Getting Gmail Storage Under Control – Really Needed ?

A while back, I blogged about switching from a desktop email client to the Web version of GMail, or in my case, Google Apps. And after trying it, I could seriously never go back to a desktop client application.

Emails are at the very root of my professional life. It needs to be « in the cloud » and accessible 24/7 from anywhere in the world.

I don’t want to download them locally,  update or troubleshoot a local application, and I don’t want a large overhead. And let’s face it; none of the email clients currently on the market can even remotely compete with GMail’s outstanding features like threaded emails, filters, labels and all those cools Labs features.

Unfortunately, this has also created a serious problem.

When I switched everything to Google Apps two and a half years ago, I archive nearly every email, but this came with a price: For the last year, I’ve been using 95% of my 7Gb quota.

I’ve read all there is to read on GMail size control. I’m:

  • Using custom searches to delete old emails with attachments.
  • Using filters to locate and remove repetitive messages.
  • Eliminating emails and mailing lists I don’t need.

I did everything I could think of, and they did get me through the last year, but the size is still increasing all the time.

One option I read about involved downloading old emails to a local email client and deleting them from GMail. This clearly defeats the purpose of not storing emails locally, but I didn’t see any other option. Also, a friend of mine recently told me he upgraded to Ubuntu 10.4, which came with Thunderbird 3. This version seemed to be a complete rewrite with a lot of cool features and it looked good!

So, I thought I’d try to get Thunderbird on my Ubuntu 9.10 install. Well, Ubuntu 9.10 comes with Thunderbird 2.x, and you can’t upgrade to Thunderbird 3 very easily, but after some Googling, I found How To Install Thunderbird 3 Shredder in Ubuntu 9.10.

Great! And it’s easy too:

  • Add the Mozilla PPA in your source list using: sudo add-apt-repository ppa:ubuntu-mozilla-daily/ppa
  • Update source list using: sudo apt-get update
  • Install Thunderbird 3 using:sudo apt-get install thunderbird-3.0

All I had to do was restart, and the Thunderbird 3 was working! I configured it to synchronize with GMail’s IMAP, messed around a bit to synchronize the ‘All Mail’ folder only, and learned how to delete a message in GMail without deleting it locally. Unfortuantely, this took ages since I had more than 100 000 emails. In the end, I simply gave up. Too much trouble, too long, and too complex!

I read about using a new GMail account to store/archive old messages. Still, complex…The last solution I had was to upgrade our Google Apps account to Google Apps Premium, which would give us (and me :)) 25 Gb of storage per account, but I would still run into the limit problem sooner or later…

Suddenly it hit me!

What am I trying to achieve? I want to keep emails forever, but is that really what I want to do ? In a time where information usually loses its relevance a few hours after its release, why would I want to keep emails forever? I realized it isn’t the emails I want to save at all. I want the important information.

Now, I use Highrise to manage my interactions with the people/subjects that matter. I forward very message with value to Highrise. So I have a copy of those that matter anyway, right ? As for the rest, do they really matter? Is it really a problem if I don’t have an email someone sent me a year ago?

I’m starting to see the problem the other way around. Why should I bother trying to keep emails archived forever? Instead, I realize I should focus on making sure the emails that really matter go to Highrise. Now, instead of focusing on the 80% (and more!) of useless emails that crowd my inbox, I can focus on the 20% (and even less) that really matter!

What do you think? How do you manage your emails? How long do you keep them? And why?

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