Sort conversations by the time I last replied (not time I last received an email)

Not sure if this is an enhancement or a Gmail bug or just the way it is but...
When viewing the results of a search, such as looking for all emails with a specific label (i.e. waiting on), the results are displayed by newest to oldest which is fine. My question is - why does gmail use the date associated with the last received message in the thread and not the last sent date if I have already replied. In my case I would prefer when I respond to an email that the date I responded be the date that shows (and sorts by) in the summary window not the last time I received a message in the thread. Is there a workaround / setting / lab for this?

I am using Firefox'

TIA
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  • Andy Mitchell (ActiveInbox Founder) August 23, 2010 13:24
    Hi Rob,

    That is an interesting puzzle!

    The short answer is that there is no setting I know of, and it's not something I can tweak with ActiveInbox (it's very very default behaviour).

    But... I wonder if there is a workaround. I believe, if you search Sent Messages, that it will display in order of last sent. The search phrase for that is "in:sent".

    So, you could search for "label:s-action -label:s-finished in:sent", and I believe it will arrange by the time sent. The only caveat being, you'd of had to have sent a message - so it's not a universal cure!

    Ah, but what IS interesting is this search:
    "in:inbox OR in:sent". This seems to fool Gmail, to show all of your inbox, but for any messages that you have sent, it shows the time they were sent, and organizes appropriately.

    Which raises the very very interesting question.... could we tag "( OR in:sent)" onto every search ActiveInbox does?
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  • Thanks Andy - I see what you mean when you look in sent it does sort right - I'll keep playing with it from that perspective.

    At first glance however that only works until you add a label to your search such as label:s-waiting-for, but I'll try some more variations on using the in: modifier.

    I would add the in:archive to the list of 'ins' - remember - In box to empty!

    so this would be nice - label:s-waiting-for in:sent OR in:archive OR in:inbox
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  • I have confirmed the sort works fine with the sent label as long as it is the only label. as soon as you add another label (such as label:s-action) the sort reverts back to ignoring sent messages that are part of the thread.

    :-(
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  • I’m optimistic
    OK Andy - after further troubleshooting... I've determined the date that shows up in a sorted list is tied to the datetime stamp of the last message in the thread at the time the label was applied. (I think)

    Here's the scenario:

    1. I receive a message at 1:00. I respond at 1:30 and apply the 'Waiting On' label. The waiting on list shows 1:30
    2. I receive another reply at 2:00. the list time now shows 2:00 (which it should)
    3. I reply again at 2:30. the list time still shows 2:00 (which is not what I want - I want time of last activity)
    4. I reply again at 3:00, but this time I remove and reapply the 'waiting on' label. The time now displays correctly as 3:00

    The trick is to remove and reapply the label. however, there is one caveat. If you have more than one label, say the 'waiting on' label and a context label. Each has its own time stamp association.

    I.E. - I reply at 3:30 and do not reapply the 'waiting on' label, but I do add a context label. The context list now displays 3:30 while the waiting on list shows 3:00

    So here is what I would like to see - an option configurable in preferences that says 'Reset (or re-apply) all labels when replying to a message. If checked this option would remove and reply all existing labels when I click the send button on a 'reply or 'reply all' or 'reply self'' or forward'.

    I've tried to make this as clear as I can, but I would be happy to answer any questions or even shoot a video showing what I mean if you need.

    -Rob Harrington
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  • Andy Mitchell (ActiveInbox Founder) November 30, 2010 10:28
    Hi Rob,

    That's an awesome bit of detective work! It's something we could do... but I fear it's prone to breaking. I wonder if there's an alternative...

    So, how are you currently approaching your Waiting On labels?

    One thing I have in consideration - and will blog soon - is a Dashboard. Kind of like a specialized 'multiple inboxes', for the different Statuses and Deadline views.

    This would give me absolute control in the order emails are listed, so if you think a Dashboard would work well for you, I think this might solve the problem.

