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In this week’s tech-support column at Lifehacker, we’re tackling a relatively simple problem in Gmail—but one that’s probably very annoying if you’re particular about how your email looks. (It’s OK to be particular!)
Though a Lifehacker reader technically sent this question in, I owe it to you, the readers, to confess that it was actually Managing Editor Virginia Smith’s mom. And she technically sent the question to Virginia, not to me, but I liked it enough that I thought it was worth discussing. Ms. Smith writes:
“Please do a hack about how to deal those annoying gmail strings. They are maddening.”
Upon further investigation, she clarified:
“The way they don’t show some of the replies and repeat others and put the answer to the last email at the bottom of the string and on and on. You can’t even get to the latest message usually. Very maddening.”
I think what Virginia’s mom is ultimately getting at is that she’d like a few more options to customize Gmail to her liking—if they exist. Here’s the good news: They do exist, whether you’re messing with settings in Gmail itself or using third-party extensions to hack together whatever layout you most love to use.
To specifically address Ms. Smith’s concerns, one easy option to view all the emails in a thread at once is to disable Gmail’s conversation view. To do this, pull up Gmail in a browser and click on the Settings icon. Click on Settings (the word), and scroll your eyes down until you see the “Conversation view” option.
Turn that off, and every single email you receive will now appear as its own entry in your inbox. Clicking on the most recent email in a thread will show the full thread’s contents (assuming people have been keeping the reply history in their own replies), and it’ll all be in reverse chronological order—most recent message at the top, and getting older and older as you go down through the chain.
If you don’t like that approach, there are alternatives. When you open up an email conversation, you can always click on the arrow-up/arrow-down button in the upper-right corner of your messages to manually expand all the messages. It gets tedious, but it’s on option.
I think an even better trick is to enable keyboard shortcuts via Gmail’s Settings menu. Then, pressing the semicolon (;) will expand all the messages in a thread, and pressing the colon, or shift + semicolon, should collapse them all. That’s not as smooth as some feature or extension that automatically expands all messages in a conversation—still trying to find that—but hitting one key on your keyboard is pretty close.
How to move new Gmail messages from the bottom to the top
As for the whole “answer at the bottom of the thread” aspect of your question, I presume you’d probably be happier if you could reverse the feed of your Gmail conversations and put the most recent message on the top, with older messages appearing lower. Thankfully, there’s a Chrome extension that can swip-swap this for you: Gmail reverse conversation. (It’s available for Firefox, too.) CloudHQ also has the Gmail Conversation Thread Reversal extension, which adds a button you can invert (or revert) a conversation’s messages.
This should cover everything you reference in your message to Virginia, Ms. Smith. However, there are plenty of other ways to modify Gmail to your liking. (I really enjoy the Simplify Gmail extension, for example.)
As always, stumble around Gmail’s settings or interface to see if you can activate a new way to interact with your messages before turning to browser extensions. Otherwise, read an extension’s reviews first, see if it’s popular, and run a quick web search to ensure you aren’t giving up the keys to your inbox to an unscrupulous extension author. You can never be too careful!
Do you have a tech question keeping you up at night? Tired of troubleshooting your Windows or Mac? Looking for advice on apps, browser extensions, or utilities to accomplish a particular task? Let us know! Tell us in the comments below or email firstname.lastname@example.org.