Monday, August 9, 2010

Google Links Accounts? Not Really

One feature many Google users have always demanded is the ability to link accounts. Not just forwarding email from a slave account to the master account, but intrinsically tying two accounts together, so that they could be used under one name, but still kept separate. Google attempted to answer our prayers a few days ago by implementing account linking. By heading to the My Account page and enabling multiple sign-in, you can log into other accounts that you own and "link" them to your account. Currently, the feature, according to Google, may not work for all accounts, and only works with certain services. But what exactly does it do? Does it allow you to have all your mail head to one account without forwarding? Does it let you combine all your calendars in one place?

The new multiple sign-in feature puts a drop-down button in the top right corner of the page, and lets you click on different email addresses to switch between accounts. That's it. Something like that could be developed in JavaScript or made as a Google Chrome add-on. I understand that Google's account management infrastructure is probably infinitely complicated, but why tempt us with such a tease? I will admit that the new feature may be useful for the occasional user with three or more Google accounts who absolutely needs to switch between accounts in short periods of time, but considering Google Apps accounts are not supported by multiple sign-in (yet?), there are probably not many people that fit that description.

When Gmail was released, it caused a paradigm shift that changed email forever. Rather than open six different email accounts, all for different types of email, people merged their identity under one address, using filters and labels to sort through all that trash. Because of this, it makes absolutely no sense to maintain two separate accounts. The only reason you might want to do that is if you really need a separate address, such as if you maintain a business, but usually there is no need for an entirely separate account. Therefore, it only makes sense that Google should have a way to actually merge accounts, allowing people to maintain multiple addresses if they need it, while keeping the simplicity and abstraction. Unfortunately, it is not likely such a gift will come soon, and hopefully Google will stop teasing me by getting my hopes up.

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