Archive for the ‘Getting Started’ Category

Gmail News: October 2010

I’ve come across several new stories and features regarding Gmail that just didn’t seem to fit in any other podcast so I’ll cover them here. Today I’ll be covering:

  • Buzz on the sidebar
  • A security checklist
  • Watch out for a phishing scam
  • Calendar notifications in Gmail

To start, Gmail has a new feature being rolled out that puts the latest Google Buzz comments from the mail sender on your sidebar. When you open a conversation, look on the left and if the person writes Buzz comments, you will see them there. If you don’t see the option, it could be that the person either doesn’t use Buzz, or that you need to turn this feature on. You can find it under Settings on the Buzz tab just below Your External Apps. If you don’t see the option there, it could be that it hasn’t been released to you yet. Keep watching. Like most features, this is being released in a phased approach.

Gmail is currently Google’s biggest application to date. While Buzz has a few million users, it hasn’t lived up to Google’s expectations and still falls far short of being a Twitter of Facebook killer. Google hopes that by making Buzz messages more prominent in the Gmail interface, it will drive more people to use the feature.

Next up, I came across a security checklist on Gmail’s help site with 18 steps to help make your computer more secure. The checklist includes everything from keeping the latest software and patches installed to changing your password periodically. I’ll include a link in the show notes so you can make sure you do your part to prevent problems and unwanted access to your computer. I went through it and found a couple things that I could probably do a little better. Thanks Google!

On a security note, listener Norb sent along a phishing scam that you might want to look out for. Phishing (with a ph) is a way in which people send fake email messages to try and gain your access information. A typical one would be from someone impersonating PayPal with a link to their site that looks like PayPal to try and get you to login with your account information and bam – they’ve got your PayPal login and password. Bad idea. How do you protect yourself? Watch for key clues.

One key way is to watch for grammatical errors. Things like “we have determine that your account is at risk. Please login to confirm account information.” Another way is to check the links before clicking

Once you become aware that most services like your bank, eBay, and so on don’t send out messages that say “You’ve won”, or “You need to validate your access”, you can  just delete these, or better yet, use the Gmail option to report phishing so it can learn and block these messages so other people don’t receive similar messages.

The message that Norb sent me appears to be sent from Google Service and goes like this:

Our science & technology team has recently launched Google web software to protect and secure all Gmail Accounts. This system also enhanced efficient networking and fully supported browser. You need to upgrade to a fully supported browser by filling out the details below for validation purpose and to confirm your details on the new webmaster Central system.   Account Name:      Pass word: Country:  Date of Birth:   Note: Your Account will be disabled permanently if you failed to provide the details below within 72hours. Gmail will not be heard responsible for your negligence. The Google web Service.
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Again, the first giveaway is the grammar. Don’t be taken in by threats of your account being deactivated. Just report it as phishing and go on with the rest of your day.

Finally, I wanted to pass on a neat feature that I hadn’t noticed until recently. If you’re a Google Calendar user like me, then you may have noticed that Gmail will put a short alert message in the lower right corner of the screen when an appointment alarm goes off. If you’ve got a browser window open with Google Calendar running, it will fire an alert there and change your browser focus to that window. However, if you only running Gmail, then you’ll get a little alert in the lower right with the name of the event, the calendar it is from, and two links; one to view the appointment in your calendar and the other to close the short alert message. This is far less annoying than Google calendar hijacking your browser and forcing you to look at the appointment in the middle of typing something!

Rich Format Signatures

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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 is different than my 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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Managing Contacts

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Whether you are just getting started using Gmail or have been using it for years, this cast will help you manage your contacts.

If you are new to Gmail, you are likely typing in the email address of the person when you send them email. For example, A more effective way is to use the Gmail contacts list. Once information is in there, you can simply start typing the name of the person and Gmail will find the contact and use the proper email address.

Begin by clicking the link on the left that says Contacts. You’ll see three columns in the main window. The left column lists group names. You can organize your contacts in to groups such as friends, work, rocket club, and so on. Gmail provides a few examples to help get you started, but you can configure these any way you like. I cover groups more in another podcast.

The second column lists the individual people in your contacts list. You may see some names listed here already even if you haven’t used Gmail much. (You see) Gmail learns these by analyzing the email you’ve previously sent. To add a new contact, click the icon in the upper right with a plus and a single head. At a minimum, provide a name and email address and click save. Note the email field is red until Gmail determines you have entered a valid email address consisting of an “@” sign and a domain such as .com, .org, and so on. If this person has more than one address, click the little blue “add” link to the right of the Email label to enter more addresses for this person. You can also add phone numbers (handy for using Google Voice), addresses (useful for Google maps), and even a photo of the person.

