A Plea to Google: Gmail Folders Please

I don't know if anyone at Google reads my blog and this isn't something I'd post at Search Engine Watch but Google if you're reading here goes: Please, please, please put folders into Gmail.

Since I left The Kelsey Group and while my site smi-research.com is being built I'm using Gmail and Yahoo! Mail. Yahoo! Mail (the new beta) is the more user friendly in the context of this discussion. Don't get me wrong, I like Gmail very much and generally think it’s very usable. I like the Gmail chat integration. I like the storage. And I appreciate that Google is subsidizing it with text ads. But managing the inbox is growing more challenging over time as is finding old mail. 

Google's approach is to group conversations, which can be very helpful to track the history of a discussion. But it's also easy to inadvertently delete a conversation where the most recent email is not meaningful but an earlier one is.

Google’s bias, obviously, is toward search as a navigational tool. That works great much of the time. But it’s not helpful in certain cases where I don’t remember the specific contents of the email – especially if I have frequent exchanges with a person.

My issue here is that there is effectively no way to categorize or organize old email. I have many projects and many emails related to those projects but in Gmail I can’t group separate exchanges with more than one person that are related to the same project. And by the same token I can't segregate emails on different subjects from the same person that are part of the same email string. The starring feature is helpful but not a substitute for some sort of folder system or other organizational schema. Yahoo! offers that functionality and is very user friendly with a great interface, with the exception of the very unfortunate display ads.

Help me. Please . . .Google . . .please. And while you're at it, please "Ajaxify" email (like Calendar) so I can drag and drop emails into folders.


63 Responses to “A Plea to Google: Gmail Folders Please”

  1. Seb Says:

    I agree! There’s a limit to “tagging” the content…

  2. Jeff Says:

    Gmail has labels, which accomplish basically the same function as folders except are more flexible. Isn’t that good enough for your needs?

  3. Screenwerk » Blog Archive » Google Folders: Part II Says:

    […] In my earlier post, I pleaded with Google to create folders to help be better organize my email. A reader pointed out Labels, which are folder-like and which I had not been using. This is a very helpful tool and folder like. But my inbox remains unwieldy and I can’t delete anything or I risk potentially losing the tagged/labeled emails. […]

  4. Jeff Says:

    If you “Archive” something, it will no longer appear in your inbox, which will make your inbox less unwieldy. If an archive message is labeled, you can find it later by clicking on the label (on the left side) to see all the e-mails with that label. If it is not labeled, you can either find it in “All Mail”, or you can search for it.

    I had the same problem you did when I first started using Gmail, but now that I have labels, filters, and archive, I find Gmail does everything I need.

  5. heypresto Says:

    I’d love to have folders – labels are all well and good, but you can’t get the same tree structure as with folders. Will also help tidy up the inbox.

  6. rfresh Says:

    The Archive function solves the InBox clutter but isn’t obvious – thanks for the tip. I thought at one time my Labels indicated how many emails were in each one but I don’t see that anymore – did I change my configuration somehow that it doesn’t display a count any longer?


  7. AUfinger Says:

    A folder organizational hierachy is a convention that is so widely used and so ingrained that it generally makes no sense not to have it available. We (computer users) are so used to a folder or directory structure that if M-Soft took it out of Windows and replaced it with a tag, search, archive convention we would all be lost.

    I do not see why folders could not be offered as an option.

  8. charlie Says:

    I really want folders in gmail as well I don’t see any compition labels do not even compare.

  9. Lenka Says:

    I agree, the only thing missing at gmail are folders!!!

  10. David Says:

    Labels are exactly like folders except for the directory tree. If you could have a “label” INSIDE another label, would that be good enough? Then you could use them just like folders if you wanted (archive and label would be the same as moving from inbox to folder), but it’s better because messages could be in more than one “folder” (label). If you don’t LIKE the way they can be in more than one, you wouldn’t have to do it, so it’d be just like folders. So I think they should introduce hierarchical labels, not folders.

