Gmail Archive feature - it seems excellent and scary.
October 1, 2012 9:02 AM   Subscribe

Will I regret aggressively using Gmail’s Archive function?

I’ve been using Gmail for several years on the web and on Android phones, and I love it. I recently started using the Archive feature on my Apps account at work, and it seems really helpful, but honestly I’m scared to use Archive on my 2 main personal accounts.

I have Google Apps-based Gmail for my work email, and I started using Archive to keep the Inbox for my work account empty. It seems like a nice way to keep things tidy: items for follow-up get labeled To Do and remain visible in my Priority Inbox, or they get banished to All Mail. But I consider this work email to be transient (sooner or later I’ll take another job) so it doesn’t worry me that I might mess it up. My personal Gmail has 5 years of emails and I hope to use it for as long as Gmail exists. Somehow that makes me afraid to Archive everything in my Inbox, because it’s not easy to undo Archiving for 9,000 messages. So now I have 9,000 emails in my Inbox, which is the opposite of organized.

Is there any chance I’ll regret following the Archive workflow? Does anyone know of anything Archiving could mess up, or any horror stories around “I wish I hadn’t archived?”

And is there any way to automatically label anything that goes from Inbox to Archived, so I could keep track of all emails that used to be in the Inbox but were archived just in case I wanted to undo the entire operation later on? Right now I could do a search of “everything in Inbox” and apply some kind of backup label, but then anything that I Archive in the future will be missing that label unless I manually add it (which I won’t).
posted by Tehhund to Technology (29 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
As far as I can tell "Archive" is just a folder named "Archive" that holds things that are not in the Inbox, Trash, or Spam folders.

I've been Archiving for years and years, and never had any dire results. I never tag anything and just rely on the search function to find the emails I need.

I'm not sure why you'd want to tag everything from the Inbox that goes into the Archive. Since things in the Archive can only get there from the Inbox (unless, technically, you set up a filter with "Skip Inbox," I guess) all the stuff in the Archive originated in your Inbox.
posted by BrashTech at 9:05 AM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

What is the difference between what you're doing now and archiving things after you read them and then hitting the "All Mail" button to see them? What is in all mail that wasn't ever in the inbox? When you find things in your inbox, are you clicking "next page" like 5 times ro are you just searching, and it doesn't make any difference if it's in your inbox or not? I can't possibly think of any downside.
posted by brainmouse at 9:06 AM on October 1, 2012

It's not really an archive. It's a folder.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:07 AM on October 1, 2012 [5 favorites]

Hitting archive simply removes it from the inbox and places it into whatever label is already on the email. If there is no assigned label, it just goes into "All Mail" which is to say it is there to be searched for.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:09 AM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's not even really a folder. It's a label.
posted by ocherdraco at 9:09 AM on October 1, 2012 [3 favorites]

It's not really an archive or a folder, it's a label.

Rather than the hierarchical directory system most of us are used to from OS X/Windows/etc, Gmail uses a label system to organize messages. The inbox isn't really a place -- it's a view that shows you all of the messages that are labeled "Inbox". "All Mail" is a view that shows all of your messages irrespective of label. The great thing about labels is that each message can have as many labels as you feel appropriate, so organization is a lot more fluid and relevant.

In short, yes, archive away. I never have more than one page's worth of messages in my Inbox -- its only for open action items.
posted by telegraph at 9:10 AM on October 1, 2012 [3 favorites]

nice, ocherdraco
posted by telegraph at 9:11 AM on October 1, 2012

Response by poster: "Archive" is just a folder named "Archive"

What is in all mail that wasn't ever in the inbox?

It's not really an archive. It's a folder.

I'll admit - I don't know what folder you are talking about. When I look at all my labels on the left side of Gmail and in my Settings, there's no Archive label/folder. There is All Mail, but that literally is All Mail - everything I've received AND everything I've sent. So by archiving, I'm losing the sent/received distinction. I guess I could do a search that excludes the Sent label, but that seems... prone to error.
posted by Tehhund at 9:11 AM on October 1, 2012

How do you usually find an old email you're looking for? What's your normal workflow with emails?
posted by brainmouse at 9:14 AM on October 1, 2012

Checkmark everything, mark unread, and then archive it all. Start handling your personal inbox like your work. There's no argument against mass-archiving, and you don't have a mountain of things stuffed in your face every time you open your email.
posted by deezil at 9:14 AM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: It's not even really a folder. It's a label.

