Gmail Features Not For The British!

Here’s an interesting Gmail problem I found the other day. One that is a little worrying on two counts. The first: It seems gmail are slow to roll out new features to non-US accounts, And the second: It appears that the code architecture behind gmail is quite poor. Or at least the internationalization of it is badly designed and doesn’t use common code.

I recently spotted this post by Aaron Swartz on the Google Weblog:

Gmail: New From Address

Without apparent fanfare, Google now lets you change your From address to any email address you can verify. Click on Settings, then Accounts. Once you’ve verified the email you can go back there to make the new address the default. (Thanks, Noah!)

Great! This is a feature I have been waiting for for quite a while. Multiple easily selectable from addresses. When I sign up to mailing lists and forums or when I register on a web site, I always give a new email address based on the name of the list, forum, or site. That way I can identify where mail comes from, can filter it more easily (it all get forwarded to the same address), and can trace spam if anyone sells my email address. But posting to mailing lists usually requires the from address to be the same as the one you signed up with. Using Gmail with its single from address makes this a problem. Thus I was really pleased to see this new feature announced.

I tried to follow Aaron’s brief instructions but I couldn’t seem to find the right part of my settings. Aaron’s post pointed to the What’s New page Google use to document new features on Gmail. Following the link on that page to the Help Centre page gave me a 404 error. So I emailed Gmail support. Who pointed me to the missing page!

I emailed back to point out that the page with the help was missing, and they eventually mailed me back with the instructions (and I noticed the help page got fixed too). But I still couldn’t get it right! When I clicked on “Settings” I didn’t have “Accounts” as an option I had “Account Settings”

Then in a stroke of genius, I decided to change my language setting back to US English. I knew that terms like ‘Trash’ differed between the two language settings: it’s “Deleted items” in UK English. So I wondered whether “Account settings” would also differ. On changing over I got much more than I bargained for: Take a look at this screen shot (click for the lager version with full details).

Gmail US vs UK differences

Yes! I do have “Accounts” on the US setting. And I have a “New features” flash at the top of the page. And yes I can add multiple from addresses.

What’s amazing to me is that it’s not just the terminology that changes when you switch from US English to UK English, the whole application changes too. At least the settings pages do. There are more differences than I’ve shown in my screen shot. The US version even has a plug for Google Talk on the bottom of the settings page, which the UK version does not. It is clear that it is not the same code behind these two versions!

That means all the new features, at least the configuration interfaces for them have to be written twice, and any bugs will have to be fixed twice. Not very good! I find that astounding in a company a large as Google and with the reputation they have.

Luckily having set up a couple of addresses, when I switch back to UK English, the feature still works. I still can’t make changes in UK English though! Plus 10 for the new feature, but minus 5 for the implementation!

39 thoughts on “Gmail Features Not For The British!

  1. Cheers for the heads up, didn’t know about this. I don’t normally read any blogs, but tried out google blog search and it bought this up!

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  7. It’s a Googleized omen! The end of the little island across the pond is nigh!

    Uhh, I mean… They’re all out in beautiful sunny southern California. You can’t blame them for forgetting one little island now and then…

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  9. I think it’s pretty arrogant to think that the entire code behind the application is different. I code applications all the time that look totally different from one user to the next. If you practice good MVC design, it’s really easy to change the application’s look significantly based on any criteria you want. Just because you change the view for one country or user set doesn’t mean that all the application logic in the controller or model changes also.

    Internatinalization isn’t something that just happens at the drop of a hat — most likely, they’re still checking it out to make sure you don’t get your panties in a bunch over some small difference between US and British english. Then they’ll flip the switch and you’ll have access. Or maybe a giant company like google really does have it out for just you brits. That’s it.

  10. Hi Dustin,
    I too code applications all the time, I have done for more than 15 years. I have been in charge of more than one internationalisation project too.

    There is no arrogance on my part claiming that the settings pages are different code from between the two languages. Not only was the layout different, the features available to configure were different.

    There is no question that the code to configure settings for UK English is different from that for US English. I know that internationalisation, especially globalisation, can involve differences in layout and imagery as well as language, but differences in functionality between these two variants of English? I don’t think so.

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  12. Not just English — typically when a new feature comes out, it comes out for the US English (default) GMail, and the other languages, all of them, get them much later.

    There might be an excuse like GMail never wanting to have inconsistent/unfinished translations shown, but this is indeed quite ridiculous. Most sites (and big ones at that, say, put up with the untranslated strings shown up in Default English, and that’s it.

    Let’s not even get into the quality of the translations — I’ve been doing website translation for years now, and I can’t say I’m perfect or anywhere close to it, but damned if I can’t make a better GMail. Both in Hungarian, and in Dutch. And I’m not even native to the latter.

    Of course the fact that I registered for translation the moment I got GMail in February or so, doesn’t really matter and they never replied.

