Archive for the ‘Appearance’ Category

Disable Conversations

Staying away from Gmail because you don’t like threaded messages (aka conversations?)

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I tell lots of people about Gmail and by far, the biggest reason I’ve heard that some people don’t like is that all the messages are threaded. All messages, replies, and replies to replies are displayed as a single entry in the conversation index.

Well, not any more. As of Wednesday September 29, 2010 Gmail is offering a feature to allow you to disable the conversations mode and use it like a  legacy email system with one line per email message on the index.

If you’re one of the people who stayed away from Gmail because you don’t like the conversations view, you can now find an option to disable this by clicking Settings in the upper right corner. Look for the section that says Conversations View and choose the way you want it displayed. Save your changes and that’s it. If you prefer, you can always go back to the conversations view.

While you’ve probably read all that from the press releases, I wanted to see it, test it, and let you know how this feature really behaves. My questions included:

  • What happens when you go to individual messages?
  • Does archive, label, star, etc. allow you to manipulate just one message?
  • What then happens when you go back to conversations?

The first thing I noticed is that the help screen is not dynamic between the words conversation and message. Everything is still referred to as a conversation.

As for the shortcut keys, they still work the same, j to go down one message, k to go up, x to select, and so on.

Regarding message management, I picked an example with a conversation containing two labels. Removing a single label from one message in a thread and going back to conversations view shows all applicable labels to the thread. if you go back to non-conversation mode, the individual message label settings are remembered. In short, it seems the application does what you expect it to do.

As for me? I love conversations view and plan to stick with it. With so many email messages going back and forth, it’s just made it so much easier to manage in conversations (especially the mute feature.)

If you’re new to Gmail and you’ve just discovered this podcast because now you want to use it because conversations can now be disabled, welcome aboard! I encourage you to go to chuckchat.com and visit the Gmail Podcast website to find out dozens of ways you can be more effective with Gmail.

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Priority Inbox

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

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Gmail is attempting to make your email easier to sort through by releasing a feature called Priority Inbox. I have to admit, at first I was skeptical of how this feature would work since I’m one of those people who generally keep their inbox to 10 items or less. A few times a day I go through my inbox and archive the reference information, delete the things I don’t want to see again, take action on the quick items, and mark the other actions for later action. That seems to work fairly well. “What value do I get with Google guessing at the importance of my incoming messages?” was my first thought.

Let me back up a bit. When your account is enabled with this feature, you will see a red message in the upper right by your login name indicating Priority Inbox has been turned on. If you like, there is a short video in the pop up window that helps explain the benefits of priority inbox. Click the “Try it now” button in that same pop up window. Once enabled, Gmail does a few things. First, it creates a new link on the left called Priority Inbox. The regular Inbox is still available just below that link. Second, it goes through your mail and makes some guesses at what mail is important to you and labels them as Important. Finally, the conversation index is divided in to four sections. By default, three of these are turned on. They are for messages labeled Important, Starred, and Everything Else. You can change these and even add a fourth section by going in the Settings under the Priority Inbox tab. You can also tweak a few of the other priority inbox settings from that same screen including the option to not show the priority inbox at all.

Like spam filters, the priority inbox needs to learn what’s important to you. Gmail has one of the best spam filters around and it’s these same methods that help learn and identify important email as well. If it gets something wrong, you can use the new + and – tags on the button bar just above the conversation index to help it get smarter. After only a few days and a few keystrokes, I’m noticing a marked improvement.

It is possible to abuse the priority inbox if you mark too many things important. What does “important” mean? That’s up to you. If you mark too many things important and find that 95% of all of your email is ending up in the Important section, then it has lost its value.

One other thing about priority inbox, I noticed that the shortcut keys g-i take you back to the priority inbox if you have it enabled. There doesn’t appear to be a shortcut for the standard inbox while priority inbox is around, but if you find one, let me know about it.

One final note, Google Voice has added email notifications for missed calls. This is not so much a quick tip, but an FYI . While this isn’t terribly useful for people with Android phones who see the missed call on their handset, it is nice if you are on your desktop where you can have the missed calls noted in your Google Voice inbox or emailed to you.

