Google: “don’t be evil, be passive-aggressive”

This week, Google decided to once more actively break Gmail. It’s getting to the point where even Hotmail may provide a considerably better service (even bearing in mind the horrors of Microsoft Passport!).

EDIT: Within a few hours of writing this, my gmail has reverted to normal behaviour. I *was* getting the HTML reply for all emails, now I’m getting it for none. I had wondered whether it was context specific – but now I’m getting normal emails even when replying to HTML ones, so apparently not.


I’ve no idea why this is, but here’s a tongue-in-cheek suggestion: Google *really really wants* to be evil. But they’ve made so much news out of their company motto that they don’t believe they can get away with that.

So, instead, they just act passive-aggressive.

This lets them beat down their users, while maintaining a modicum of plausible deniability.

This week’s backwards step for Gmail

You are no longer allowed to reply to emails directly, unless you’re willing to convert them to HTML and send an HTML page instead of a plain email.

Every single time you want to reply, you now have to:

  1. click the reply buttton (this used to be all you had to do!)
  2. Click another reply button
  3. Wait for Gmail’s plodding DHTML to redraw the page
  4. Dialog pops up: do you really want to reply? (you click yes)
  5. Wait for more plodding DHTML, and eventually you get the email-compose pane

This is quite possibly the last straw for me and Google products. For them to break something so fundamental beggars belief. Can I ever trust any of their products not to self-destruct again?

(this one bug is currently costing me somewhere between 10 and 15 minutes EVERY DAY, because of the number of emails I write)

Why has Google done this?

Two possible answers.

1. The gmail team now employs some really stupid people who apparently know nothing about email clients.


2. This is a subtle attempt to get a small increase in ad-revenue from Gmail.

By forcing everyone to do the above 5 steps, they are (passive-aggressively) irritating people as much as they can to “punish” them … until the users give in and write HTML instead of emails.

When people write HTML, they’re more likely to insert private rich content (images etc).

Google can make more money from advertising the more they know about you, and the richer the content you’ve included.

(bear in mind this is the same Google that used to try and steal your entire list of private phone calls from your cell phone if you installed the official gmail client – maybe they still do)


Maybe. But then … would you have believed me a year ago if I told you that Google would put real-time adverts INSIDE your email conversations, based on the words you typed?

(they added that a month or so ago. They seem to have removed it again now – it greatly increased the time it takes to compose emails, so I think they removed it until they can get it working at a sane speed)

Google Support: Don’t call us. Ever.

Quote from gmail support page:

If the steps provided don’t resolve the problem, you’ll be able to send us a report. While we do read each email, you’ll only hear from us (generally within a few days) if we need more information from you.

This is a lie. That used to work (I once managed to report a bug, a long time ago), but now the system refuses to let you write a report, instead it provides a link to the public forums and tells you to go whine at other users.

I wonder. Is it that they know they’ve broken the webapp, but it was a deliberate act, and they really don’t want to hear anyone’s opinions on the matter?

8 replies on “Google: “don’t be evil, be passive-aggressive””

This may be crazy split-testing, or incremental rollouts, or something strange, but that change hasn’t happened for me or any of the friends/family gathered for Thanksgiving. Open a message in gmail, hit reply, compose, send.

This must be the Evil Google Machine singling you out. I just tested it and it works as expected: Click (either on reply button or the reply textbox), type, send. It can’t get any simpler than that.

2 things:

1. *I’m* incompent. Before posting, I edited-out a CRITICAL piece of information (I’ve just updated the post to rectify that).

2. The “split testing” is actually a really good point – I’ve seen a lot of cases of people arguing over whether Gmail does or doesn’t have a minor feature, both claiming “it does / n’t on mine!”. Maybe they were *both* right :).

We don’t tend to talk about the effects on users of split-testing. I always assume that developers will use their common sense and not do anything that materially damages the user experience. I guess that’s a pretty optimistic assumption…

I assume that the “second reply button” you mention is the “plaintext” formatting button in the reply pane. I hadn’t noticed before whether replies to plaintext emails defaulted to plaintext, but I believe they’ve changed it.

The vast majority of their users (like the vast majority of people who send email) don’t mind sending and receiving HTML email. Many of them prefer it, in fact, which is probably why they made this change. It’s really only a problem for those of us who are irked on principle because we used to use a text-based email reader or people who use text-based email lists.


Yep. But it’s more than just a principle :).

1. My iphone doesn’t handle HTML email well. It screws the resizing and zooming. I’ve noticed that a lot of handhelds have similar problems. Blackberry is the only exception – and that’s because they artificially remove all the HTML on the server before sending it to the client.

2. As you say, there are lists that will automatically dump any posts sent in HTML

3. … and there are *people* who do the same (I only find this out when talking to them and they mention their policies – I never send out HTML mail, so I never run into problems myself. Normally).

My experience from yesterday was extremely negative. It concerns google adwords.

I had a promo code that I wanted to redeem. I logged in my regular account but it didn’t work – account too old. Nowhere was it mentioned the code I was sent was OK for new accounts only.

I decided to register a new account … it was a pain in the a$$ (without a Google account). When I finally got to the billing preferences, it refused to accept a promo code WITHOUT me typing my credit card as well! OK, got my CC, typed in the info.

I finally enter the promo code into the new account and it says “promo code already redeemed”!! Where? When? Why? No credit was added to this account, the $75 simply vanished.

I canceled the acount. Is Google EVIL? Definitely.

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