Google's Gmail team removed the right-side labels feature in the Webmail application last week.
The removal spurred some fiery protest: Check out the comments at the end of my Google Watch post on the matter. Users are miffed that Google turned off right-side labels, moving up the left-side labels to help promote the woefully underused labels feature (only 29 percent, according to the Gmail team).
With all of the protest, does that mean Google is bringing back right-side labels? Maybe. This fresh explanation from Matt Glotzbach, director of product management for Google Enterprise, hints that the sun may not have set on right-side labels after all:
"Labs are experimental and until they're rolled into core features, they could interact poorly with one another, they could interact poorly with changes, they could go away, etc. I think the right-side labels is a great example. It's a Labs feature that's been there for quite some time now and there's a number of users who have gotten very attached to that capability. We're aware of it and it's definitely something that we're looking to address. We need to innovate on the product but at the same time keep the functionality users want, whether it be Labs or otherwise."
That's a little encouraging. Glotzbach stopped short of promising the return of right-side labels, but the fact that Google is looking to address the outcry bodes well for the feature.
Glotzbach reports to Google Enterprise President Dave Girouard, so if these guys keep hearing people complain about missing features in Gmail and other Google Apps, you can bet they will step in and ask their product teams to make things right with users.
That Google would jettison some Labs features shouldn't come as a total surprise. The company just took Gmail (and Docs, Calendar and Talk) out of beta yesterday after five-plus years of tinkering. Labs may still be a fertile testing ground, but Gmail is officially a serious e-mail application. Google needs to weed out what it believes doesn't work.
From reader comments, I'm not sure right-side labels falls into that category. Perhaps the right-side labels fans are just a small, vocal minority? Even so, how much trouble can it be to turn the feature back on? If it was pretty unobtrusive in the first place, why not bring it back to keep the users from going elsewhere?
Adding fuel to the fire, a Google spokesperson confirmed for me last week that Google will be retiring some Labs features, but declined to say what those might be.
This helped me conceive of this slideshow, "Five Gmail Labs Features We Need and 5 We Can Live Without," which Brian Moore in the eWEEK creative team put together for me online.
The topic of what should stay and what should go in Gmail is, of course, entirely subjective. What works for some users won't necessarily work for others. Some Gmail users might feel all of the features in Gmail Labs are keepers. Others might feel Gmail is becoming too cluttered.
Check out the slideshow now if you haven't already seen it. Do my five keepers and five weepers make sense to you? Agree, disagree? Tell me why. One thing I should have added to the keeper short list was Gmail SMS chat, but ... I forgot about it! It's been down for two weeks. Mea culpa.
The good news there is that Google assures me the SMS chat is only temporarily down. No word on when it will be back, but if user comments are any indication, Google might be hard-pressed to just drop it the way it did right-side labels.
Millions of Gmail users could very well riot, storming Google HQ in Mountain View.