It's not really an archive or a folder, it's a label.


I get that - I understand the folder/label difference and I much prefer it to traditional folders. But I'm losing that Inbox label. That's still data that helps organize the messages, just like the Sent label. So I'm trying to feel good about losing that metadata.
posted by Tehhund at 9:15 AM on October 1, 2012

How do you normally find emails that are in your Inbox? Once you have 9000 emails in your Inbox, it's not really feasible to shuffle through every single email that's there looking for one particular email anyway. I just search for emails that I want, sometimes using Gmail's advanced search features like whether it has an attachment or not, or the dates sent or received etc. This applies whether they're sitting in my Inbox or archived.
posted by peacheater at 9:17 AM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

The sent/received distinction isn't really gone. Try doing a search for messages sent by you (putting your email in the From box in the dropdown menu next to the search bar). Even if a message has been archived, it will still show up there.
posted by peacheater at 9:19 AM on October 1, 2012

I've been archiving everything except active action item stuff and spam since I got my account years ago. It rules. I can easily find anything using the search function - the search operators work great and can filter out sent from received. I actually email myself membership numbers, confirmations, etc. so I can search for them later. Search works much better than labelling things for most of my purposes.

If you have 9K messages in there, "Inbox" is not helping you organize.
posted by momus_window at 9:20 AM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

I aggressively archive. The only things I see in my inbox are starred things, important things, and things I need to take action on. It helps my inbox be a task list.

Google's search capabilities makes it easy to find what i've archived, if i'm looking for something specific. you can also search by sender, recipients, attachment, filetype, etc.

but i rarely do, because if something's archived, i've already acted on it.
posted by entropone at 9:36 AM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you have 9000 items in your inbox, you're not going to notice any difference at all by archiving them. Everything is still searchable in exactly the same way. You'll just have to click on "All Mail" to see the list of messages.
posted by something something at 9:38 AM on October 1, 2012

I have never regretted archiving, I have never heard of anyone regretting archiving, and I cannot imagine a situation in which having archived items from my inbox would be a problem.
posted by cranberry_nut at 9:47 AM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think the important thing is not that "archive" is a label, but that "inbox" is a label. When you archive an email, you are removing the inbox label so it doesn't show up in your inbox anymore.
posted by Barry B. Palindromer at 9:49 AM on October 1, 2012 [5 favorites]

Yeah, archiving is the only way I can stay sane with Gmail. Well, archiving with aggressive labeling and filtering. I think I have about 50 or so labels set up (some labels with sublabels) to help keep track of messages. And the good thing about Gmail is that even if you remove all the labels inadvertently, you can search for the message and usually find it easily.

Note: if you decide to aggressively label and filter like I do--I often filter, label, and tell it not to show in Inbox--you'll want to activate the "show only if unread" feature so you don't have a list of a zillion labels making the left column unusable!
posted by Fortran at 9:53 AM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

I have been archiving in Gmail since 2006 without the slightest hitch.
posted by Rock Steady at 9:54 AM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

I archive every single mail except a few that act as todos. This results in an inbox that has, at most, 3-8 different items. I have never had any problems with this approach because searching for stuff is fast and relatively powerful. I don't even bother with staring emails.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 10:02 AM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

All clicking the "Archive" button does is remove the "Inbox" label. All other labels are still associated with each email.
posted by magnetsphere at 10:11 AM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

The mail doesn't disappear - and it will still come up in search results.
posted by christiehawk at 10:12 AM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Anecdote: I've been using email since the "invite" days (I want to say like 7 years?) and have archived everything. I have deleted maybe 5 emails in this time. It's all still there.

In terms of losing the sent/recieved status, this is obviously still maintained in the archive. Gmail's threading makes this pretty clear, but in case it isn't, the "from:" field should be a dead giveaway.

