One of my favorite things about software is when they provide you lots of different options so you can customize it to work the way you want it. One of my least favorite things is when they make the option I don’t like the default :).
Recently I’ve seen several comments from friends about how they hate that Gmail and Yahoo Mail now thread email conversations instead of simply displaying all the received messages in chronological order. In this post, I’m going to show you how to change it back to unthreaded, with an added bonus of showing you how to do it in Outlook as well.
What is Threading?
Threading is when your email service sorts your messages so that all the replies and forwards are grouped together rather than just listing them in the order they arrived in your Inbox. It’s also referred to as “conversations.” The screenshots below show an example of each type in Gmail.
This is what I consider the standard view of an Inbox. As each message comes in, it gets added to the top of the list. It doesn’t include any of the related sent messages.
This is what the Inbox looks like when the messages are threaded.
You’ll see the first item shows a “(4)” in it to indicate there are four messages in the conversation, because it includes both the messages sent and the messages received. If you click on that item, you’ll see all four messages, with the most recent one (at the bottom) fully expanded.
Note also that the Inbox list has the two unrelated messages that came in between the messages in the conversation showing below it. This is why I don’t like the threaded list. My brain expects to see the messages in the order they came in. It may not look that bad in this example where there’s just one threaded conversation, but when there are a lot more I find the whole thing confusing to follow, especially when you add forwarded messages into the mix.
Also note that if someone changes the subject line along the way, that message is no longer included in the conversation, adding yet another level of confusion.
Turning Threading On and Off
In Gmail on Desktop
- Click the gear (Settings) icon at the top right.
- Go to Settings > General.
- Click the radio button for turning on/off the Conversation View.
- Click the Save Changes button.
NOTE: The instructions above only apply to the desktop version of Gmail. If you’re using the Gmail app on an Android or iOS device, there’s no option for threading. However, you can add your Gmail account to the default email apps on your Android and iOS mobile devices, which may give you the option to turn off threading depending on the device and the version of the software. For example, Apple Mail on iOS 10 has an option to turn threading on and off and the email client I have on my Samsung Galaxy S5 (Android 6) only has unthreaded messages. Here’s a screenshot from my Galaxy S5, with the same email conversation showing in the Inbox for the Gmail app on the left and for the Gmail account added to the built-in email app on the right.
Thanks to T4L reader Orla for reminding me of this distinction after she had already provided the great tip later in this post about a problem with iOS 10 email settings.
In Yahoo Mail
- Click the gear icon at the top right.
- Go to Settings > Viewing Email.
- Check or uncheck the box for turning on/off the Conversation View.
- Click the Save button.
In Outlook 2007/2010
- Click the View ribbon.
- Check or uncheck the Show as Conversations box.
Note that if you turn on the conversation view, you have several more options to choose from.
(I can’t figure out what “Show Senders Above the Subject” does because checking/unchecking it doesn’t appear to make any difference in my case.) Thank you to reader Ajda for pointing out that the “Show Senders Above the Subject” option applies when your Outlook window is too narrow to show both sender and subject line on the same line, so you can choose which one is above and which one is below.
In Apple iOS
Thanks to T4L reader Arnold for sharing this information about how to turn off threading on the iPhone and iPad! Note that the option is also available on my iPhone 4S with iOS 9.3.5.
There is a ‘Threading’ option (on or off) in Apple/IOS (version 10 at least – not sure about older versions) phones.
To disable (bc I loathe threading), go to ‘Settings’ | ‘Mail’. Scroll towards the bottom and there is a section labeled ‘Threading’. The first line in this section reads ‘Organize by Thread’ with the switch to enable or disable. I moved to the left to disable and my threading is gone!
UPDATE: The iOS 10 update has caused other sorting problems. Apple added a new option for “Most Recent Message on Top” but the default setting is Off, so messages are no longer in order. Go to the Settings > Mail > Threading section to set it to On. (There’s also a new setting for “Complete Threads” that you can try out to see if you like it or not.) Huge thanks to T4L reader Orla for sharing this info with T4L!
How about yourself? Do you prefer your messages threaded or unthreaded? Let me know in the comments below!
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