Google adds ‘off button’ for Gmail Conversation View

Google’s been aware for some time – how could it not? – that some people really hate Gmail’s Conversation View message threading feature.

A petition in the company’s support forum has been pleading for the ability to turn it off since January last year, and has mustered nearly 2,000 supporters.

But in a posting to the petition site yesterday, Google product manager Paul McDonald tells them: “Today’s your lucky day! We just started to release the option to turn off conversation view in GMail.  Just go to the main Settings page, look for the ‘Conversation View’ section, select the option to turn it off, and save changes. If you change your mind, you can always go back.”

Google technical lead Wiltse Carpenter compares the feature to cilantro – you either love it or hate it – and it’s clear which side of the fence he lies.

“I haven’t had to wade through multiple messages to follow a conversation in years,” he says. “A centithread  hasn’t filled up the entire first page of my inbox in almost as long as I can remember. Having all the replies to an email (and replies to those replies) grouped with the original message simply makes communicating so much easier.”

But critics of the feature have argued that it complicates something that was perfectly functional already, and that seeing emails as individual messages in chronological order is often far more useful. Former Outlook users, in particular, prefer the old way of doing things, says Google.

The ‘off button’ will be rolled out over the next few days to corporate users through the ‘Enable pre-release features’ option in the Google Apps control panel, and to individuals using Gmail.