If you need to update someone’s contact information, just highlight their name from the middle column and click the Edit button above the details column on the right to update existing information or add any new data.

Deleting a contact is also quite easy; just click on the name or check the checkbox next to that entry and use the Delete contact button in the upper right of the contact details. Checking more than one contact allows you to delete multiples at the same time.

The contacts database is also useful if you are trying to find a conversation you had with someone. Often times I want to verify someone sent me something or I sent something out. I can’t always remember keywords or dates to search on, but I do remember who the conversation was with. To find that mystery conversation, simply click on the person’s name, and just below their details in the right column, there is a link reading “Recent conversations: Show”. Clicking on the show link does a search for any messages to or from that person.

As your contacts list starts to grow, you can also use the Search contacts field above the three columns to help locate names and addresses more quickly.

Over time, you may also find that Gmail has collected multiple email addresses or entries for the same person. For more information about merging contacts, I recommend listening to the Dec 2009 podcast on merging duplicate contacts. I also have information how to import your contacts from another mail service such as Hotmail, AOL, Yahoo, and other systems from June 2009.

Listen for upcoming podcasts on managing groups, importing from a CSV file or spreadsheet, and synchronizing contacts between Gmail and other services like Outlook or your iPhone.

Creating and Sending Messages

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This episode is another in our getting started series with Gmail. Creating and sending email may seem like an self-evident task with any email client. I want to ensure we cover everything to make you effective using Gmail. I’ll cover the basics to get beginners started and you Gmail veterans may still want to listen because I’ll throw in a few extras too.

Let’s get started by logging in to your Gmail account at In the future, I’ll assume you know how to do that, but since this is still one of the first getting started series, I want to make sure nothing is glossed over.

On the left side, just under the Gmail logo, click the Compose Mail link. Next, enter your recipient’s email address in the To field. If you have a list of contacts setup, you can also start typing the name or address and Gmail will start auto populating the list. If you’re not sure how to spell the name, you can click the To: label and bring up the contact chooser to help narrow down your search. Don’t worry if you don’t have any contacts entered yet, there’s another show on setting up contacts that guides you through that simple process so you don’t have to remember and type an email address every time.

Enter the subject of your message in the Subject text area, then click your mouse anywhere in the large text area on the screen to create the main body of your message and type away. As you type, Gmail will periodically save your message in the Drafts folder. In the event your browser or computer crash, you won’t lose all your work. Alternatively, you can also use the Save Now button at the top of your message. When you’ve completed your text, click the Send button just above the To field to have Gmail deliver your message. You’ll see a confirmation message at the top to let you know your email has been sent.

Now for some extras…

Below the To field are two additional links labeled Add Cc and Add Bcc. Clicking each of these links presents an additional text area for you to enter additional recipients. These are used to include additional people or groups in your message. Cc stands for Carbon Copy. When you enter a recipient here, they are included in the message, however their email client may display the message slightly differently because the message was not directly to them, but rather they were a secondary recipient. Bcc stands for Blind Carbon Copy. Like Cc, you add one or more recipients in the Bcc field, but it has the added advantage that people in the To and Cc fields do not know who is in the Bcc field. An example of this may be that I want to send a message to Dave asking him to explain his behavior in the meeting yesterday, but I’d also like to include his boss Sally without letting Dave know that Sally is included. If I include Sally in the Bcc field, she receives a copy of the message I sent to Dave, but Dave doesn’t know that. Be aware, that some email systems, particularly corporate ones, may block email if your name is in the Bcc field so use it with caution.

If you want to include a photo, document, or audio file, you can use the link labeled Attach a file just below the Subject field. Clicking this link presents a file browser that lets you navigate and choose a file to attach with your email message. When you’ve selected a file, click the Open button (on Windows machines) or Select (on a Mac) and your file will be uploaded to Google’s server and included as part of your message. If you want to remove the attachment before sending it, just uncheck the checkbox next to the attachment name. To attach more than one file, use the link Attach another file just below the list of file attachments. Gmail lets you attach up to 20 megabytes of attachments per message. If you have files larger than that, you should consider using another means of transferring your data.

Finally, you can change the look and feel of your message by using the toolbar just above the message window. The various icons let you make your text bold, underlined, larger or smaller, change the font style, create lists, and more. As a general rule, don’t go overboard with colors and fonts or your text will be unappealing to the reader.

Finally, l et’s say you’re in a bad mood or discovered the answer to the question you were starting to write in an email and don’t want to save it or send it, just click the Discard button above the To line, or at the bottom of the message window, to dispose of your work.