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Make Calls, Calendar Update, Double Sent Mail

This entry is part 22 of 23 in the series White Belt

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Make Voice Calls

Good news for Gmail users. Gmail has enabled voice calling from within Gmail. Now you can use your computer’s microphone and speakers (or a USB headset if you like) to make outgoing calls for free in U.S. or Canada and very inexpensive calls many other countries.

To see if you have this feature yet, just look on the left side of your screen under chat and look for the option “Call Phone”. Just click on it and enter a contact’s name or start dialing. The other person does not need to have a Gmail account to make this work. You can call mobile phones or land lines. If you happen to have a Google Voice account associated with your Gmail account, the receiving party will see the incoming call with your Google voice number. If you choose, incoming calls to your Google Voice number can be received right from within Gmail. Now I’m really glad I put that Google Voice number on my latest business cards!

FYI – you will need to install the voice and video chat plugin which you can get at gmail.com/videochat.

Other Internet telephony providers have typically charged for outgoing phone calls. Companies like Skype are extremely inexpensive, but free trumps cheap any day for me.

So far, I have only received one call from someone using Gmail. A couple nights ago I received a call on my mobile phone from my friend Kreg in South Carolina who couldn’t resist testing it out before me. The call quality was about the same as typical mobile phone, with the notable exception of any dropouts hiccups or other artifacts typically associated with mobile calls. It wasn’t quite as good as our Skype to Skype calls, but to call computer to phone for free, I’d say it warrants more usage. Based on initial reports of 1,000,000 calls in the first 24 hours, I’d say it’s off to a good start.

Google reports that all US Gmail accounts have the new feature enabled and they will be rolling it out to other countries soon.

Recurring Event Update

If you haven’t done so recently, take a look at the details of a Google Calendar event. There are now two tabs: one for the event details and one to help you find a time with another Google invitee. They also cleaned up the recurring appointment functionality. When you click on the “repeat” checkbox just under the event title, a new window appears with the details of the event. It is now much easier to create a recurring event, although I still don’t see a “Last” feature for my meeting that happens on the last Wednesday of the month.

Double Sent Mail Bug Fixed

Finally, there were some reports of some Gmail messages being re-sent automatically that affected hundreds of users. Google Employee “Mr Evan” reports that the issue has now been resolved. While this wasn’t a widespread problem, it certainly was annoying when a Gmail user sent a message only to get a response back saying “I already got your message.” If you were affected, rest assured that this bug is resolved.

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User Interface Update – Aug 2010

This entry is part 20 of 23 in the series White Belt

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If you’re a regular Gmail Podcast listener, you’ll notice that I recently updated the Contacts and Groups podcast to be more accurate with the current user interface. That was done just in time for Google to update the interface one more time. While most of the Gmail Podcast content is evergreen, every once in a while they do a feature update that renders some of this content obsolete. I just didn’t think it would be a week after I released a cast on groups.

So what’s new with the interface? At first glance, not much. If you look closer at the main page, you’ll see on the left, Mail, Contacts, and Tasks are now grouped together. If you hover over the Mail link, you’ll see a little dash appear to the right. Clicking that expands or collapses the trio of Mail, Contacts, and Tasks links to clean up your screen a bit. Also, Compose Mail is now a button instead of a link, and the other gadgets below the labels have been cleaned up.

The buttons and links at the top of the conversation index have also been cleaned up. Rather than links to select all, none, read, unread, starred, and so on, there is now drop down list to the left that has multiple selections. A nice touch in my opinion. Another nice touch that is often overlooked is the fonts. It’s subtle, but I think it gives Gmail a crisper look.

Finally, the main changes to this update in Gmail have been to the contacts and groups management. When you click on contacts, the three column display has been replaced with a list that looks more like the way conversations are managed in Gmail. Groups are applied like labels, although they are displayed on the far right of each entry instead of somewhere in the middle like conversation labels. Like the conversation index, a dropdown list is available above the list to the far left of the buttons to select all or none of your contacts. If you select one or more of your contacts, and go back to the conversation index, when you come back, those same contacts are still selected. Nice job Google developers! Some other very nice features like sorting by last name (available under the More Actions drop down list), and my favorite, keyboard shortcuts have also been added.