    It would be really useful to better understand your workflow, and what you'd need such a Dashboard to do (imagine it as a link on the left, like 'Inbox', that opens a Priority Inbox-esque set of search results).
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  • Dashboard is a rather interesting idea. I'll pitch my hand in to researching if you want Andy.
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  • Andy -

    -LABELING A MESSAGE (My approach)
    I apply the Waiting On label whenever I have an active dialog (thread) and am expecting a response from the person(s) I replied, or sent new message, to. I also use my context labels slightly differently. I use context with an @ symbol prefix to associate an email with an individual (I.E. @Work/Rob, @Family/Brian, @Friend/Andy, @Other, etc.). Usually, I will select the context label of the individual(s) I am waiting to respond in addition to the Waiting On label. If I am waiting for more than one response from a group, I remove the context labels as individuals respond. Once everyone has responded, I remove the Waiting On Label and apply another label such as Next or Action as applicable and change the deadline if applicable, then archive.

    SIDE NOTE: I personally don't use the Finished label, I have Next, Action, Some Day, Waiting On, Delegated and Reference defined as my statuses. I feel things align better with the GTD Workflow Map that way.

    -USING THIS INFORMATION FOR FOLLOW-UP
    When I click the Waiting On link in the left sidebar under the To Do section, I scan the list for items looking for items that should have been responded to by now. If I could choose what information displays it would be

    1. the date of last activity by me (reply or send FROM me)
    2. the date of last activity by someone else (replied or sent TO me)
    3. the deadline labels
    4. the context labels
    5. the subject
    6. icon to hover over to preview body of email from last activity

    although customizing the list would be awesome, it is not as much an issue for me as the sorting of the list because I may have 50+ Waiting On emails but only time to address 10 of them right now, so I like to go after the oldest, but have no way of identifying those quickly right now.

    I hope this answers your question and isn't too confusing. In regards to your comment that 'it might be prone to breaking', in regards to the 'workaround' option, you are a better judge than I based on your knowledge of the inner workings of Gmail, but wouldn't making it a selectable preference mitigate some of that risk in that the option could be turned off if something changed that broke it?

    Thanks for all your hard work on this product. Keep it up! I too am available for testing, brainstorming, etc.

    -Rob
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  • Andy/Rob

    This is a result of a long-outstanding "design bug" in gmail conversations (as in it technically works, it just doesn't do what the UI/UX presentation and help information suggests it *should* do)...

    Labels *appear* to be applied to conversations, but behind the scenes they are - at the technical level - actually applied to individual messages (fair enough). When you apply a label to a conversation, it gets applied to every message in the conversation *at that time*, BUT when new messages (including any replies you send) are "assigned" to that conversation they do NOT inherit the labels that are nevertheless shown in the UI as assigned to that conversation.

    This can cause several issues:
    1) results of viewing/searching for a label are sorted "incorrectly", as you observe (by the last message that existed when you actually last (re-)applied the label to the conversation).
    2) combining a search for a label with an individual-message-level search criteria such as "-has:attachment" or "-is:starred" may give unexpected results (it'll only match if the specific message with the attachment/star arrived before the label was applied and not after)
    3) if you're using an IMAP client then messages in a conversation arriving after a label is applied will not appear in the IMAP folder representing that label

    This has been reported in various places (e.g. http://www.jamesmurty.com/2008/03/13/... and http://www.google.com/support/forum/p... and http://www.google.com/support/forum/p... ) for years but it seems Google have no intention of "fixing" it to behave as users naturally expect it to.

    Andy - I've no idea if it's readily possible/practicable, but if there's any way for ActiveInbox to automatically re-apply all the labels associated with (any message in) a conversation to that conversation whenever a new message arrives or is sent in that conversation, you'd likely be a major hero to quite a number of people!

    If you can't tap into a "new email received/sent" trigger, perhaps a similar automated re-application could be triggered by some other action within ActiveInbox's control/purview?

    -Steve
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  • Hello Nikhil

    The thread was started a long time ago but I don't know that we're looking to implement this. I'll try and get an update from Andy but it might not be for a few days as he's travelling this week.

    Lisa Reynolds
    AIB Support
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