That’s it. Creating basic and sophisticated messages is quite simple with Gmail. I no time you’ll be sending email without a second thought.

Screen Layout

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This show is another in our getting started series with Gmail. It’s purpose is to help you understand the various parts of the Gmail screen layout and the functions they perform.

The largest and most noticeable object on the screen is the conversation index. It’s simply a list of email messages in a condensed format, showing who a message is from, the subject, part of the message (called a snippet), and the time or date it was received. Messages with the same subject are combined in to groups called “conversations”. Gmail does this to help you keep track of related information. Other email readers refer to this as a “thread”. Some people find this a little confusing at first and wish there was a way to turn it off. There is no way to turn it off and I’m sure that after a time you will find the conversation layout a preferred way to see your email. By default, the message index displays your inbox, however it can display other messages you have searched for, messages you have labeled, and so on.

On the left side of the conversation index, still within the list boundary, are a series of checkboxes. These are used to mark the conversations for additional actions such as archiving, deleting, labeling, and so on. You can select one or more messages by checking the checkbox or using the links just above the first message where it says Select All, None, Read, Unread, Starred, or Unstarred. This same list appears at the top and bottom of the conversation index.

Also at the top and bottom of the conversation index is a menu of options labeled Archive,Report Spam, Delete, Move To, Labels, and More Actions. These menu buttons are the actions that complement the conversations you have selected. I’ll get in to some of these menu options in greater detail in other podcasts. A separate link to the right of the menu, labeled Refresh, allows you to update your inbox on demand rather than waiting a few minutes for Gmail to refresh automatically. As a quick example, when you select one or more conversations with the checkbox on the left then click Archive, the conversation is removed from your inbox, but still available on the server. If you click delete, the message is removed from the servers and gone.

One of Gmail’s most used, but little appreciated features is it’s built in spam filter. Spam is unsolicited email for products or services you have no interest. It is the junk-mail of the Internet. As good as Gmail’s ‘spam filter is, a few slip through. You can help improve Gmail’s spam filter by selecting those troublesome messages and clicking the Report Spam button.

To the left of the conversation index are several links. Just below the Gmail logo is a link labeled “Compose Mail”. This link takes you to a new screen to create a new email message. Composing messages is covered in greater detail in another podcast.

A little further down are a group of links to your mail messages. The first is Inbox. As mentioned earlier, this are the conversations you have received and possibly read. The number next to any of these links indicates the number of conversations with unread messages in them. You can tell at a glance if, and how many, conversations need your attention.

Next is a link labeled Starred. Starred messages are simply messages you have tagged to keep track of. What you use the star for is up to you. I use mine as a way to quickly tag messages I want to view at the end of the week for podcast material. Once done, I unstar the ones I use and leave the rest. Clicking this link displays the first page of conversations you have starred all grouped together. You can add or remove a star from any conversation or message you like by clicking the star just to the left of the senders name in the conversation index.

The Sent Mail link displays the first page of messages you have sent. This is useful to verify you actually sent a message.

Drafts displays all the messages that you have composed, saved, but not yet sent. If you have a long message, or want to wait before sending, you can find it in Drafts. As you compose a message, Gmail will save periodically, so don’t become alarmed if you see a number 1 appear here from time to time.

Below Drafts is a short list of the most frequent labels you use. Labels are much like folders on other mail systems and Gmail creates several of them for you when you set up your account. Clicking any one of these links displays the conversations you have labeled or tagged with that label. I cover labels and managing your email in another podcast.

Also on the left is a link to take you to your contacts and tasks. Not to sound like a broken record, yes, those too are also covered in greater detail in other Gmail Podcasts as is the chat feature also on the left below these two links.

To search for messages in your inbox or archive, use the text box just to the right of the Gmail logo at the top. Type in the text you are searching for and click the Search Mail button.

At the very top of the screen are links to other free Google services to help you manage your calendar, documents, and more.

If you ever need help, and you cannot find a Gmail Podcast for it, use the Help link in the upper right of the Gmail screen.

Finally, for security, be sure to click the Sign Out link in the far upper right when you are done using Gmail – especially on public computers like those found in hotels or libraries.

One quick reminder, please consider filling out the Gmail Podcast survey. It will help me understand who is listening and how I can provide you with more useful information. Look for the survey link at the top of the website at

screen-layout-movieFYI – This podcast is also available as a full motion video demo. I am considering doing more of these as premium content for those who subscribe to the monthly donations to the tip jar.

As an added incentive, the videos will be free from advertisements.

If you’re interested, please let me know. If there is sufficient interest, I will continue to develop these.

