This is a sign of the times: Google’s Gmail has finally gotten around to putting a “delete” button in their interface. Up to this time, they had deliberately made it hard to delete email because they were trying to encourage a new philosophical approach to email: don’t delete it, archive it. Disk space is cheap, and you may want it again someday. It’s a bold and provocative idea, but the thing is, sometimes people really want to delete stuff. Philosophical enlightenment aside, why should it be difficult to do that? Gmail got it wrong, lots of people complained, and finally Gmail gave people the feature they wanted.
But that’s not the interesting part. That’s an old story about the power relationship between the software vendor and the software user: beg for feature, maybe get feature. What’s interesting is that a third party plug-in called Greasemonkey has been providing the Gmail delete button for months before Google got around to it. In other words, software vendors are losing control of their products. As Paul Kedrosky says over at Infectious Greed
Mind you, I use so many Gmail-altering Greasemonkey scripts that I’m hard-pressed to remember what features Gmail really has or doesn’t have any more.
Or, as Jon Udell says in a post about a longed-for feature in Flickr that he simply built for himself: “In the old days, it’d be a feature request… In the new era of do-it-yourself user-interface composition, we expect to work with interfaces.”