Worst practices: Gmail Chat
Here’s a user-experience blunder that rather surprises me. Take a look at the Quick Contacts chat panel on your Gmail page, if you should happen to have one. You might notice that the name of anyone you’ve either sent or received mail from is listed there, with current online status indicated, just so long as they have a Gmail account.
This listing is clearly operating on the principle that people who send me mail should by default be considered members of my social circle, and should enjoy a status at least potentially akin to that of “buddy.” The primary problem with this assumption, of course, is that the set of people I correspond with via email is far larger than that of people I want knowing whether or not I’m currently online. A one-time connection of arbitrary shallowness strikes me as being rather insufficient to establish this kind of social linkedness, but in Google’s conception of things, this is precisely what apparently happens.
But there are other issues, as well. Like most people, I assume, over the course of a year I correspond with many more people than I can easily remember. Some of these are personal and reasonably persistent contacts, some of them professional and therefore with a duration best described as “project-based,” and yet others are one-offs, mayfly relationships called into being by a single set of email exchanges and never again activated. But all are treated identically by Gmail’s Quick Contacts module – and if I want to do something about it the onus is apparently on me to reach into the comprehensive list of my contacts and disable the offenders one name at a time. The result is a smooth and undifferentiated list of “contacts,” some of whom I don’t remember (and some of whom, frankly, I may not want to be reminded of – fallings-out being a social reality, but something rarely adequately provided for in social-application design).
This is why engineers should never design social systems alone.