My Top Five Labs Features

This entry is part 36 of 35 in the series Green Belt

In this post I cover several of my favorite and most useful add-on features to standard Gmail that keep me productive and organized.

For those of you who are new to Gmail or perhaps haven’t explored the labs features, here’s a little background. Gmail has a collection of features they like to test out. They think they are useful or fun, but don’t put them in the main product unless they’ve proven that they are widely adopted by the public. The features or functionality of labs features can change at any time without notice. The name “labs” comes from the fact that they are still in the proverbial research and development lab.

You can get to the Labs features two ways. The first is to use the gear icon in the upper right corner of your Gmail screen next to your name and select Labs. The other way is to choose Mail Settings from the same gear icon, and select the Labs tab on the mail settings screen. Both menu options get you to the same place.

Once on the settings screen, use the radio buttons next to any of the labs features to enable (or disable) them as you wish. As of this podcast release, there are 56 labs features. I have well over 30 enabled at the moment, but have tried them all at one point or another (including some that have gone in to the mainstream product.) In no particular order, here is my top five list and why.

  1. Background send – This labs feature frees me up a few more seconds while the system delivers the message in the background. This is particularly handy with large file attachments. When I process my inbox, I like to go fast. Background send helps me fire off a message and go on to the next one.
  2. Google voice player in mail – A very handy feature for those with a Google voice account. When someone leaves you a voice mail, the poorly interpreted transcript is emailed to you with a voice mail file attached. With this lab enabled, a handy player displays so you can listen to the voice mail right in Gmail without having to download the file or use another application.
  3. Nested labels – What can I say? I like to label certain messages either automatically through Gmail filters, or manually. While some people like to just archive everything and leave finding old mail to the powerful search, I find it helpful to use some tags to not only spot important messages in the conversation index (colors help with this), but also narrow down my searches later by including a label. Nested labels help reduce the clutter on the left side of the screen by grouping together common themes in a collapsable hierarchy. I can group labels such as the organizations or groups I’m involved in, my podcast related messages, or projects I’m working on.
  4. Undo send – I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sent a message only to realize I forgot to include a file attachment, a recipient, or an email address microseconds after hitting the send button. The Undo Send labs feature puts a link at the top of the screen that gives you up to 30 seconds to re-edit that message. This is one of those labs features that was so popular, the Gmail folks put it right in the General Settings tab.
  5. Authentication icon for verified senders – Today, you need to be concerned about security and fraud protection. This little lab gives you a peace of mind when viewing your conversation index and messages. To date, ebay and PayPal are the only known verified senders I’m aware of. They also happen to be two of the biggest targets for fraud. Someone will send you a message that looks like it’s from one of these sites, asking you to log in and verify your settings, but it takes you to a site that looks like ebay or PayPal, but isn’t. It gets your login and password and you’ve just given up your access without realizing it by clicking on a link in your email. With this labs feature on, you know that the little gold key means the message is really from a trusted source and not a fraudulent one.

While there are a lot of labs features, these are just a few that I find most useful. I’d love to hear which ones you find useful or entertaining.

One final note, all of these labs features are designed to work with a desktop browser. I have not done extensive testing on a mobile browser such as an iOS or Android device.

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One Comment

  • Jess says:

    What they don’t tell you is that if people like it in Labs (with the ability to turn it on and off) they may well add it to gmail as a permanent, mandatory feature, with no way to turn it off.

    One primary example of a lab gone rogue is the ‘also include’ suggestions on the compose gmail screen. It suggests people you might want to also send the email too, based on past patterns of email recipients. No way to edit it. No way to turn it off. So you’re left having to see these stupid, random suggestions, every single time you send an email. Even if, for example, you really don’t like that person. Or they’re dead. Or they’re your ex-husband. Or the woman who slept with your boyfriend. Or watever!

    The point is, you don’t necessarily want to see them…and yet Google puts them there without asking, and without providing a way to remove them. Google labs are cool, but the google engineers don’t seem to understand that there is a difference between liking something in a lab, that you can opt out of at any time, and liking something in your email client that is in your face all the time and that you can’t remove or configure.

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