Even after reading all your comments, I'm not entirely clear on what you're afraid of losing, but I can say nothing that *I* can possibly think of is lost when things are sent to the "Archive." Think of it this way: Gmail can mark emails as "important" and "not important" which puts them in different areas of your inbox. "Archive" is basically just the third tier of this system.
posted by Patbon at 10:26 AM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Tehhund: "It's not even really a folder. It's a label.

It's not really an archive or a folder, it's a label.


I get that - I understand the folder/label difference and I much prefer it to traditional folders. But I'm losing that Inbox label. That's still data that helps organize the messages, just like the Sent label. So I'm trying to feel good about losing that metadata.

If you are afraid to lose the distinction between arrived and sent mail and you want to keep the metadata from everything that came in, set up a filter that labels every incoming email "Incoming" or whatever label name you wish. That will preserve the distinction, when you archive it will keep your inbox clean and it will work as the old form of inbox you are using now.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 11:00 AM on October 1, 2012

Best answer: If you're worried about not being able to find something important in the future, remember that GMail stands for Google Mail. The search function is insanely useful and powerful.

But, if you're also looking for a technical solution to the problem as stated, you can always do this:
Create a new label, "Archived", by selecting all email in your inbox, going to the tag icon that appears at top, and going to create new. Then archive that stuff!

Next, click the gear, go to settings, and then filters. Create a new filter, and in the "To" field, input your current email address (, or whatever). On the next page, chose the option "add tag", and select your new "Archived" tag. This will tag everything that is sent to you with the "Archived" tag, which will stick even when you remove the "Inbox" tag (by archiving).

It's a bit of a workaround, as all of your emails will have the tag both in the inbox and in the archive. But, AFAIK, there is no way to put a tag in place upon archiving.
posted by daniel striped tiger at 1:24 PM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks all. I'm aware that Gmail's search is very powerful - that's how I'm navigating my mailbox already, I wasn't clicking through pages and pages in the Inbox. Now that I've read the questions, I realize what I was trying to ask was "is there any chance that I'll lose valuable metadata by stripping the Inbox label from my messages," and since the hive mind couldn't come up with any scenarios where I'd miss that metadata I think I'm pretty safe to treat all of my accounts like this.

Bonus points to daniel striped tiger for answering the filter question. While I was away from the thread I found a similar solution: instead of using the To:(my email) field, I'm using Label:Inbox. I did a little testing, and the To: field will sometimes fail if I'm BCC'd and someone else is in the To: line. So just marking everything that comes into the Inbox with my Archived label should catch everything (famous last words).

(testing details for posterity) Interestingly, in my testing if I send an email from Gmail and BCC myself, then searching To:(my email) works, but if I BCC myself from an Exchange server then Gmail does not find that message when searching for To:(my email). No idea why there's a difference in how the search works since both messages arrived with my email in the BCC field, but it was reproducible in several rounds of testing that emails from any Google-based service were searchable with To:, but emails coming from Exchange were not found using To:. I guess I could use To: AND CC: AND BCC:, but that feels hackier than just using Label:Inbox. What was in the To: and CC: fields didn't make a difference during testing. I don't have any filters that skip the Inbox, archive a message, or remove the Inbox label, so Label:Inbox should work.

I'm sure that in a few months I'll realize that my Archive / "Was in the Inbox" solution is really unnecessary and I'll get rid of it, but for now it's nice to have a way to roll back my changes. Backups, people!
posted by Tehhund at 3:32 PM on October 1, 2012

I've been using gmail forever. It's not a huge deal, but I noticed that my "magic number" for optimal gmail performance is <25% usage. This is only going to be an issue if you are a seriously big user. It took 3 or 4 years and many mailing list subscriptions for me to hit that limit. Basically, just be aware that if you one day find a slow UI, this is the fix.
posted by feloniousmonk at 11:16 PM on October 1, 2012

Sorry, to clarify, when the UI slows down you may need to delete old archived messages.
posted by feloniousmonk at 11:21 PM on October 1, 2012

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