  11. Daren Says:

    I don’t think labels are that great. As far as I am aware no retroactive actions can be performed against them, ie you can’t organize/move items under the labels – they only get sorted when the mail enters your mailbox.

    i think i am going to leave gmail soon because the lack of folders is really becoming annoying. its a shame because its pretty good apart from that

  12. lawrence Says:

    you certainly can change labels for any of your mail… where did you get the idea you couldn’t? look at the “more actions” dropdown at the top of any email.

  13. Bill Says:

    I have to admit that at first the lack of traditional folders was disconcerting, but labels are far superior because you can classify a single message on multiple criteria.

    And Daren, you can perform any retroactive function on them you want. You can add/remove labels, recategorize at any point, NOT just when an incoming mail filter is executed.

    The archive button, (which isn’t intuitive when you start) prevents you from having a cluttered inbox. http://fezzie.blogspot.com/2007/04/gmail-labels-archiving-and-lack-of.html

  14. Nicole Says:

    I agree that Gmail seriously needs to add some folders! Yes, you can categorize emails under multiple labels, but isn’t it possible to create a folder system where you can have copies of an email in more than one folder?

    I am all about visual organization, and I hate that all my emails in Gmail are in one big, cluttered list. Sure, I could archive them, but then wouldn’t they just be in one big, cluttered, archive list? Maybe the archives works differently, but that’s what it sounds like to me.

  15. Victor Says:

    OMG… Jeff (June 3rd), I love you…. Archive solves the problem. The inbox clutter in gmail has been a never ending annoyance for me. Solve.

  16. Frank Says:

    Why would google re-invent a useless wheel when people have been used to the folders for decades?

    I did “gmail folder” search on google because I need folder badly and I found this site, and now I understand what is label and what is archive…But it took me at least a year to get to know it!!!

    This gmail is not user-friendly to be the least. The developers try to be some innovators, but in this gmail, they fail!!!

    Make something that is intuitive and make something my mom knows how to use!!! Don’t assume users will read your document! 99% people don’t read document!! Do you read MS Word document?????

  17. Eleon Says:

    I want folders as well, and for the most simple of reasons… I want to be able to auto filter some emails to be read at a later date (if ever). I do not want them in my inbox, I do not want them under a label, I want the entire email moved to a different place, that will only be visible when I click it.

    I am on many email lists, and some of them I only read once a month. I do not care how many messages come in and go there, I just deal with it all when I want to.

    What is so great about labels? I am at a loss on how they are useful, as I can not find anything they can do, that I am not already doing with folders and a good filter system.

    I also get some subject lines that are not work safe, and would like them to also be put into their correct location, and not viewed until i am at home, but would still like all my inbox mail seen from work.

    How hard is it for people to understand labels are a solution for a problem that was solved by folders a long time ago, and in a better way?

    I have never had the need to classify an email on multiple criteria…, and do not see the need happening in the future.

    If you really, really like labels, then it is simple, put in folders AND labels, but folders are far more important to most people that are good at sorting and organizing things.

  18. peter Says:

    gmail is much better than any other online or offline mail application.

    learn to use labels, the only option (if you completely refuse to learn how to use a better interface), if to use a different email service.

    you are completely going back in time if you prefer a folders based email app.

    p.s. notice how”tagging” because popular after gmail became popular? tags i.e. labels are very powerful
    p.p.s. you can have filters and such too, look into it

  19. Bippy Says:

    “I want folders as well,…”

    I have the best solution for people who want folders: don’t use Gmail. Why not just use Yahoo! mail instead? What’s the problem?

  20. tempgal Says:

    Adding my 2 cents … Yes, please, FOLDERS!

  21. Sham Says:

    I completely agree with Eleon. I need to filter out my mail to be read later. Gmail if you are listening… DO SOMETHING!!!!

  22. Bippy Says:

    “Gmail if you are listening… DO SOMETHING!!!!”

