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Gmail tweak gives nod to folder metaphor

The Gmail interface for organizing e-mails now lets labels behave more like traditional folders. It's faster for Gmail fans and easier for newbies, Google says.

Gmail forsook folders for a more flexible idea, labels, but Google has begun making a change acknowledging that the older interface idea has its place.

The drawback of folders is that you must decide which one is the best location for a message you want to file--"family" or "travel," for example. With labels, you can apply both, and in Gmail, clicking either label will show that particular message.

But Google concluded that folders have one nice feature: when you move a message out of the in-box and into them, the message is filed. With Gmail today, you have to first apply a label, then separately archive it. But with the new feature, "move to," those two steps can be combined into one, according to a blog post by Gmail engineer Emil Eklund.

"It's not always obvious how to use labels, especially for people who are new to Gmail and used to using folders, and it hasn't helped that some common tasks have been more complicated than they should be," Eklund said.

Gmail added new buttons for "Move to" and "Labels."
Gmail added new buttons for "Move to" and "Labels." Google

The Gmail interface is getting two new buttons across the top, starting Tuesday. One will be the "Move to" button, which lets people apply a label and archive the message; the other "Labels" button can be used just to apply one or more labels. If you have keyboard shortcuts enabled, the two buttons' functions are accessed with V and L, respectively.

Updated 12:47 p.m. PST to correct the "Move to" shortcut.