Pretty much all of us live out of inbox these days, and, more often than not — its GMail.
If you want to spend a really productive and more fun day at your inbox; I strongly recommend paying more attention to GMail Labs.
Far too many people I know, who use GMail for both work and play don’t utilize the power and beauty that GMail Labs add to your inbox.
The slew of features and functionality some incredibly useful and others of questionable importance – still nevertheless go a long way towards making you a GMail Ninja.
Here’s a quick run-down on how to set-these up on your GMail account and a little something about my favourite ones:
To start using the GMail Labs features simply click on settings in the upper right corner of your GMail box and find something called Labs. If ‘Labs’ doesn’t show up for you, just follow this post to get it set-up manually.
As it now stands, there are Gmail Labs experiments out there and they all work with a simple ‘enable’ or ‘disable’ radio-button, with the exception of GMail Offline which is slightly more complicated.
As of today, Gmail Labs features include the following:
Add any gadget by URL
If there is a service you use which has an XML link (most google gadgets for igoogle do), such as RTM or something else, you can embed the service right into your inbox. I use the twitter gadget a lot.
Advanced IMAP controls
If you use IMAP with Outlook/Thunderbird or any other desk based e-mail tool or even mobile device, this nifty little feature will let you choose what folders in GMail you want to sync – eliminating the need to download and sync everything on GMail.
Useful if you manage something like a listserv or have to say “I’ll get back to you” to a lot of people on e-mail. One click and you have a template reply ready to go.
Create a document
This one allows you to create a Google Document from an email conversation. Its very useful for notes, research and that sort of thing.
Custom date formats
If you live in a country, like I do, where the default date format is not mm/dd/yy – then you really need this one!
Custom keyboard shortcuts
If you are keyboard junkie this one should be obvious. If not it wouldn’t matter anyway.
Custom label colors
If you liked the coloured labels in GMail but want some finer control – this feature is your answer.
Default reply to all
If you find yourself having to reply to a group of people usually this feature is simply beautiful.
This one feature I have enabled but can never bring myself to use. Nevertheless, I highly recommend it. If you’ve been staring too much at GMail all day – go click the link and take a walk for a bit!
If you are emoticon kind, turning this one will help you with pictures of wine and a whole lot of more!
If you are into GTD productivity you probably already use GMail’s filters pretty well. This feature lets you export and import a common set across multiple e-mail ids if you have them. I recommend using Lifehacker’s set – they’re fantastic.
Fixed width font
Adds an option to the reply drop down menu that lets you view a message in fixed width font.
If people share their flickr pictures with you a lot, this one will just show you a high quality preview right in your mail – no external links to visit.
Go to label
Adds a nice button that allows you to search and go to a label name directly instead of having to scroll all the way!
Google Calendar gadget
Embeds a tiny version of your GMail Calendar right in your inbox, so you have your agenda with you.
Google Docs gadget
As above, for quick access to google docs you are working on.
Hide unread counts
Turn down the volume on your e-mail with this feature. It will hide your e-mail unread count across GMail so you have no need to panic.
Location in signature
If you access GMail on-the-go a lot, this one is useful for recipients to figure out where you are. It uses your IP to figure out where you are mailing from.
Prone to sending drunken e-mails? Mail Goggles will pose an irritating mathematical challenge on Saturday nights before you e-mail – just so you give up, before you hit the ‘send’ button.
Mark as read
Adds a button that simply allows you to mark the selected e-mails ‘read’.
If you are a mouse junkie – then this one is obvious.
This one is actually a really interesting idea. It splits your default inbox view into two or more ‘inboxes’ allowing you to view your default inbox and any other customised view you like in the default pane. For a better description read this.
This one is one my favourite features in Labs. It gets rid of the long status message space in GTalk, which is anyway visible if you hover over a contact’s name.
Navbar drag and drop
If you end up using a lot of these features, at some point you’ll start feeling that your left-side navigation is becoming unwieldy and long. This feature allows you to reorganize and prioritize what you use using simple click-and-drag.
By far, the singularly most useful feature in all of GMail Labs.Offline GMail let’s you access GMail while offline – meaning if you use it as a reference like I do, you can still get to your drafts, read older mail and so on. It even has a special mode for flakey connectivity. Read more about it here, and you’ll need Google Gears to get started on it.
Fun Fun! A game in your email.
Yup, Picasa albums that you can see without leaving Gmail.
Allows you to create and save a small box-full of daily searches you do in your e-mail.
Quote selected text
Quote the text you have selected when you reply to a message.
Specify more than one signature and have Gmail rotate among them for you.
Right side chat and Right side labels
Have a wide-screen computer? Use the real-estate! Shift Chat and Labels to the right-side, its convenient.
If you like how this works with Google, you’ll like how it works in GMail.
Send and archive
Adds a sen-and-archive button, saves a couple of extra clicks.
Adds some nice tweaks to how your signature appears.
If you’ve wished for a good way to differentiate between ‘starred’ messages, this is for you. Flag away as much as you want.
GMail’s own ToD0 list manager, with e-mail intergration, a chat-like interface and super intutiveness.
Text messaging (SMS) in chat
Works only in the USA. Allows you to text a buddy who went offline.
Changes order of elements in the browser title bar– so you are able (most of the time) to see if a new mail has arrived even if Gmail window is minimized.
Change your mind about an e-mail you sent? Undo it!
Specify time-periods with the vacation auto-responder.
Inline yelp previews, cool eh?
Pops up a tiny video window you can watch for YouTube links sent to you via GTalk in GMail.
Pictures in Chat
Puts the associated contact’s picture into the GTalk window within GMail.
Sender Time Zone
Adds a tiny red or green icon next to the sender’s email address in a conversation indicating if the person will be asleep or awake when your e-mail reaches. Useful if you are e-mailing someone in Luxomberg from India and have no clue when to expect a reply!
Easily the next best thing to GMail Offline in the GMail Labs world. Adds a tiny seach box within GMail, styped as a chat pop-up box (like Tasks is) which allows you to search for anything within GMail. Allows you to avoid switching to a new tab/window when asked for a query via e-mail, for example.
Suggest more recipients
This feaure, works in tandem with you while composing an e-mail, suggesting additional recepients you might want to consider marking an e-mail to – after you have specified a couple.
Allows you to insert images into a message body. You can upload and insert image files in your computer, or insert images by URLs.
GMail Lab Features I cannot live without include – Offline, YouTube Previews, Google Search, Tasks, Quick Links, Superstars, Muzzle, Custom Date Formats, E-Mail Addict, Right-side Chat and Labels, Navbar Drag and Drop, Advanced IMAP Controls, Default reply to all, Forgotten Attachment Detector, Go to Label, Mark as read, Create a Document, Filter Import/Export, Send and Archive, Undo Send, Search Autocomplete, Google Calendar and Docs Gadget and Add Any Gadget by Url.
If you give any of these a try, let me know what works for you!