Clicking any one of the contacts presents a display that is significantly different than its predecessor. The layout includes all the standard fields you would expect, photo, name, phone, address, email. It also has a larger notes section and at the bottom of the left side there is an “Add” dropdown list that allows you to add additional fields in case someone has more than one email address, phone number, a nickname, or whatever. You can even create your own customer fields. And of course, there’s a link to display recent conversations with that contact which can really help with those old archived conversations.

As mentioned earlier, managing group membership with your contacts is now very similar to applying labels to your email conversations. If you are at the contact index, you can search, select, and use the Groups dropdown to apply or remove the groups you wish. I did a quick search for Jerry, came up with six hits, quickly selected all and created a new group called Jerry. Now if I want to send a quick message to all my contacts named Jerry, I compose a new message and start typing “Jerry” in the to field. Along with the six possibilities, I also get one with the suffix “(group)” and I send to all six at the same time.

From the Contact details screen just pull down the Groups list and select the groups you wish to apply or remove. You can even type a new name and create a new group, again much like labels.

You will probably notice that there is no Save Changes button on the contact screen. That’s because all changes to the contacts are now auto saved. Thank you again Google Developers.

And don’t forget about hitting “?” on the new contacts screen if you have shortcuts enabled in your settings to manage your contacts more effectively and efficiently.

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Rich Format Signatures

This entry is part 18 of 23 in the series White Belt

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At long last, Gmail has provided a simple way to include different fonts, images, links and more to your signature. Previously this was done using Google Docs and some other tricks. Now you can simply go to Settings, scroll down to the Signature section, and format your signature just like your message with the WYSIWYG, or What You See is What You Get, editor.

Another nice feature is that you can now use a different signature for each account, if you have multiple accounts feeding in to a single Gmail account. Me? I have about 11 at this point. Some share a common theme, but I prefer others to be specialized, including a unique title, link, phone number, or tag line associated with my organizational presence. My signature for chuck.tomasi@gmail.com is different than my gpodcast@gmail.com address because they generally serve different purposes and audiences, yet thanks to Gmail, they end up on the same central point for me to read and manage. Even better, when I switch accounts while composing or replying to a  message, Gmail automatically switches the signature accordingly. Now how cool is that?

Here’s a quick reminder on email signature etiquette. Unless you have a compelling reason, try to keep your signatures to 4-6 lines of text. Typical signature elements include your name, phone number, email address, website, title (if you’re affiliated with an organization), if it’s personal email, perhaps a favorite or thought provoking one-line quote. Too many times I’ve seen signatures that are longer than the messages they convey. Gmail also allows you to add images to your signature. While this seems like a good idea at first, I occasionally see an email client that includes the image as an attachment rather than in the signature where you expect it. Also remember, Gmail doesn’t display images in messages unless you are in the recipients contacts list, sent that person a few email already, or have previously agreed to always accept images from that person. In which case, the effectiveness of the image is somewhat diminished.

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Contextual Apps and Calendar Update

