The night Gmail stopped talking to me

I used to be on a lot of mailing lists. Back in the 90’s and 00’s, I was doing a lot of Open Source contribution.

Debian, Wine, Thousand Parsec, OpenJPEG, Second Life Viewer, rt2x00, dwm, X.Org, uim, FreeRADIUS; to name-drop a few. My tendency to show up and contribute a single patch in those days meant having to subscribe to a -devel list (and possibly a -patch list), email your patch to the list, and keep monitoring your thread to respond to feedback, iterate on the patch, and eventually enjoy the warm glow of commit.

And once I was on the list, I tended to never leave. I also had a tendency to become the Debian maintainer if one was needed. And in one case, the Release Manager for a release.

Tonight, it ended in blood and tears for many such lists…

Actually, that’s not true. Many of those lists had ended themselves since I was subscribed. And it looks like some time in 2009, my university email address expired and so my subscriptions through that went away. (Apologies to the bounce-bots….)

Still, some of the larger projects stuck around, and had my now-20-year-old email address. Even my mobile phone number is slightly younger than that. Actually, some of my colleagues are younger than that, I suspect.

That means I’ve had the same email address for more than half my life. Or longer than Google has been around.

Speaking of Google, at some point I realised that maintaining my own email server was a dumb idea, and migrated my email to Gmail. I remember hunting down a script to upload all my own email via IMAP, and leaving it running for days.

Being a compulsive hoarder, I couldn’t leave anything behind. That gives me full email history to 1998 (according to my sorted folders) except a year where a typo erased my inbox instead of archiving it in the early 2000’s.

One thing about mailing lists, though, is they’re archived elsewhere. So it’s much easier to delete old email from a mailing list, even for a hoarder. However, I realised this much too late, and so email continued to accumulate.

Gmail’s UI isn’t great at unsubscribing from Mailman mailling lists, which is what everyone serious in Open Source used, “back in the day”. Mailman’s own development email list was hosted on Sourceforce, because… reasons.

There’s a header in each email indicating how to unsubscribe, but you have to “show original” to see it. Usually it’s a http: or mailto: link, which is not clickable in that view.

What the Gmail UI does do well, that the Inbox UI (what I normally use these days) does not, is let you multi-select in any way other than “Click one by one on the emails you want”. They have an ‘All’ button, which selects all the email on-screen, and then gives you a “Really, All” link to let you select everything that matches the current filter/label.

This will happily let you select and delete over 77k emails in one click. That was my largest folder, wine-patches, but only because I unsubscribed from debian-devel last time I tried to clean up my email.

What it will not happily do is delete 77k emails (move them to Trash) quickly. In fact, while I was waiting and occasionally clicking the “Something timed out, try again” links, I decided I should write a blog post.

This blog post.

I was hoping to end with “And I’m still waiting”, but it did finish while I was working on this. So despite the rocky start, Gmail and I are once again on speaking-terms.

Never go to bed angry with your email provider, as the proverb should go.

Instead, I get to explore how long it takes to delete 131,585 emails from “Bin”. That should give me time to follow this up with some thoughts on how Open Source project communication has changed. Expect a post about that some time in the coming week, since it overlaps with something I need to do in the coming week as well.

Update: It finished in under half an hour, while I was editing and adding links to this post. And relived some of my finest wall-of-text emails where I completely miss the recent release of Git when considering distributed version control.

Only 3gB of email deleted… It looked larger in the rear-view mirror.