Gmail Labs

This entry is part 15 of 35 in the series Green Belt

The people at Google have found a creative way to let you try various experimental features of Gmail and provide feedback. They call it Gmail Labs. You can access these new features by clicking on the Settings link in the upper right, and then clicking on the tab labeled “Labs”. Some of these features are cosmetic such as date formats or removing the number of new messages from the various locations where messages are stored; others provide improved capabilities or time saving features like customizable keyboard shortcuts. Have a look in the Labs tab of the settings screen from time to time and see if there is anything of interest that might improve your Gmail experience.

You can choose to enable or disable any of them by using the appropriate radio button choice to the right of each option. When you’ve chosen which features to turn on or off, click “Save Changes” at the bottom of the screen.

According to the help page, there are a few things to keep in mind when you try these features out. First, they may break at any time. Remember, this is experimental software. Second, they may be removed from the feature set at any time. And third, they may work so well, that they may be promoted to regular features in Gmail.

If you use any of the Labs features and suspect you are having problems, you can temporarily disable them by modifying your web address, or URL, to https://mail.google.com/mail/?labs=0.

Feel free to provide feedback, report bugs, or suggest new features to Google by joining the Google group gmail-labs. Look under the “More” menu at the top of the screen for Groups, or follow the link in the show notes for this episode on the website.

Here’s a comment from listener Douglas E. Welch over at Technology IQ. It seems he had a stuck key on his keyboard and as a result, inadvertantly locked out his Gmail account “up to 24 hours” due to invalid access attempts. As Douglas stated in his blog posting, “It is a little distressing that a rather simple computer malfunction can result in a day-long lockout and the fact that there is no appeal process for such a lockout.”. Hopefully Google will remedy the situation and provide some sort of support mechanism for accidental technical difficults such as this in the future.

Speed Dialing

This entry is part 14 of 35 in the series Green Belt

Before I get started, I owe you an apology. I have been using this feature of Gmail so long I nearly forgot I was using it. It wasn’t until a few days ago that I was reading my email via a web browser on my cell phone that I thought “I don’t think I told the Gmail Podcast world about speed dialing on the phone.”

OK, I made that term “speed dialing” up for this feature, but I think it’s a pretty accurate way to represent the ability to use numbers instead of scrolling down and pressing OK or ENTER on the link you want to use.

Let me explain with an example of what I’m talking about…

I’ve got a Samsung Blackjack SmartPhone running Windows Mobile 6, but this tip should work fine from any mobile device with a browser. From time to time I use Internet Explorer to read my Gmail when I’m on the go. When reading messages, especially long ones with lots of included text, it can be cumbersome to scroll ot the bottom of the screen to click on “Archive”. Instead, think of those options with numbers 1-7 next to them. If you like, write them down until you’ve got a few key ones memorized. Like:

1: Reply
2: Reply to all
3: Forward
4: Archive
5: Mark unread
6: Add Star
7: Delete

So… you’re reading your message and want to archive it. Don’t bother scrolling down past links in the messages, past lots of text, through the options at the bottom until your highlight lands on “Archive”, just press “4”. Done. Next message. You want to delete it, press 7.

Keep in mind that the numbered options here do not correspond to those on the Java applet, except 7 – by coincidence only.

Now, go out and read, archive, reply, and delete your email quickly from your phone’s web browser.

Colored Labels

This entry is part 13 of 35 in the series Green Belt

Google has added color to the labels. The key here is you need to be using the new interface. Sorry Internet Explorer 6 users (and perhaps some others I haven’t tested yet).

It’s funny how such a simple thing like color can really make the labels come alive. I’ve color coded several of my more popular labels – at least ones that get auto-applied by an incoming filter, and they REALLY stand out nicely in the conversation index.

Nice touch Google!

Filter Assistant

This entry is part 12 of 35 in the series Green Belt

I don’t know when the Filter Assistant feature first appeared, but I have found it very useful.

You’ll find the link to the filter assistant in the upper right of any message. When you click on this link, an orange section appears that looks a lot like the content when you are creating filters via the Settings screen or the “Create a filter” link near the search box at the top.