This entry is part 18 of 20 in the series Gmail Master
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This past week Microsoft announced several additions to Hotmail in order to better compete with Gmail. Â No, I am not changing this from the Gmail Podcast to the Hotmail Podcast. We Gmail users snickered because many of these features like conversation view, and one-click filtering have been in Gmail for years . Within hours of the Microsoft announcement, Gmail upped the ante by announcing an API, or application programming interface, to allow developers to create contextual gadgets.
Contextual gadgets allow you to interact with traditional non-email data without leaving your mail application. You may already be using contextual gadgets and not even realize it. Examples include YouTube, photo, and document previews. Watching a video within email is not something email was originally designed to do so Google thought it would be a great idea to look for YouTube (and similar links) and provide the information right in the message so you don’t have to click and switch to another browser window or application, then come back to manage your email.
Now these features is available to developers outside the Google Domain to extend the functionality of Gmail. Several already exist such as AwayFind that allows you to mark certain contacts or messages as urgent and flag the recipient can be alerted via phone, SMS, or IM. Contextual apps are available for those who host their domain with Google. For example, I can add AwayFind as an available feature to those with chuckchat.com email addresses because the chuckchat.com mail is hosted on Google.
The only information I could find at this time regarding the installation and activation of these apps was an article on CNet.com that Google Apps Administrators can install the contextual gadgets for their users.
When I logged in and went to Manage my chuckchat.com domain, a button appeared on the Dashboard near the top just below the menu bar that said “Continue with setup guide”. When I clicked on it, I was brought to the Google Apps Admin Help screen that has a link at the top to the Google Apps Marketplace. If you want to just look around, use google.com/enterprise/marketplace.
I went ahead and installed and configured AwayFind so I can be alerted via SMS to my Google Voice number when important messages come to a specific domain. It only took a few minutes and is nice to have for certain cases. I can manage the contextual app from the main control panel of the dashboard.
While doing research for this article I noticed that labs are now available in Gmail for hosted domains while themes are not yet an option.
One final thing, Google Calendar got a minor update this past week for the first time in a while. The changes may appear subtle at first. They include some tweaks to the fonts and colors to make them a bit sharper. If you use tasks in Gmail and Calendar, take note that the Tasks link in Calendar has been removed and replaced with a listing under My Calendars. When you turn this pseudo calendar on, the tasks will appear on the right hand side. Managing the tasks in Google Calendar is the same as in Gmail. See the Gmail Podcast archives for more information on tasks.
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Gmail for iPad

ipad-screenshotAlthough I don’t have an iPad (yet), I find the Gmail mobile app for the Apple iPad compelling. This two column interface resembles the preview pane of Microsoft Outlook (which I use all the time.) It makes me wonder if the standard web browser interface will have this option soon or if it is better suited for the larger touchscreen UI only.

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Themes

This entry is part 4 of 23 in the series White Belt

Gmail-ThemesThis show is sponsored by Citrix GotoAssist Express. Try it free for 30 days.
This episode is another in our getting started series with Gmail. This time I’ll cover a way to change the appearance of your Gmail interface without changing the functionality. Gmail calls these themes; other systems might call this “skinning” because you’re putting a new skin or motif to change the application’s cosmetics while leaving the underlying system the same.

Changing your theme in Gmail is very simple and quite fun. Begin by logging in to your Gmail account then clicking on the Settings link in the upper right corner. Next, click the Themes tab on the settings window. When you click on one of the themes, Gmail will instantly change the look of your interface. There is no Save Changes button to click on this page. Try as many as you like or stick with the Classic look. You can even choose your own colors.

Be selective with your theme and inspect all the various things on the conversation index and compose screens. You may find some things don’t contrast well. For example the light graphics at the top of the screen on the Phatasea theme makes it difficult to read the text “Show Search Options” and “Create a filter”.

Some themes actually change throughout the day. You may be prompted to enter your location when you pick one of the themes. If you are very mobile, you can change your location at the bottom of the themes settings. These dynamic themes change to show the proper sunrise, sunset, and even weather conditions. Yes, I’ve seen it snow in Gmail!

If you select one of these themes, you’ll see a drop-down menu appear asking for your country or region. Select the country you want, and then enter a city in the field provided. If you don’t enter a city, or enter an invalid one, Gmail will set your location to the capital city of the country you selected. When you’re done, click Save.

One important footnote, Gmail Themes aren’t yet compatible with all browsers. Themes are only available in Internet Explorer 7.0+, Firefox 2.0+ or Safari 3.0+, and Google Chrome. If you’re using an older version of one of these browsers, you may run in to problems or not see the themes tab at all. Also, themes are not available if you host your own domain on Gmail. The hosting and themes have been out for quite some time, and I haven’t quite figured out why Google hasn’t added themes to this set of Gmail users yet. You can find more information about hosting your own domain on Gmail in the Gmail Podcast archives on the website.