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General Settings


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This episode is the second in our Getting Started series on Gmail. I’ll walk you through the basics to setup your account.If you’re brand new to Gmail, you may want to go back and listen to the previous show on setting up an account. You can find it at the Gmail Podcast website,, under the Getting Started page. If you’ve been using Gmail for a while, I recommend you still listen. You might hear something new.

When you created your Gmail account, you provided a few items like your name, location, and a few other things. In this episode I’ll take deeper dive in to some of the other items you can configure.

Begin by going to and logging in to your Gmail account. Next, click the Settings link in the upper right corner of your Gmail web page.

The settings screen displays several links, or tabs, across the top. These are labeled General, Accounts and Import, Labels, Filters, Forwarding and POP/IMAP, Chat, Web Clips, Labs, Offline, and Themes. This show covers the General settings. I’ll go in to more detail for the other tabs in other Gmail Podcast episodes.

The General tab includes the general settings to you account. The Language field allows you to set the language and character set used to display the Gmail application. This changes the menus, labels, and other aspects of the Gmail interface. If you get messages in French, this setting will not automatically translate them to English for example.

Maximum page size sets the maximum number of conversations (or messages with the same subject) on a page. You can set this to 25, 50, or 100. The more messages you display, the more you can select without going to another page. However, too many messages and you may have to use the scroll bar on your browser.

Keyboard shortcuts allows you to enable or disable the use of keyboard shortcuts in Gmail. Keyboard shortcuts allow you to save time by typing “c” for example, to compose a new message from the conversation index. These can be a real time saver. if you ever get confused, you can use the “?” key to show you the shortcut key help.

External content determines whether or not Gmail will display images in your messages from trusted senders or prompt you each time. Since displaying messages can be a security issue, Gmail doesn’t simply display all images. If you’ve already sent messages to a person twice, they are considered a trusted sender and Gmail will display images from that person.

Browser Connection: Security is important with Gmail. As a result, Gmail offers a secure connection using the HTTPS protocol. This is the default connection between your browser and the Gmail server. When you use HTTPS, the traffic on the Internet is encrypted. I recommend you keep this setting turned on unless you have a strong reason to leave your information unsecured.

My Picture lets you upload an image that people see when you email or chat. Click the Select a picture link to get started uploading an image.

Contacts’ pictures determines whether you are going to use the images that your contacts provided for themselves or only ones you uploaded as part of your contacts.

The Signature option allows you to automatically place one or more lines of text at the end of each message you compose. To do this, change the radio button from No Signature to one with the text box. Place some text in the text box. This is what gets appended to your messages.

Personal level indicators enables or disables little arrows next to the subject line of each conversation in the index. This is handy to know at a glance how the message was addressed. No arrow indicates it was a mass mailing. A single arrow indicates it was sent to you and others and a double arrow indicates it was sent only to you.

The snippets setting tells Gmail whether you want to see the subject and the first part of the message in the conversation index or just the subject. How much of the snippet that’s dispayed depends on your video display and browser settings. By default, this is on.

Are you heading on vacation or business trip and won’t be able to check your Gmail for a while? You may want to use the Vacation Responder option to send an automatic message to people trying to contact you to let them know you are out and when you will be able to respond.

Outgoing message encoding tells Gmail what character set to use when sending your messages. In most cases, you won’t need to worry about this setting. However, if your recipient is having trouble reading your messages, you may want to set this to Unicode (UTF-8).

Finally, the attachments setting lets you upload multiple files and see progress bars when you attach files to messages. The catch is, it requires Flash to be installed on your machine. If you’re not sure, head over to and download the latest Flash player for free. If you’re having problems with file attachments, try setting this to Basic Attachment Features and see how that goes.

As a reminder, if you’ve changed any settings, click Save Changes at the bottom of the screen and you’ll be taken back to the conversation index with your new settings in effect.

Subscribe to the podcast for free via iTunes to have the show automatically delivered, or watch the Gmail Podcast website for my next installment of the Getting Started series.

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Creating an Account


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This is the first epside in a series to help you get started with Gmail. In this episode I walk you through the steps necessary to create a Gmail account. This specific show is intended for people who are absolutely new to Gmail. If you already have an account, you can likely skip on to the next show where I’ll go in to more details of configuring and customizing your account.

Perhaps you’ve heard of Gmail and are curious to try it out or maybe you’re fed up with your limited storage and spam collecting on another mail service and decided that it’s time to take the plunge in to the world of Gmail. I’ll guide you step by step from the first URL to that beautiful list of messages.