    They’re not going to listen, but you can easily do something yourself: switch to Yahoo! mail. It’s simple. Problem solved.

    Instead of complaining about a product, why not just switch to one that has the features you want?

  23. Gernot Hassenpflug Says:

    I was too afraid to experiment with Gmail options, for obvious reasons. Therefore, learning about the use of Archive (I already used labels but was disappointed that the messages still showed up…) was very helpful, and I will experiment.
    I’d like to note that labels are not an innovation as some posters seem to imply: they’ve been used in many email clients for decades (I use gnus by preference, or mew), as well as by other simply databases such as BBDB.
    I’ll continue to use Gmail, but will download what I don’t need to keep online.

  24. harish Says:

    yes, folders please, a good tool not in gmail

  25. Joel Says:

    Please, folders!!

  26. P-Diddy Says:

    Gmail’s tagging and label functionality is the opposite of convenience. My inbox looks like I took every bucket of paint in my garage and threw it at a wall…there is that much ugly shit everywhere.

    The people who swear by gmail either have 1 friend or use it only for the chat function (to that one friend.)

    Imagine your living room. Imagine a book of yellow post-its. Now write couch on a post it and put it on the couch. Then write TV on a post it and put it on the TV. Now write lamp on a post it and put it on the lamp. Get the idea…?

    Wouldn’t it just be simpler to put the post it at the door that says living room?

    MAKE FOLDERS YOU MORONS! Sometimes the wheel can’t get any rounder!

    For xrist sake already….

  27. Sal Says:

    I want to be able to organize my labels. Can I put multiple labels inside some type of group?

    Example. I have friends. Say tom, jerry and harry. I label each of these with separate labels for their first name. Now I want to put those labels inside a “friends” group. Can this be done? Thanks very much

  28. JUgy Says:

    Folders would be good but even more what I want to know “is there a way to find out mails that are in INBOX only and NOT IN any other LABELs.
    This way I can find mails that are currently not being filtered, set filters for them and so on..”
    Kinda like having a label titled “NOT_LABELED”. This way for new friends , e-mails one can remove the clutter of already tagged e-mails and figure out what to do with remaining e-mails.

  29. lenny Says:

    yeah!!! i cant believe it, even MSN has folders!
    add some folders!!!

  30. zbug Says:

    would love to have folders in gmail aswell….. give us the choice to choose folders or labels..

  31. Icon Says:

    I want folders AND a graphic signature. Being as how I would like the cool professional touch for sending emails to clients and such. As it stands my inbox is also a nightmare. I have the tags set up but it still a pain to look at when I open it. Plus I would much rather just have the email n a safe place out of the inbox for organization. It’s like putting a bug in a box, vs putting a bug in a jungle.

  32. steve Says:

    try using firefox and downloading the extension “better gmail”. it has folders4gmail (hierarchical labels), plus the ability to add new labels on the fly. between these two features, every folderholic should be satisfied, and will perhaps see the light that labels (tags, really) shed on the world by allowing us to break free of the linear folder structure that the microsoft morons have imposed on us all for 20 years+

  33. Jeff Says:

    Interesting discussion…seems like google should add folders as an option…meanwhile, I’m trying the better gmail extension.

  34. jaypee Says:

    “Steve” – folders4gmail – looks interesting –


    I am going to try it out as well as the referenced: “Gmail Unlabelled, Gmail Spam-count hide”

  35. Davo Says:

    Okay! Now I get it!

    I 45 minutes ago I wanted folders. Now I get it…Archive + Label = Folders. It works! Just find the mail you want to folder, create a filter for it and set it to do both 1) archive and then 2) Label. The label appears on the left side of your screen and can be accessed whenever you want. Thanks Guys.

  36. Adi Says:


  37. Ted Says:

    Okay, labels and archiving work okay, but the point still stands about not being able to group similar labels inside a “mega-label” like you can sub-folders inside a folder. That is important functionality that is…sadly… missing.