Quick update – Google has promoted six labs features to full Gmail features and removed five of them. Labs features are features in Gmail that allow you try out cool new things that Google is considering adding to Gmail. They may have errors and they may change, but most are useful to some degree. Again, more information on Labs can be found in the Gmail Podcast archives.

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Default Text Styling and Free Holiday Card

This entry is part 7 of 23 in the series White Belt

default-text-style

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Want to put a little flair in your email? Want to get away from the standard font that everyone else is using in their Gmail messages? Try the labs feature called Default Text Styling. Like other labs features, you can turn it on by:

  • Clicking the Settings link in the upper right corner
  • Click the Labs tab.
  • Scroll down the list until you find Default Text Styling and click “Enable” next to it
  • At the bottom of the screen, click “Save Changes”

Now you can define your default text style under the General tab in the setting screen. It may take a few minutes for the feature to show up if you are using offline mail. If you want to remove the formatting and go back to the default style, use the rightmost icon that looks like a capital T with a red x.
When you compose new a new message, your default text style will be set to the color, font, and size you setup in the General Settings. Your signature will not use the default style if you have one setup.

Here’s today’s quick tip. Send a free holiday greeting card through the U.S. Postal Service and let Google pay for it. You can choose from six different styles and send one card with a personalized message to anyone with a U.S. Postal Address for free. Find out more at http://services.google.com/fb/forms/googleholidaycard.

A couple quick updates before I go. First, the Gmail website has been redesigned. We’ve cleaned things up and modernized. There are still a few tweaks to make, but I think you’ll find the interface quite familiar. Second, if you’re a WordPress user or are thinking about starting your own blog, watch for the book “Sams Teach Yourself WordPress in 10 Minutes” written by me and my Technorama co-host Kreg Steppe. The book won’t be out until March 2010, but you can pre-order now at Amazon.com.

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Gmail Notifiers Compared

This entry is part 21 of 27 in the series Black Belt

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Using webmail makes sense. It’s easy to access from any computer, and you don’t need to worry about installing and maintaing software, but the drawback is you have to keep a browser window open to know when you have email. The solution to this is to have a small application installed on your machine that monitors your Gmail account and pops up an alert when you get a message.
For notifiers, I found a few options. Gmail Notifier for Windows from Google, Google Notifier for Mac (same thing for Mac with a slightly different name, also available straight from Google), Gmail Notifier from http://gmailnotifier.com, and Notify for the Mac from Vibealicious (http://vibealicious.com/apps/notify/). I know, the names are all very similar.

Let’s start with the one that Google provides at http://toolbar.google.com/gmail-helper/notifier_mac.html called the Gmail Notifier. It’s pretty basic. It supports Windows and Mac, sits in your system tray or menu bar, monitors your Gmail account and pops up when you get a message. Pretty simple to download, install, and be up and running to monitor your Gmail account.

Let’s say you have more than one Gmail account and you chose not to use the multiple account feature on the server to send and receive all your mail in one place. That’s where you might want to use Notify from Vibealicious. It allows you to monitor multiple Gmail accounts at once. It’s only available for Mac, but looks beautiful. It sits in the menu bar with a little icon and number of unread messages next to it. When you click on it, you get a full interface. Like the other tools, Notify is free.

Finally, there is Gmail Notifier from http://gmailnotifier.com. Like Google’s product, it supports both Windows and Mac. Similar to Vibealicious, it also supports multiple accounts. It runs in the system tray (or Mac menu bar) like Google’s tool, and when you click on it, you can pop up an index of all your accounts and how many unread messages are in each. It has simple controls to let you manage the message index and select messages for deletion, mark them as read, etc. It even supports Google Calendar alerts. I was caught off guard by the default alert which announced in a female voice “Incoming messages” with my laptop volume a little high. And of course, it’s free.

Of the three, Gmail Notifier from gmailnotifier.com is my pick for feature robustness and platform compatibility.

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