Saturday, 18 July 2009

Gmail filters – still can’t control order, shouldn’t be out of beta

Although Google’s Gmail (Google Mail in UK & Germany) is finally out of beta, I don’t think it should be because one major issue still isn’t fixed: controlling the order of filters (more on Gmail labels and filters, and Gmail labels, filters and aliases.)

To me, “out of beta” means “good enough”.

In the case of something like Gmail, especially for enterprise use as part of Google Apps, it’s not “good enough” unless it’s at least as good as Microsoft’s Outlook email / calendar etc software.

And, in the case of filters, I must point out that Gmail filters still just aren’t as good as Outlook rules.

I know people who’ve set up quite sophisticated filters (rules) in Outlook to file their received emails into folders automatically, mark them, filter out unwanted e-mails etc. Power users, you might call them. But Gmail has to cater for the power users too – busy people rely on things like this to help them organise their work.

Yet, you can’t set up filters properly in Gmail – in particular, you can’t easily control the order in which filters are applied.

Let’s take a concrete common example.

My list of filters includes these:

Matches: ( OR from:Xerxes) OR ("Xerxes Yapper " OR "Xerxes Yapper writes")
Do this: Skip Inbox

Matches: subject:(MailingListName)
Do this: Skip Inbox, Apply label "MailingListName"

The first filter tries to pick out emails from Xerxes Yapper, whose email address is, and also emails which reply to, or include replies to, Xerxes Yapper (e.g. whose contents include “Xerxes Yapper writes”).

It then asks Gmail to not show me those emails, but instead to skip the Inbox (I could also ask Gmail to Delete those emails, but until I get it all working properly I’m not going to).

The second filter tries to pick out all emails for a particular mailing list with name MailingListName, and file them by skipping Inbox and applying the label to them.

Now the point is to filter out any emails sent to that mailing list which are from or reply to Xerxes Yapper, then label and file the rest appropriately. Because I don’t want to see any emails to do with Yapper.

Problem is, the folder (label) for that mailing list still has emails from Xerxes Yapper in it.

The test searches on the filters work fine, so I’m sure that Gmail is, behind the scenes, applying the second filter first (so that all emails on that list, including those from Yapper, get filed in the folder), then trying to apply the first filter - but as the emails have already been filed, nothing happens there.

Received wisdom is that Gmail filters are applied in the order in which they appear on your filters page. Well I’ve spent too much time continually deleting and recreating both filters (or editing them) in order to try to get the order of application right – get rid of Yapper emails first, then file the rest. But it just won’t do it. They are displayed in the “right” order on my Gmail settings page, but they’re still not applied in the right order.

Why won’t Google let us drag filters up and down in order to control precisely the order in which they’re applied?

That’s my biggest beef with Gmail right now. It’s driving me mad and I’m at my wit’s end.

If anyone knows what to do, or if it’s going wrong because I’m doing something wrong, please tell me! (Yes, normally I try to be helpful and give solutions, but for a change I’m posting about a problem where I just can’t find a solution. I’m about to leave the mailing list in question, in desperation. Someone help!)


Nagesh said...

100% agreed. because of this i am not all using gmaiol filters. how come google has not fixed this

Yojimbo said...

Still not fixed as of September 2010. Frustrating.

Matthieu Brunet said...

A workaround is to use the glab import/export filter :