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May 29, 2008

Gmail Labs?

Google pre-announced a mysterious new feature for Gmail. "On Thursday, June 5th we're going to be launching a new Gmail feature that we like to think of as a next evolution of 20% time. It's a change in our development process and in the way users will be able to influence Gmail's design."

20% time is one of the many peculiar things about Google. "The 20 percent time is a well-known part of our philosophy here, enabling engineers to spend one day a week working on projects that aren't necessarily in our job descriptions. You can use the time to develop something new, or if you see something that's broken, you can use the time to fix it."

Google's engineers may work on many side-projects related to Gmail and this could be an opportunity for users to try them, send feedback or influence which features should be further developed and added to Gmail. It's not clear if that's the right interpretation for Google's intentionally-ambiguous text, but we'll find out next Thursday.

It might even match one of my predictions for this year: "Gmail will launch a Google Labs-like site with experimental features that could be added by those who are curious to see the next features before they are officially launched." Instead of releasing entirely new applications on Google Labs, it's more practical for Google to create mini-labs for each important service and expose experimental features that could be added or removed, like in Google Experimental Search.

Update (June 5th): TechCrunch covers Google's announcements. "At 6 pm PDT Gmail will launch Gmail labs under a Gmail tab - all users will have access to it. The first batch will have 13 features." Here are the features:

* a module for quick links (saved searches, important messages)
* superstars (additional star icons)
* pictures in Gmail chat
* fixed width font
* custom keyboard shortcuts
* mouse gestures
* random signature
* signature tweaks (places the signature before the quoted text)
* custom date format
* muzzle (hide the status of your contacts in Gmail chat)
* play Snake inside Gmail
* email addict (blocks the screen for 15 minutes)
* hide unread count

You'll be able to find them in a new tab from the Settings section. Probably the most useful features are: quick links, superstars and custom shortcuts. More about Gmail Labs in a future post.

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