As a computer programmer I have no problem understanding labels/tags.

However I find it very hard to make people understand that an email can have more than one label.

Also I find it hard to explain that you can still get to an email if it is not in your inbox and does not have a label.

(Moving a email to a folder seem to be how most people think)

Is gmail just designed by computer programmers for computer programmers? (Hence why I like it so match)

4 Answers 4


Just tell them that every e-mail is like a movie. The same movie can belong to more than one categories/genres like comedy, action, adventure, etc..


Compared to physical/paper equivalents:

A file folder can contain many documents and you can put a given document in 1. Instead of organizing your document in file folders, you could just stick as many of those small colored post-it notes on them. When you need some document instead of opening a folder, you say "give me all documents with green post-its on them".

Much better when you're not quite sure in which folder to put a document in, you just stick all relevant post-it colors to the document.


I think the label model/analogy is a good one.

Think of a real life label maker. You can put one or more labels on any physical object.

Well gmail allows you to do the same, virtually. And then you can pull up all of the emails by a certain label name.

This analogy shows that there is 1 email, and you can apply 1 or more label to that one email. There is not a copy of the email for each label.

Labels are nicer than email folders in my opinion because you can have them in 2 places without needing a copy.


If they want their Inbox (boring stuff that they have to deal with) separate from the fun stuff (social media, friends from emails) so that can deal with the boring stuff with a constant blue bracketed reminder of how much fun stuff they can look at when they finish then labels are great.

Just get their friends to send emails to send email to [email protected] and suddenly they'll have a useful labelling system that should make sense straight away.

A major problem with user adoption of organisational techniques is they view everything as either wheat or chuff. Finding a way to show the difference to them that applies normally helps.

  • Unfortunately there are many tools out there which don't support pluses in e-mail addresses.
    – neo
    Jul 21, 2010 at 14:42
  • Same effect can be set up with filters and cunning use of dots.
    – Metalshark
    Jul 21, 2010 at 15:06
  • I hate those idiots who write software that doesn't conform to the decades old standards for email addresses >:(
    – davr
    Jul 21, 2010 at 18:03

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