OS X Lion: Viewing Conversations in Mail

In Lion, we have a new ability to organize messages by conversation. It’s similar to Snow Leopard’s “Organize by Thread” feature, except that I think it’s much more intuitive and easy to use. I’m going to go over its possibilities in this tip, and I hope you leave feeling stronger, happier, and more alive than ever before. That’s the best-case scenario, but I suppose it’d be OK if you all just learned something you didn’t already know. And if you don’t, just pretend you did for the sake of my fragile ego. 

First of all, verify that this setting is turned on. This tip won’t make much sense otherwise, will it? You do so by selecting View > Organize by Conversation. Incidentally, deselecting that is also how you turn conversations off if you don’t like the feature. 

Organize messages by content

After you’ve done that, you’ll see that all of your messages that follow the same conversation are grouped together with numbers beside them to indicate how many individual e-mails are included.

If you click on a conversation, you can see all of the messages contained within it, ready for your scrolling happiness in the right-hand pane of your Mail window. You may notice, though, that the only messages that are included are the ones that were sent to you. If you need to refer to an e-mail you’ve sent in that conversation? It’s not there! Death, destruction, pestilence! Rending of garments! No, calm down. That’s what I’m here for, and there are actually a number of ways you can view that information.

The first thing you can do is look for a “See More” link at the bottom of each message in a conversation. Click that, and you’ll be rewarded with all of the “Re: re: re: re:” quoted stuff we’ve become so accustomed to having in our e-mails. “Stuff” is such a polite word for that, isn’t it?

The second way to do it is to click on the number next to each conversation (circled in the screenshot above) to expand that particular series of messages.

Look at that—a shortcut to each of the e-mails! How very cool. Click on any of the items in that list, and you’ll be able to see that message in all of its glory, including the quoted text from previous parts of the conversation if there happens to be any. Here’s another great thing, too—if you hold down Option and then click on that same number that’s circled above, you’ll expand all of the conversations in that particular mailbox. You can choose View > Expand All Conversations to do the same thing, but who’d want to go all the way up to the menu bar for that? That’s valuable Cheetos-eating time.

Lastly, you can choose View > Show Related Messages to pull all of the e-mails in that conversation—even your sent ones—into the list. I love the fact that there’s also a toolbar button for this.

As always, if you don’t have that button, go to View > Customize Toolbar to drag it in.

And if you’d prefer that related messages always be shown no matter where you are, go to Mail > Preferences > Viewing and turn on “Include Related Messages.” (Be sure to check out the other conversations-related choices while you’re there, too!)

That’ll make related messages show up everywhere, all the time, with no button-clicking or menu-choosing required. From Apple’s perspective, it may also make your e-mail window more cluttery, but we’re not going to let them judge us, are we?