Google Inbox: The Good, the Bad, and the Dreamy

Being among those who have received an invitation to use Google’s Inbox service, I feel obligated to write my own review of its interface. It is basically that, an interface to the existing Gmail, not that I had expected anything different. I am not in the habit of reading long reviews, and as such, will not be writing one.

The Good

First of all, listing what’s great about it.

Clean

Google Inbox Menu
It clears away the clutter of your day-to-day mail, and much like Gmail’s not-so-newly introduced tabs, will tuck away emails that belong together. You even have the option to create your own labels, and based on the emails under that label, it will bundle those together for you, too.

The interface gives you a clear overview of the stuff you have in your inbox, allowing you to jump to those that are of more interest to you, more quickly.

Relaxed

Yes. Relaxed. Receiving tons of mail a day, specially when most of them are work-related can be very stressing. Specially considering that I aggregate many different mail boxes under my Gmail account. As such, having the irrelevant stuff put one side and the relevant neatly grouped together would be very relaxing.

Action-based

The new Inbox is very action-based. It allows you to quickly decide whether or not you have taken action on a given mail, or if you want to create a reminder for it and “snooze it away”.

Ubiquitous Interface

The interface is very ubiquitous. Your inbox looks exactly the same on your Android, your iOS, and on the web. The way you interact with the mails stays the same.

Clean Compose

The compose dialog is very much like it is in Gmail. Except you have the option to directly compose mail to your most-frequent correspondents and also create reminders from the same toggle menu.

Overviews

You will get overviews of what the email contains. If it is an email of your travel itinerary you will get an overview of it without ever having to open it. Receipts are also the same.

The Bad

I am also going to write about things that I feel are missing from the Inbox application.

Browser Compatibility

The first thing you will notice is that the Inbox can only be opened in Google Chrome via the Web. If you are a Mac user like me, then you most likely do your most routine work on Safari. This has made me move to Chrome or at least leave it open to be able to check my mail regularly.

IMAP Support

Once you mark an email as done, it will no longer be synced with your IMAP client. I don’t know why. I have all these rules set up in my Mail application under OS X that will move the mail to different IMAP folders, but once I mark the mails as done, they no longer appear in my Mail app. I checked and there is no option to have a “Done” folder be made visible to IMAP clients.

This is a REAL bummer for me, and I might even leave off using Inbox for know because of it.

Send as

When you have different accounts aggregated under Gmail, you would be disappointed to realize that you can no longer choose the account/alias to be used when sending an email under compose, and you will realize that when you reply to an email, it will be sent via your current Gmail address.

This is very bad considering that I would not like my colleagues to mistakenly send emails to my personal inbox. I will have to be notified of the email, and should I decide to actually make a reply, I will have to log in to my actual mail box.

Select All

There is no select all action anywhere. If you want to clear your messages from your Trash, you will have to manually select all of them. If you want to select all updates and move them to a certain folder, you will have to manually select everything.

Mark as Read

There is no “mark as read” action anywhere. You will have to open each email to mark them as read. This is particularly counter-productive considering the whole overview option which lets you scan the contents of the email. Suppose I have a batch of receipts. I already know the contents, because I was given a glimpse of it all, but I will have to open them individually.

Emptying the Trash/Spam Folders

You cannot empty your trash or spam folders. You will have to remove all of the emails manually, or wait the designated 30 days for the emails to be removed automatically. If you remove an email from Spam, it will actually go back to your Inbox.

Invalid Rendering

There have been emails that have been split into multiple mails, even though they look just fine in Gmail. This one is a real bother.

The Dreamy

There are some stuff that would make my life and the lives of many others I know much simpler should them be made available in Google Inbox.

Collective Action

So I am a developer and it would not be too hard for me to write  CSS selector that would select, say, all “Approve Comment” actions in the mails relating to my blog’s comments. If I choose to have them bundled together, wouldn’t it be super great if I could have a button that would run “Approve Comment” on all emails?

Custom Overview Contexts

Again, it wouldn’t be too hard to define custom overview pieces from certain emails, take the comment example from above.

Aggregated Data Overview

If Inbox would do the same thing it does for the inbox folder across all folders, and then I could easily apply ordering and rules to the emails, and have the emails moved to the appropriate folders, while Inbox would show them to me in their proper format, it would be my all time favorite.

Conclusion

I think for now, Inbox cannot be a full-fledged replacement for your Gmail, at least not on the desktop. If you want to use a mail client alongside Inbox, right now it is not the answer. I don’t know if Google is hoping to overtake your use of mail and guide you to its web interface — because ultimately it will be more beneficial to Google — then it should at least offer a wider range of support to the browsers its users are going to use.

Also, some of the points I have mentioned above are entirely too critical at least for a power-user like myself, and I don’t know if I am yet ready to make the full-time switch.

Google: Final Call

I got the final call. I got called about half an hour ago, and the answer was that sadly I wasn’t chosen to be a part of Google’s big picture this time around.

The good news, according to the calling person, was that I did do rather well and was very much close to the hiring bar. The second interviewer, as described previously, didn’t find my code as tidy as he would’ve liked, and therefore had voted against me.

I will definitely be trying this out again, but for now, this concludes the series, Google Interview Process.

The Face to Face

I went in for the face to face.  The people were nice and friendly in the office. I did have a fairly nasty incident the night before, though.

Needless to say, travel costs including taxi fare were all covered by Google, so I hardly spent a penny.

I went out 10 something at night to grab some dinner. It was late and there were few places open. I started eating and then a guy came and sat next to me. Now, as the place was very small and it was one of the only few operational places left open, I did not think much of this, as it was already very cramped. He started talking to me and it soon became clear that he was from Cyprus and was here on business. I told him I’m also on a very short trip.