  38. Mark Says:

    Folders- NO!

    Please don’t put folders in Gmail. If I want folders, I use Yahoo, if I want labels I use gmail. That’s the point isn’t it?

    I think people work differently. I don’t find folders as easy to use, others prefer them , so I think a choice of email apps with different systems is good.

    The benefit for me is being able to decide where I’ll file a mail (I.E label it) at a different time than I decide it should be moved from the inbox. I label on receipt and archive once I have dealt with it.
    I always filter newsgroup messages to a relevant label and archive straightaway.

  39. william Says:

    I’ve been using folders for a long time with MS Outlook, Netscape and other email clients. A recent newcomer to Gmail I dicovered as many of you that utilizing a combo approach of labels + archive you can get functionality similar in concept to folders.

    The concern I have is not so much the mail messages that have been clearly identified with filters and able to labeled or archived, but more those messages that remain in the inbox. These messages are both read and unread. I’d like to see a feature where the user could view only those messages in the inbox that haven’t been read, or only view those messages that have been read. In my opinion this would improve the work flow when it comes to sorting out uncategorized mail messages.

  40. waptek Says:

    yahoo wont let me download attachments without enabling javascript (so i will see ads of course) and gmail that dosn’t have this problem WONT give me or anyone folders,, i want a safe-browser compatable web,, i need to go back in time when i was less of a comodity

  41. garyduh Says:

    Though the “label” feature is somewhat like a “folder”, it is really really a garbage!! All stuffs (mails) are still dumping in the inbox. You still have to one-by-one screening insdie them and labeling different tags.. and if you accidentally click “remove label” … haha, the jobs what you had done ALL GONE! no warnings, no pop-ups…And then you have to as twice carefully to stare on all those mails to re-label them again… What a suck! I don’t know those Google’s expert developers just can’t figure out how stupid Gmail is!! I now only use it as a backup storage from Yahoo Mail… Who has the time to find an old mail from total maybe 200~300??

  42. garyduh Says:

    Sorry for previous describing about Google’s experts. They are not idiots at all, they just too smart to do right things in making money$$$, as AdSenses, AdWords, Gphone…! Those really make money$$$…Gmail (?!), hm.. it’s free, what can you expect for!!

  43. Me Says:

    What is wrong with you people? Geez, if you don’t want stuff in your inbox, learn to use filters. In all the complaints, I don’t see a single thing that folders do that labels can’t. What a pack of stupid whiners.

  44. ed Says:

    @Me– “I don’t see a single thing that folders do that labels can’t…”
    See all posts above yours.

    Folders would be fantastic because I get many daily emails from a bunch of sources that I want to keep separate. For example, Jott is fantastic– you speed dial their number and leave a message to yourself–they then transcribe it and email it to you. This is perfect for my to-dos, things to blog about, ideas to make stuff, etc…. The main problem though was my jotts were getting mixed up in all my other emails that came in that day…

    Anyway– I’ve sent a plea to google via their gmail->support->idea/bug link (i think it was) twice now, with no response (none expected really..) or any indication of change.

    They could at least make it an option. I dont want to have to change back to my own email b/c their spam filters are far superior…

  45. karl Says:


    Create a label called Jott. Create a filter that applies the Jott label to all emails that come in from “whatever the email address is of the jott service”, and set it to archive.

    Now all new mail that comes in from your Jott service will automatically move to the Jott label.

    Simple, and this is EXACTLY what would happen with a folder.

    The only thing I can see that a folder does that a label doesn’t is allow a folder hierarchy. Otherwise, you all need to swat up on how to use labels and filters because they do EVERYTHING that you all seem to be asking for.

  46. Frug Says:

    It definitely needs folders. The labels do not accomplish the same things as folders do in terms of isolating mails. They come close, but the fact is that the labels are inferior to folders and there’s no good reason not to give us folders.

