/Folders or labels?

Folders or labels?

Have tags really improved our life? I am never sure. Most of the users of a site don’t really understand tags. Besides, the ones who understand them don’t use them in the same way. Some people understand tags as a classification system, as labels, some others do take them as some kind of summary of a text. And even when they are used as labels, we all have different systems in our minds. This is a mess!

Even Google has had the same problem with tags. Google Docs started using tags as a classification system for its documents. Unfortunately, we are too used to Windows folders, which explains why tags were actually complicating our life. This is why Google changed its mind long ago, so that Google Docs has folders instead of labels.

On the contrary, Gmail has labels. This is complicated for an Outlook user, but I think Google uses it as way to differentiate its product. It’s actually more flexible and better for people who want to use the search engine instead of the foldering system. This is how Google explains it: “You can organize and then find messages more efficiently with labels”.

I have actually stopped using both folders and labels on Gmail. I only use the search engine, which is much better than Outlook’s one. Besides, Google has also changed its mind with Gmail and now allows users to use labels as if they were folders: “Up until now, the way you had to first apply a label and then archive to move it from your inbox was a two-step process. Listening to users, we heard that people wanted the flexibility of labels but the simplicity of folders”.

This is all about usability, an increasingly important matter. The more changes I see with Google, the more I realize that Microsoft has invested so much on usability that it’s really hard to improve things. Google will have a hard time making his products more usable than Microsoft’s. His only advantage is that its users are betatesting, so that its innovation in usability is also cheaper.