  1. Begin by pointing your web browser to
  2. Next, click on Create an Account (see the image on the left)
  3. A form appears. Let’s go through the fields together. (see Figure 1)
    1. Provide your First Name, Last Name, and desired login name. The desired login name is what you wish to login with, not necessarily what you WILL login with. You need to see if someone else already has that Gmail login.
    2. Click Check Availability button to see if the name is available
    3. If it is not available, choose another name
      1. Try adding your middle initial, or a significant number at the end
    4. If there are no conflicts, a message will appear letting you know the login is available.
    5. Next, choose a password
      1. Use a combination of upper case, lower case, numbers and symbols for best security
      2. Use the Password strength indicator to know if you have a strong password or not
    6. Re-enter your password to ensure you entered it properly
    7. Leave Stay Signed In and Enable Web History checked for now
      Web History is a feature that will provide you with a more personalized experience on Google that includes more relevant search results and recommendations. By creating a Google Account, you will enable Web History unless you turn this off. Learn More
    8. If you want Google to be your browser’s default home page, check the option labeled Default Home Page. Since I already have a default homepage, I unchecked this one.
    9. If you loose or forget your password, Gmail can ask you a security question and you reply with the proper answer. Select a security question from the list or choose Write my own question and fill in a question.
    10. Then, Provide an answer for the security question in the space provided.
    11. Provide a recovery email address where the question can be sent if you get in to a situation where you need to recover your password.
    12. Indicate your location so Gmail can set your default language and other settings
    13. A little further down the form, a graphic with wavy letters is displayed. Enter the letters in the word verification graphic. This is done to ensure that a real person, and not another computer, is filling out the form
    14. Read the terms of service
    15. And finally, If you agree to the terms of service, click I accept, create my account
  4. If everything worked, you see a Congratulations screen (see Figure 2). Click the Show me my Account button.
  5. You will also receive an email sent to the recovery address you entered earlier. Save this. It has a verification code that you can use if you ever have problems or loose your password.
  6. Your Gmail account is now ready to use. (see Figure 3) You can go to on any web browser, enter your login name and password to use Gmail.

Subscribe to the podcast, or watch the Gmail website for the next installment in the Getting Started series, Completing your Profile.

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The Bottom Line

It helps to step back and take a look at the Gmail interface once in a while – you never know what you’ll see that you hadn’t spotted before. This week I took a close look at the bottom center of the screen. While I was familiar with some of the items, I notice something new. I also realized that I hadn’t discussed any of these items with you. So let’s go through them together.

Just below the blue bar that indicates the end of the conversation index or currently viewed conversation you should see several lines of text. The first is a helpful hint, such as common keyboard shortcuts, the fact that you can forward your mail to one Gmail account, or noting the availability of Gmail in multiple languages. These messages change every few minutes so don’t forget to glance down there from time to time for a bit of new information. You can typically find out more on these items by clicking on the Help link in the upper right corner of the Gmail screen.

The next line of information, in green, is the amount of space you have available and how much of that is being consumed. This is always handy to know – like looking at the fuel gauge on your car now and then. If I’ve learned anything from using Gmail over the past several years, this amount also changes – it goes up, so don’t forget to take a look.

I don’t know when Google decided to add the next line of information, but I noticed it only recently – and I like it. It tells you when the latest activity was on your Gmail account. What’s more, if you’re running Gmail from multiple computers, it will tell you when and where it was accessed. This is a great security feature and kind of fascinating too. I was using Gmail at work and noticed it said there was one other connection to this account. I clicked on the Details link and it said it was my home IP address. This made sense because I often leave the web interface running at home. If I had seen something suspicious, I could have clicked a link and sign out all other sessions – leaving my current connection at work still working. Since there are multiple ways to access Gmail, there is a log of other connections from web, mobile, IMAP, or POP. Check these periodically to make sure it coincides with your use habits. If not, I recommend you change your Gmail password as soon as possible.

Just under the connection information is a line that allows you to change the method in which Gmail is displayed. Most of the time, the software detects what browser you have and the interface is rendered appropriately. The links at the bottom allow you to change between standard view with extended capabilities, basic HTML – which works on older browsers, and even turn off the chat interface on the left hand side. For more information, click the link labeled Learn More on the line second from the bottom.

And finally, at the very bottom of the screen, is the copyright, a link to the Google Blog – with plenty of articles about Gmail from the developers themselves, a link to be part of the Gmail team – complete with pictures and job descriptions, and finally a link to what else? – the Google home page.

Whether you have listened to every Gmail Podcast or just getting started, I encourage you to explore every facet of every screen in Gmail and experiment. Like me, you’ll discover that it is so much more than an inbox.