He ate a lot of food, and then left for the rest room. In the meanwhile I finished my meal and asked for the bill. The guy brought me my bill and I looked at it. 1200 Turkish Lira. My mind was blown away. I checked and realized that it was four times the number of items I had eaten, and mine was just amounted to 70 Liras — in retrospect, the hotel would have charged me somewhere near 100 Lira, with the difference that it would have been brought hot to my room and of a superior quality. Not to get sidetracked, I called the manager, a stocky short guy with a huge mustache. He told me that “my friend” had left and I had now to pay for him. He had three bottles of 250 Lira wine and lots of food. I dug into my pocket and realized that fortunately I didn’t have much money with me. Around 100 Lira just so that I could buy dinner, as that was the purpose for which I had set out in the first place.

I got into an argument and then he called his second, a tall guy, that I thought was going to beat me bloody. We counted my money. 110 Lira and 30 Euros. He suddenly looked at me and said in a heavily accented Persian, “Are you from Iran?” and I looked at him and said yes. He told me that the guy was probably with the manager, and that this was all a ploy. But he cautioned me that things might get ugly, and fast, and I told him that I was a student and this was all my money and that I had come for an exam and that my hotel was Topkapi in Aksaray. Fortunately, I didn’t have any identification or hotel information with me. If they had realized my real hotel was in the best part of the city things might have changed drastically.

He looked at me and then said because you are “Fars” and because I’m a student he will cover my back. He took all my Liras and 10 Euros and gave me back 20 for the ride back home. He went to the manager and signaled me to leave. I left quickly, shaken.

Well, that story left aside, let’s get to the actual interview.

The Interview

There were three separate interviews. Two with senior engineers from Ireland, and one with one engineer in Mountain View, California. I am not at liberty to divulge the names or the particulars of the interview — I think 😀 — but I will talk about the general theme of it, and will now go into as much detail as possible.

First Interview

The first interview opened with some small talk about the position I was going for, and I was asked whether or not I knew anything about it. I was then asked why I was interested in the job anyway, and what did it mean to me?

Then I was asked whether or not I had ever run into a major bug, in if yes, how I dealt with it. I went into as much detail as possible. I think it is always a good idea to give them the general idea of where the bug came from, and then if it is required, hint that you can go into more detail if necessary.

I was then asked about a particular subsystem of Google and how it could be designed from scratch. It was more like a two-person design brainstorming session and I think it was very much helpful in the way I answered it, since it stripped away my nervousness. I was then asked why somebody would want to abuse this product, and how would they go about it? Then I was asked to reverse the roles, and stop the attacks.

I was then given the time and opportunity to ask my own questions.

Second Interview

This one was more along the lines of my previous phone interviews, as it contained data structure and algorithms questions. It cannot be overstated that Google apparently cares a lot about bit manipulation as the topic again came up in this interview. I was also asked to design a game board for a certain, popular game.

Then, I was again asked to design a major feature of the Search product from scratch and describe what sort of data structure and algorithms were necessary for that product to operate in a reasonable fashion.

I was then again given the opportunity to ask my own question. This interview was observed by a younger interviewer-in-waiting and I was given the chance to interact with him as well by asking him questions about the whole company culture at the end of it.

Third Interview

The third interview was conducted with a gentleman working for Google’s PQO at the Mountain View offices. He gave me a general rundown of the whole job description in a minute and asked me to describe a major bug I had faced. I told him that I had already been asked that, and if necessary I could discuss the same thing with him, but if not, I was ready to answer another question.

He thanked me for telling him that, and asked me instead to describe a design challenge I had faced. I did, and he then gave me a somewhat data structure related question about one of Google’s anti-abuse strategies.

He then asked me a question in the same vein as the brainstormer from the first interview, this time about another particular sub product, and I gave him a design rundown. He then asked me to abuse and anti-abuse the product.

It was concluded by a friendly chat about the position and its technical aspects, as well as the whole culture of the company.

Conclusion

All in all, it was a pleasant, surprising, and very difficult process. It took over four hours and I was beaten up by the end of it, and could barely get myself back to my hotel. Hopefully, it will have gone well, and I will be receiving a positive feedback. But if not, I will be buckling my belt for the next round that life will present me with.

Cheers!

On to da Face-to-Face

So, I heard back from my coordinator that I had successfully passed my third phone interview. I was told that the answer would come back in a week — if I was good — and maybe even later. And I was planning to have a month or two of exhaustive study and preparation before the face-to-face, should it come to that. But on Friday, a mere 36 hours after my phone interview, my coordinator called me and told me that they wanted to speed things up a bit, for me.

They had looked into it and had realized that the visa process for Ireland could be a bit longer than necessary for me — an Iranian. She asked me where would it be possible for me to attend without a visa. I immediately responded with Istanbul, Turkey. She wanted to schedule the interview for the coming Tuesday, less than a week from the phone interview. Even if I had not been panic-stricken, there was no chance of such a close date working out for me.

Since I have not yet attended my military service, and as such do not have a military discharge pass, I would need to ask for permission before leaving Iran. This means that I will need a week or two of paperwork for this to work for me. I told her as much, and now, I am supposed to have my final interview with the Google staffing team in Istanbul via video-conference in the week of 25th of January. Two weeks. Scary.

Anyways, I need to study for my proposed role of “Anti-Abuse Engineer” which will include any material available online about violation of terms and policies of the Google products, and how to deal with them.

So, this is where I stand, at the moment. More updates will come when and if things change.