Thursday, December 31, 2009

Gmail Labs features you should be using

Gmail has been around for nearly 6 years and is one of the most popular web-based email clients. It already offers some unique features that similar mail services don't, but most people probably aren't aware that Gmail is capable of even more.

As with many of their products, Google has given Gmail a "labs" page, where users can turn on and off experimental extras that add some pretty cool features.

To access the labs page, click on Settings at the top of your Gmail page, then click Labs across the top colored bar. There are dozens of labs features you can turn on if you want to, and I highly encourage you to read about each one. There are too many to go over them all, so I'm just going to discuss a few of my favorites.



Previews in Mail
The top six features in the list are all very similar...they let you turn on previews of specific content directly within the email message. Things like Google Docs, Yelp, YouTube, Flickr, etc. So if someone emails you a YouTube link, or a document, or a Flickr picture, you can view it right within the email message. Very cool.

Forgotten Attachment Detector
This is my favorite. When this is enabled, Gmail watches what you type and if it thinks you're intending to attach a file, but you don't actually attach anything, it asks "did you mean to attach something?" before you send. I'd say it's about 90 percent accurate, only asking me if I meant an attachment when I really didn't once or twice. Highly recommended.

Text Messaging in Chat
This is a neat little feature that I have yet to actually use. It allows you to send and receive text messages from people in your chat list (assuming, of course, you have a phone number for them in your contacts). But if they go offline and you really needed to finish that conversation, you can quickly switch to SMS mode and send them a text.

Undo Send
This is one of those "duh!" ideas that I don't know how I lived with before. When enabled, it holds every message for 5 seconds after you click send and displays an Undo button. Five seconds isn't enough to interrupt an email conversation, but it is enough for you to catch a quick mistake. If you accidentally hit send, or forgot to paste in that link, you can quickly hit Undo to stop it from being sent.

Don't Forget Bob
This is a simple little insurance feature that pays attention to who you frequently email. For example, if you are constantly emailing your friends Bob, Jack and Fred, but then accidentally forget to include Bob on one of the emails, it will ask, "did you mean to include Bob?" Kinda nifty.

Got the Wrong Bob?
Very similar to Don't Forget Bob, this feature also watches who you frequently write to. As with the example above, if, instead of forgetting to include Bob, you accidentally select the wrong Bob from your address book, this feature will ask, "did you mean Bob Smith?" This one actually saved me once, so I can personally attest to its helpfulness.

Green Robot
And lastly, we have a little feature that I can see becoming extremely helpful down the road. If one of your chat buddies is chatting from their Android phone, their icon will change from a green circle to a green Android robot. Really useful for knowing if someone is at a computer or on their phone. If Gmail expands this feature in the future to include iPhones, BlackBerrys, etc. it could become super awesome.

So there you have it, my short list of favorite Gmail Labs features. I definitely think everyone who uses Gmail should browse through the full selection of Labs features, since you may find some that you love. More are being added all the time, too.

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