  47. Ruth Says:

    Hi folks,

    I may be repeating a previous opinion, but why not combine folders with labels?
    We have a system at work, that offers the possibility to create folders (nested) and gives you the option to label mails. That way, through a label, you can find all mails across different folders – like inbox & sent & nameA (just click on the label, and it will display all mails with that label – no matter in what folder they’re in – and it even has a has a tab telling you which folder a mail resides in).
    So, instead of argueing about what system is the “better” or whatever, make the best of both! Google, WE NEED FOLDERS with LABELS!


  48. egypt web design Says:

    I completely agree with you . I need to group my mail in folders

  49. Amit Nagar Says:

    Totally Agree. We need folders in google. The inbox is a mess otherwise. Amit Nagar

  50. jason Says:

    “They’re not going to listen, but you can easily do something yourself: switch to Yahoo! mail. It’s simple. Problem solved.”

    Not so simple. My workplace (small office) is using Gmail for our email service (with our domain name). So I can’t just up and change to Yahoo.

  51. recai pembeguk Says:

    Archive + Labels is not equal to folders.

    Labels are not mutually exclusive. If you want two mutually exclusive labels (other than Inbox) you are stuck in Gmail.

    I have an external mail account so all mail dropping into this account is filed with label “external_mail”. Unfortunately I can not further classify these mails (i.e. labelling some of them with “X”). Because every mail with label X is also under the label “external_mail”.

  52. Edu man Says:

    yahoo wont let me download attachments without enabling javascript (so i will see ads of course) and gmail that dosn’t have this problem WONT give me or anyone folders,, i want a safe-browser compatable web,, i need to go back in time when i was less of a comodity

  53. Jose A Says:

    Folders are very usefull than lablels. I have created lables. We can organise and tidy inbox mails in folders better than lables. Now all mails are mixed up. When I created account in gmail, I did not know that google dosn’t have the folders. Now I am thinking to create mail account with yahoo, because gmail will not listen us.

  54. Edward L Says:

    Yes I have 600+ emails from colleges and they are taking over my inbox, I also have a whole bunch of social network notifications that clog my inbox as well as a whole bunch of emails from various companies. I want my inbox to look clean when I log in. I already have the labels which tag my mail but still I want the emails in a folder and out of sight, on each folder having its own unread mail counter. This is why gmail is not a replacement of Yahoo. Google you have done an excellent job with google earth, google docs, google search engine etc etc. When it comes to gmail not having folder, I am going crazy over that. Please help make my stressed school filled life just a bit easier by allowing the option of automatic email filing into folders.

  55. Nick Says:


    Everyone is complaining that gmail doesn’t do folders. But why cling to the folder? It’s comfortable, but if you look into labels, I think you’ll find that they present much more flexibility, and can also capture the functionality of folders.

    The problem with folders is that any given email can only go in ONE given folder. What if you receive an item from your boss which contains a TO-DO item? You might want to categorize it as both WORK and TO-DO, but with folders you can’t, unless you get into a linear hierarchy. But suppose the item is a WORK email, with a TO-DO component (say you have to let her know what date you’re leaving on an upcoming vacation) AND it has information about your VACATION? With folders, you couldn’t capture all that, unless you nested everything.. but then that’s impractical, because you will likely have many other emails related to your VACATION that aren’t WORK or TO-DO messages, and might want to look at them all, without going through all your hierarchies. Labels let you flexibly handle these kinds of circumstances.


    Hit the ARCHIVE button. This archives all your mail, and cleans out your inbox. It’s all still available!


    You can use multiple labels. For the example given in a post above, if you want AARON, BRUCE and CHRIS to have their own folders, beneath a “Friends” folder, then simply apply TWO labels to the email: “FRIENDS” and “AARON”. This gives you a big advantage: In the future, you can look at all you FRIENDS emails by clicking the FRIENDS label! You can’t do this with folders. If you have 30 friends, and want to look at say, the five most recently sent emails from friends (about, say, an upcoming party), you would have to go through all your nested folders and compare dates– or use some kind of date-search function!


