail. Surely it is just a matter of learning an incantation in the search box, right?
Nope. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t find a way search for anything less granular than words. Apparently, Gmail indexes on words alone.
People’s names for me are a disaster; I consistently remember bits of people’s names and can’t find their emails without scrolling through lists of emails.
Labels? They are nice, but they are not really a search tool, unless you are going to tag each email with ten labels and manage hundreds of labels. No more useful than folders for searching.
This has gone from a minor niggle to a regular hassle for me; I just don’t remember things in word-level detail anymore. Fragments, that is what sticks in my brain. Gmail’s lack of substring searching is really beginning to look like a big hole to me. Can’t they add an albeit slower version of search which supports wild-carding? Something you only get via an advanced options dialog or some such? Maybe it isn’t allowed for filters; I don’t know what the server load issues might be. But for interactive use — that would be great. Right now, search is lame. And as I get more emails in there, it becomes more and more of an issue.
Every time I want to use my hazy recollection to find a half-remembered email from three years ago, it becomes a bigger issue. I shudder to think what will happen in ten years.
So that Yahoo! Mail Premium account for $20 a year is looking better now.
Google is the king of search, yet Gmail search sucks. Who’d a thunk it?