No, they’re not ending Gmail outright, but Google is turning it into something unrecognizable—something that looks more like a chat service than an email service. The “compose” window will henceforth be only a box on the far right of your screen, an “experience” that will feel a lot like trying to type correspondence into Facebook’s chat window. You can’t move the window, but you can click a button—don’t you just love doing that?—to pop-out a larger compose window that you can move. Get ready to become very familiar with that now-indispensable click.

Google won’t provide an opt out, but there’s a two-week reprieve for users who want to say a long goodbye to the present system. When Google does foist this newly inconvenient service on you, you get an overlay on your screen that won’t close until you click “Got it” (or a tell-me-more button that doesn’t tell you anything except how screwed you are). There’s not even a simple “X” button to close the overlay. You either say “Got it”—as if you assent to what the company has done and agree that people who don’t “get it” are obtuse—or you stay on that screen. Google doesn’t offer any obvious avenue of protest: this is their system, and they can make it as user-unfriendly as they wish.

In the post below I suggest how online networks might become a new form of political organization. Google’s unilateral rule shows why that’s problematic: you can’t vote at the next election, you can’t take a case before the courts. You could use another service—but then, you may already have thousands of emails in the Google system, and the inconvenience of switching may equal that of remaining. What happens when you become reliant on companies that you turn to freely, and they decide unilaterally to make changes to your habits? What astounds me about Google in particular is that the company has a lousy reputation for guessing what customers want, as the Google graveyard attests. Now they’re doing this to one of their most widely used services.