By default the From and To boxes are filled in, but you are free to remove that content and filter any other way you like. The bottom part of the orange box is to tell what actions to take on the filters you have created. Again, similar to doing the same thing from the settings tab.

Let’s walk through a quick example… Let’s say you spot a message on your index from a mail list you got on and cannot seem to get removed from. Go ahead and open the conversation from the index by clicking on it. Now locate the Filter Assistant link in the upper right of the conversation – it will be the same distance down the screen as the sender’s name. For this example, you’re really only concerned with who the message is to, not necessarily who it is from. That sender may send you valid information later. It’s your choice, but for this example I’ll remove the information in the From box. Once that is done, I go to the second half and check the box next to “Delete it”. Finally, I click on the “Create Filter” button.

If I ever need to remove or modify that filter, I can do it via the “Settings” link in the upper right of the screen and click on the “Filter” tab the same as any other filter.

Quick Tip: Here’s a quick tip for all you Mac users who are also using Firefox; if you right click (or Ctrl-Click) on a message in the conversation index you will get a pop-up, or call-out, with the message content. Across the top of this you can Close the window, Archive it, Leave the message marked unread, or Trash it. I would love to see a Reply option, but since you cannot reply directly from the index normally, this kind of makes sense. I haven’t found this feature available in IE or FireFox on the Windows machines yet, but I’ll keep looking and let you know.

PowerPoint Viewer

This entry is part 11 of 35 in the series Green Belt

Gmail now recognizes Microsoft PowerPoint attachments. When you have a message with a PowerPoint attached, Gmail will present a link labeled “View as slideshow” near the attachment. When you click on that Gmail will open a new window and start displaying the slides. In theory, it’s pretty straight forward, but here’s what I found in reality.

First, Gmail does not yet support PowerPoint 2007 files. Also, when I sent a PowerPoint file from my Mac (one that was originally developed on a PC) it did not recognize the file and said it couldn’t convert it despite the fact that it opened up fine on the Windows and Mac machines.

I also noticed using the Gmail web interface with Firefox on Mac, that the file attachment icons on the right, next to the date on the message index, the icons showed up as file types, for example a little PowerPoint icon when a PPT was attached, not paperclips like on Windows (Firefox or Internet Explorer)

Finally, despite the fact that Google does not currently allow you to edit the PowerPoint file, they claim they will have a way to edit PPTs “this summer”. We can only hope.

Quick Tip: If you haven’t already noticed, Gmail increased the file size limit on attachments. You can now attach up to 20MB files, up from the former 10MB. A word of caution, that’s more storage than the typical ISP mailbox. Be careful who you are sending large attachments to, unless of course they are using Gmail.

Selecting Multiple Conversations

This entry is part 10 of 35 in the series Green Belt

Here’s a quick tip how to select multiple conversations with just two mouse clicks.

To check a range of conversations from the index, click the checkbox next to the first conversation then hold down the shift key while selecting the last conversation. If you are familiar with selecting a range of cells in a spreadsheet, this is very similar. Automatically, Gmail will highlight and select all the conversations from the first one to the last. Again, check the first conversation, hold down the shift key while selecting the last conversation. Instantly you’ll have 3, 12, or 20 conversations selected at once. You can do this repeatedly on the same screen if you have multiple ranges to select. Unfortunately I haven’t found a keyboard shortcut for this yet.

Once the conversations are selected you can label, archive, delete them, or any other regular action that you perform on one or more conversations.

Google Checkout

This entry is part 9 of 35 in the series Green Belt

You can use your Gmail account as a secure way of checking out of dozens of online stores. Many offer a discount! Learn more by listening!

Anti-Virus Explained

This entry is part 7 of 35 in the series Green Belt

You may have not even realized that Gmail provided anti-virus protection, but it’s there. Listen and find out more about how it works.

Apply New Filters to Old Mail

This entry is part 6 of 35 in the series Green Belt

Learn a little bit more about filters and how you can apply them to existing mail conversations.

Tougher Spam Filtering

This entry is part 5 of 35 in the series Green Belt

Those pesky spammers are getting tougher and tougher to beat. This little hint should help keep their latest tactic from bugging you.