  13. Cool! Thanks for that. I too was using UK English but just set up another account for a friend. I noticed the ‘new features’ link that I didn’t have and got in a huff about the From address thing.

    A quick Google got me here though 🙂


  14. Great post, Mike and makes me glad I signed up to WordPress and clicked on the link to your site.

    I’ve now changed to U.S format and a valuable feature that I always wanted in gmail is immediately available.


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  16. Google is supposed to have some 100,000 server nodes (so far). I suppose it is possible that changing your language preferences changes which servers the app (but not the email data) is being served from. Deploying changes may take some time over so many servers, and they may choose to not propagate the changes quickly in order to shake out the new features on a smaller user base.

  17. Hi Mike,
    That sounds quite reasonable apart from the fact that they first launched that feature in late August, and if I switch back to UK English now it still isn’t there!

  18. I was wondering why the new RSS feed feature wasn’t showing up in my account. Switching the language to US english did the trick. Thanks!

  19. This is funny because as a Brit who now lives in America I have my keyboard set to (UK) English and yet my Gmail has, and has always had, all the settings for a US account.

    Could the location of the IP also play a part in some way?

  20. AT LAST!!! i have a couple of gmail accounts, (work and personal) .. was wondering why my personal account was never updated with the latest features!!

    Thanks to (which linked here) I NOW KNOW!!

    Thanks.. a simple switch from English (UK) to English (US) and all the latest features.. I only wish when I emailed GMail support, they told me.. 🙂

  21. Giles,
    If location of IP has any effect, I would guess it might have an influence on the default language when you first sign up. Though I would expect the browser setting to be more relevent.


  22. Honestly, I hate to write color rather than colour or theater rather than theatre but if yo wanna have delete button, do so.. what the heck

  23. I think that when gmail puts out a new feature it is done in the US first and then they put into other language settings later.

    I just looked at the Us and UK english settings and both are the same except for the newest features which are “Chat” and “Web Clips”

    I guess the US would be the test platform to make sure everything works like it should before it is made available. After all Gmail is still in beta.

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  26. It seems to be the case that the language option can be used to trigger all sorts of client-side stuff. I have some environmental monitoring apparatus at work, presenting its data through a dedicated web server. If I view the page using IE on Windows (language setting English [UK]) then temperature values are reported in degrees Centigrade. But using Mozilla on Linux (language setting English [en]) then they showed in Farenheit. Rather than change some setting on the monitor, I had to find and install an optional language pack “English/United Kingdom” for Mozilla and then the values displayed switched to Centigrade. All too clever, really.

  27. Hi Mike, I think these kind of regional features does not happen only in GMail; Hotmail and Friendster are some of the webservices I know that offers features based on your regional settings. At first a friend of mine in the US told me to use the Chat feature in Friendster, and I thought I’m getting blind or perhaps had reading difficulties, until I change my location to US. (I’m in Taiwan).

    But it’s not quite a problem really, unless we’re trying to use their region based services (shopping, maps and directions, etc.)

    Still, thanks for the headsup! 😉

  28. Dustin Barnes: I couldn’t agree with you more.

    “What’s amazing to me is that it’s not just the terminology that changes when you switch from US English to UK English, the whole application changes too.”

    The whole application? No it doesn’t.

    “That means all the new features, at least the configuration interfaces for them have to be written twice, and any bugs will have to be fixed twice.”

    Huh? Why does everything have to be written twice? They build a version of Gmail. Say the version just before those “From” addresses came in. They test it in US English and then they translate it to all the languages as necessary. They then start building the “From” adresss feature. And they make a new version of Gmail with the feature in. Obviously this version is US English. And after testing they release it to US English users. When they translate this version of Gmail they can then implement it for other languages too. At the moment the Uk version is just running an old version of Gmail. The US one used to look like that.

  29. Sam,
    Even if they are running an old version, if they find, for instance, a security issue that affects all versions, then it will need to be fixed in multiple versions. That’s what I mean about maintaining two versions.

    Another thought; why does it take so long? I appreciate that supporting 25 or more languages means a long time translating and the checking those translations. But the multiple ‘from’ addresses feature took more than 3 months to appear on the UK English version (I suspect it took more than that, but I stopped checking sometime in December).


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  31. … and not only in Gmail: whenever I change my Google settings in IE or Firefox back to English, the next day they are in Spanish again. Always.
    Yes, I live in Spain, but I live in English.
    Is it so difficult to respect users’ wishes? Repeated wishes, at that.

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  33. Dear Anybody:

    I have thus far wasted over two hours trying to find how I can change one Gmail default address to a new Gmail address. All I can find in their very lacking Help Center information is how to make Gmail my default email client, which is an entirely different topic. There is no button or dialogue box within “Settings” or “Accounts” to execute what I need. However, within the Settings or Accounts (I forget which as I’m brain-damaged at this point) Google refers to the “default” e-mail address, nowhere hinting at how it is selected or changed. Would someone please help me out of my misery? You can reply to me at Many, many thanks!!!

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