Tuesday Tip? (Or, How Gmail is annoying)

Not sure if this will be a regular thing, so I don’t know if this qualifies as a Tuesday Tip, but it’s Tuesday, and I’ve been finding out things about Gmail lately. Specifically, at NYU I’ve made an email ticketing system using Google Apps Script and have discovered what is kind of an annoying quirk of Gmail labels and search.

Gmail groups email messages by conversation, but labels are only applied to specific messages, and the search function looks for messages. For example, imagine this history:

  1. You receive an email from NewInternationalStudents (one of the teams in my office).
  2. You label it “Super important,” then respond and archive (i.e. remove from the inbox).
  3. NewInternationalStudents responds to your reply (a third message in the thread).

In this case, a search for “in:inbox label:super-important” would not return this conversation:

Example of email search

…even though, when you look at the conversation, you’ll see both labels at the top:

Example of emails

Weird, right? What’s happening is that the conversation view is showing you all the labels on the whole conversation, but not telling you which messages they are applied to. The inbox label is on the latest message, but the Super important label is on the first one. When you search (as you can see in the image above), Gmail looks for individual messages that have both labels. No message in this conversation has both, so the conversation is not returned.

What’s my tip? Just be aware that while Gmail search is powerful and allows you to drill down to specific messages (e.g. “from:Nakata after:2014/02/01 before:2014/05/07 -has:attachment is:starred“), you’ll be excluding some conversations that have all the things you’re looking for. If you’re looking for conversations, you’ll have to do a less specific search, then sort through the conversations it returns (ugh).

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *