Just a short one today… Some of you may already know this. If you use Gmail from the web browser on your iPad, iPhone, Android, or other mobile device, you might find it a bit annoying to label your messages. When reading a message, use the drop down chevrons on the upper right, select Label, and you are presented with a list of all your labels. Until recently, I would scroll to the label I wanted, check the checkbox, then have to scroll back up to the Apply button.
One day I was doing this and for some reason missed the checkbox and just clicked the word “Finance” and it put the label on and went back to the message – much faster than scrolling back up and clicking Apply! Of course, if you want to apply more than one label, you will need to scroll, tick the appropriate checkboxes, and click Apply, but for just one, tap the label text for a quicker experience.
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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This past week were three main stories for Gmail and related apps. First, a new labs feature allows you to search in to your Google docs. Next, Gmail on the iPad got a nice touch to clear up some confusion, and finally, Google now supports voice and video chat on Linux.
First up, you can give Gmail the ability to reach in to your Google docs by enabling the labs feature called Apps Search. Turn this on the same way you would any other labs feature by clicking the Settings link in the upper right, click the Labs tab, scroll down to the Apps Search section, click Enable, the click Save Changes at the bottom of the screen. Now when you do a search, Gmail will not only list your search results in a familiar conversation index listing, but also include a section at the bottom for documents, spreadsheets, presentations, and other Google docs data that matched your search criteria.
As a side note, I noticed that the labs features are now grouped with the enabled labs at the top and the disabled, or available, labs at the bottom. If you’re looking for something new, start scrolling until you get to the Available Labs section to save a bit of time.
Next, Gmail made a slight adjustment to the user interface on the iPad to clear up some confusion that I, and some of you, have experienced. As you may have noticed, when you select messages on the left, a panel appears at the bottom left with buttons for Archive, Delete, and other options. For dealing with individual messages, the buttons on the upper right were used. Thankfully, Google was able to take advantage of CSS3 technology and remove the extra set of buttons on the left. Now when you select multiple messages, they are stacked in the window on the right. The buttons on the lower left never appear and you only need to use the right side buttons for archiving, deleting, and other actions. Perhaps they’ll hear my other request make it easier to apply labels instead of scrolling and scrolling and scrolling.
Finally, Ubuntu and other Debian-based Linux users can now use voice and video chat. Just visit gmail.com/videochat to download the plugin. Google doesn’t often neglect the Linux community, but they took almost two years to implement this feature. They promise to have RPM support soon.
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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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I was going over the Gmail Podcast archives and discovered I covered groups several years ago. After listening to the podcast, I found that many features of managing contacts and groups had been improved so I thought it was time for an update. Groups allow you to organize and manage related collections of contacts and also address them at the same time. This podcast covers five main topics:
- Creating a new group
- Adding and removing contacts form a group
- Renaming a group
- Deleting a group
- Sending mail to a group
Creating a group
Let’s begin by creating a group. Start by clicking on the Contacts list on the left side of the screen. You’ll be presented with a screen with three columns. The first lists your groups, the middle column lists the members of the group you select, and the right column displays the properties of the contact or group selected.
Next, select one or more contacts from the middle column by clicking on them, using the checkboxes next to each name, or using shift-click, or control-click to select multiple contacts, then click the icon just above the left column with a plus and two people. A dialog will appear prompting you for a name for the new group. Enter a name and click OK. The selected names will automatically be placed in the new group. If you don’t want to select any names, you can still create a new group using the same icon.
Adding/Removing people to a group
Once you have created your group, you can add contacts by selecting the names in the same way as above, checking the checkboxes, shift-click, or control-click ranges of names, then use the Groups button above the right column to add them to an existing group, or create a new group.
To remove someone from a group, use the same selection method and Groups button. When the selections drop down, the appropriate groups will be presented for that person or persons under “Remove from…”
Renaming a group
You can also rename a group by highlighting the group name, and clicking the Edit button on the right column. Just type in the new name and click Save.
Deleting a group
If you find you no longer need a group, simply select the group for the left column, and click the Delete group button above the right column. This will remove the group and not the contact information. If Kreg is a member of group Podcast Listeners, and I delete Podcast Listeners, I still have all of Kreg’s information. You will be given a warning because removing a group cannot be undone.
Using a group
Now that you’ve got groups defined, you can simply type the name of the group in the To, Cc, or Bcc fields when you are composing or replying to a message. Groups will be listed in the auto-complete list in italics and have a suffix of “(group)”. After entering the name of the group, hit the tab or enter key and Gmail will replace the group name with the names of the contacts in that group.
You can create groups with as many contacts you like. However, in an effort to fight spam, Gmail won’t let you send a message to a group containing more than 500.
Tip: As a time saver, add people directly to a group at import time with the checkbox that reads “Also add these imported contacts to ” and select the group you want to add them
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 email@example.com is different than my firstname.lastname@example.org 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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A few weeks ago I got an iPad. Like many people, at first I thought it was just an oversized iPod Touch, until a friend of mine let me use his.
One of the first things I wanted to see was Gmail. The difference between Gmail on the iPhone or iPod Touch compared to the iPad, using Safari, is massive. Some of the things I love about Gmail on the iPad include:
Seeing the index and the current conversation on the same screen. This is similar to how Mac Mail or Outlook display messages and the index. There’s enough screen real estate to get away with this on the iPad – not so on the iPhone or iPod Touch.
I also like the new larger area to compose a message. This was introduced on June 25 and is currently only available in the US English interface for the time being. When you reply or compose a new message, Gmail brings a popup window in front to compose your message unlike before when it was in the right side window with the rest of the conversation. When you’re done composing, use the Save or Send buttons in the lower right to complete your work.
Of course, I like using my iPad in landscape mode and using a full size on-screen keyboard to quickly touch type my way through the interface.
One thing that took a bit of getting used to was tagging conversations then using the Archive and Delete buttons on the left instead of the right. When you start checking off messages from the index on the left, it’s very easy to click “Archive” or “Delete” on the upper right. However, doing so will take action on the current message, not the ones you checked. If you look closely, as soon as you start checking those checkboxes, a new set of buttons appears in the lower left. THOSE are the ones used for the checked items. I know – it took me a while to get trained on those also. Just remember, checking on the left, buttons on the left. Reading on the right, buttons on the right.
I also think improvements can be made to the way labels are used. When you select the label feature from the dropdown list, you are presented with an alphabetized list of all your labels. If you have more than 20 or so labels and want to use one near the end you have to finger swipe to scroll your way down, click on it, then finger swipe back up to apply it – rather clumsy in my opinion. Predictive text like when entering names, and the labels from the desktop interface, would be much nicer.
Overall, I think Gmail did a great job at adapting their interface to take advantage of the new Apple tablet format and there’s room for improvement. I give it an 8 out of 10.
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Adding extra content to a Gmail message just took another giant leap forward this past week with the introduction of two features. The first is Insert Invitation. This feature allows you to stay within Gmail to create a quick appointment and see what is on the other person’s Google calendar if they have it shared with you. This is much easier than the old “Add Appointment” link.
Begin by composing a message and enter the recipients of your message. In my case, I’ll enter my wife’s email address which happens to be a hosted Gmail account and not a gmail.com address. She agreed to share her calendar with me a while ago, but if she wasn’t already setup for that, I would Click the calendar link at the top of Gmail, go to the Other Calendars section on the left, click the link “Add” in the lower right corner of that box and choose “Add friend’s calendar”, and enter her email address to send a request to share the calendar. She has the option of how much information and the amount of control I have, if any, on her calendar. Once she has shared her calendar, it will show up on the left in that Other Calendars section and her appointments will appear in the corresponding color. If you get too many other calendars you can simply click on the name of the calendar and it will turn them off .
With the calendar displayed, let’s got back to Gmail’s Insert Invitation feature. With one or more recipients entered in the address field, I click the Insert Invitation link just below the Subject field and a window pops up with the subject filled in as the “What”. I pick the dates and times for the “When”, and just below that, Gmail displays the availability of all the email recipients who have shared their calendars with me. This makes it much easier to see conflicts and reschedule. While I don’t have too many calendars shared with my friends (yet), I suspect this will be a bigger benefit to companies and other organizations trying to schedule meetings.
The other neat new feature doesn’t need much explanation. It’s a simple feature we’ve all come to expect from graphical computing over the last 25 years to drag items from one window to another. In some rare cases, even web applications allowÂ you to drag files from your local file system to a web application. Gmail offers the ability to attach files simply by dragging them from your desktop, or any other folder to the link that reads Attach a file. This feature currently only supported in FireFox 3.6 and Chrome, but Google promises to support drag and drop attachments in other browsers soon.
One of the best features about Gmail is its powerful spam detection. Spam is that annoying email that you get from people or organizations you don’t know for products or services that you did not ask for. Some spam is easy to spot such as prescription medicines, or low loan rates. Others are more subtle and the spammers are getting trickier by masquerading as other popular websites such as Facebook and eBay.
Recent assessments show that over 95% of all email on the Internet today is spam. If you are new to Gmail or just started an email address, you may not be receiving too much now. However, if you’ve had the same email address for a while and use it on other websites for registration, comments, or other ways to get information sent to you, you are opening yourself up to those people who will try to sell you something, known as spammers.
Fortunately, Gmail stops a large percentage of these annoying email. However, no software is perfect and you may see a spam message in your inbox from time to time. You can simply delete the message which addresses the short term problem, but you run the risk of similar messages appearing again in the future. A better solution is to check one or more spam messages on the conversation index and click the Report Spam button at the top of the conversation index or just click the button if you have already opened a message to find out it is spam. If you have keyboard shortcuts enabled, you can use the hash (#) key. When you mark a message as spam, Gmail removes the message from your inbox and learns from the message you selected to prevent similar messages not only for you, but for all Gmail users.
If you mistakingly clicked Report Spam on a message, you can click Undo at the top of the screen or use the same button which now reads Not Spam. If you have navigated away from the message you can use the the Spam folder on the left and locate your message. If you don’t see the Spam folder, try clicking “more” just above Contacts.
Similar to spam messages are phishing messages (spelled with a ph instead of an f). These are messages where someone is trying to get you to login to their site so they can get your credentials for the real site. You can find out more about phishing from the Gmail Podcast released October 14, 2006.