    I think it’s pretty clear that this is the wrong way to approach the problem!

    Labels make sense because folders are essentially the same as labels: except that folders force you to apply only ONE label (unless it’s a nested folder) to a given email. For example, if I have an email from Aaron in the FRIENDS->AARON folder, I can’t also note that this was a WORK email, and not a PERSONAL one. I would have to create more folders, and then you end up buried in folders.

    You can use labels just like folders, too! As mentioned above, put labels on your mail, click “ARCHIVE”, and your inbox is clear, and you can click any of the labels below.

    Additionally, it’s easy to set up filter rules that automatically apply labels– and this works well, because if you get 15 new emails from say, 15 filtered sources– you don’t have to go through 15 folders to look at them! They all appear in your inbox. When you’re finished with them, just click Archive, and your inbox is clean.

    I think that if you try labels out, and have an open mind, and configure them to operate like folders for the transition period, you’ll see they really offer you a lot more power to categorize and manage your emails

  56. linuxtechie Says:

    Yes, I agree. I hate these labels. If you use an email client these labels are 101% useless. And have fun trying to use a client with IMAP. It is impossible to truly delete an email with a client and IMAP. All it does is stick the Delete label on the message. These labels are driving me crazy. Please please please please Google give us Folders!

  57. LoveSongBlue Says:

    You people that are crying for folders:

    It’s not just that you don’t read the manual, but you don’t even read the blog to which your search query for “gmail folders” brought you.

    Every complaint in this thread about how labels are inferior to folders is not only invalid, but addressed by someone — over and over again.

    Of course, this comment appears at the end of the thread, and you haven’t read it either… Cheers people: I’m a Microsoft fan-boy too, but Google has really hit on something here.

  58. fereydoon Says:

    It s pretty obvious that there are those who need folders and others who like the labels. Personally I am in the folder camp but often I find that having both is even better. Imagine being able to move your messages into folder structure bit also be able to use labels within the folder to futher organize the massive number of emails that we all receive and for one reason or other we need to keep them around for years. just y 2 cents and BTW, I have read the blog and message, at least at this site!

  59. yaya Says:

    Yes! PLEASE! Otherwise I might have to switch back to hotmail! I need folders!

  60. JB Says:

    After reading some (not all) of these posts regarding the need for folders in gmail, it is clear that ‘labels’ work for some, but not for all. What is gmail afraid of? Why don’t they just make folders an option? Folders are simple and straightforward, and are desired by many, myself included.
    To the people at gmail, swallow your pride and include what the other email providers offer, just do it!

  61. Justin Wright Says:

    Not sure if anyone reads this post anymore, but I used to feel the same way until I spent countless hours trying to figure out the best way to do it. Here is what I have found to be the best way to do it:

    1. Create “Parent” labels such as: Clients

    2. Create “Child” labels such as: Clients/First Name

    I have found that some email applications such as Apple Mail will automatically place the child labels inside the parents so it still has the folder layout we are all used to.

    And since all of the email will show up in your inbox, I have grown into the habit of archiving all of the stuff I put in the labels. That way I can keep few emails in my actual inbox but can still see all of them if I click on a certain label.

    Hope this helps a bit!

  62. Aaron Says:

    I would like both folders and labels. Now I have too much labels and want to put them into a hierarchical way and also remove the labeled message from INBOX but not in Archive. Since I haven’t process these labeled message and will do it at a later time and still keep my inbox clean for other more important messages to show up easily.

  63. Susan Says:

    I like folders to, however our school recently switched to using Google Connect email and doesn’t want us to use email readers. If you use firefox you can install the better gmail addon which allows gmail labels to have the appearance of a folder hierarchy. So as in Justin Wright’s e-mail, if you have the label Clients and then the label Clients/first name what appears in your google mail labels area is +Clients, then click that and you will see first name listed under it. It isn’t exactly like folders but as close as you can get on gmail.

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