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June 5, 2008

Experimental Gmail Features

As promised last week, Gmail added a labs section to showcase some new experimental features created by Google engineers.
Gmail Labs allows you to try out experimental new features in Gmail and send feedback to us so we can improve them. If you're going to brave the Labs world, it's important to keep the following things in mind about these features:

* They may break at any time
* Similarly, they may disappear temporarily or permanently
* They may work so well that they graduate and become regular features

The labs section is available as a new settings tab in the English version of Gmail (you could change your language to see it) and it includes 13 new features: some are very useful, other are just for fun. You need to enable each one to see it in action, but unlike Google Experimental Search, you can enable more than one experimental feature at a time.


Here are some of the most useful new features:
* quick links - a new module displayed below Gmail Chat that lets bookmark Gmail views. For example, you can search for something and then click on "add to quick links" to save the search in the sidebar. This can also be used to bookmark important conversations or settings sections. I suggested in an earlier post some useful Gmail queries.

* super-stars - if you use Gmail's star for different things (flag important conversations, flag conversations for follow-up) and you want to differentiate them, you now have more icons for starring messages. Just click on the star repeatedly to toggle between the different states. The feature is very limited because you can't search for messages that were starred with a different icon.


* custom keyboard shortcuts - if you find the current shortcuts offered by Gmail strange and unintuitive, you can remap them. After enabling this feature, a new Settings tab will let you choose the shortcuts for some of the most useful actions. For example, you can replace the "!" shortcut with the more intuitive "S" for marking messages as spam.

* mouse gestures should be familiar to Opera users. You can move your mouse in a direction and associate this movement with an action. Here's what you can do in Gmail: "hold right-click and move the mouse left to go to a previous conversation, move it right to go to the next conversation, and move up to go back to the inbox view."

The other 9 features are less interesting, but some people could still find some use for them:
* show avatars in Gmail chat
* view messages in fixed width font
* place the signature before the quoted text (many Gmail users complained about this in the past)
* random signature from a feed (you can use Google to find some feeds)
* custom date formats
* hide your friends' status messages in Gmail chat
* Snake - that's right, you can now play "Old Snakey" inside Gmail.


* email addict - 15 minutes of break from Gmail for those who need to do other things than reading their mail
* hide unread count - you'll no longer see in the sidebar the number of unread messages from your inbox, the spam folder or other labels.

All in all, there are some useful features and Google promises to monitor people's interest and add the most popular features in the standard Gmail. Hopefully, users will be able to write their own plugins and submit them to a library of Gmail features.

Google insisted that these new features were written by Google engineers in their 20% time, so they're far from being polished. "There is a code review vetting process to make sure it doesn't break, but no user interface analysis or product analysis. It just has to be functional code to push out. Features can literally modify anything in the Gmail code base," mentions TechCrunch. If something goes wrong, you can temporarily disable Gmail Labs and enter in a "safe mode" by going to http://mail.google.com/mail/?labs=0.

37 comments:

  1. Doesn't seem to be available for Google Apps for Your Domain yet ..

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  2. Best part is that after setting up labs in US version you can switch back gmail to your language and new labs features still work.

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  3. Oh please don't add an API. Then we'll end up with the crap that iGoogle has ended up with. Yes, there *are* some good gadgets in there, but it wouldn't work for GMail

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  4. please add thsi go google apps for your domain....

    and add something that allows merging regular gmail accounts with google apps for your domain

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  5. I am surprised that this has people lathered up. I'm happy to see it in principle, but the gadgets don't seem terribly practical. I would have loved to have seen:
    - task integration
    - delayed send
    - autoresponse capabilities built into rules
    - time-driven follow-up flagging
    - dynamic email messages (i.e., email messages that are html and that can be changed within the message rather than always adding to the thread)
    - group email address public editing functions
    - ...

    Anyway, guess what I'm saying is that the new labs functions are "cute" but pretty darn useless.

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  6. Is there a feed for new releases? How can we keep track of new "experimental features" as they are released?

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  7. I am soooo happy about quicklinks! Since I read my email by what is unread, it is very helpful! I just wish I could get it to show up above the labels -_-

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  8. You can collapse labels and it will help. But I agree. Would be nice to move the panels.

    And per my last post, agreed that QuickLinks is useful.

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  9. the paying customers, google apps for your domain users, have to wait again.

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  10. How about playing better with IMAP users so that we don't end up having duplicate/triplicate/whateverate messages?

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  11. I don't see it though my language is set to US English. Any ideas on what to do?

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  12. According to someone from Google...

    "For Google Apps accounts, you can go into your Domain Settings and click "Turn on new features" -- this should enable Labs within 24 hours or so."

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  13. I'm sure that this might get rejected by someone, or laughed at by another, but wouldn't it be nice if we could actually have a Gmail custom time?

    I've heard of a service called l8r that sends email in the future, and I think that Gmail should be able to have custom future time or something. It would be really helpful.

    Thank you.

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  14. My wishlist of things they didn't add:
    Multiple signatures (per account)
    multiple auto replies (per account)
    themes/skins
    auto reply filtering
    better vacation responder for all accounts rather than the one Gmail
    better contact management (separate real contacts from just people you contact)
    Email download/backup
    Change amount of emails listed/displayed
    Remove blocks on the left (with an x or something. I don't ever use chat)

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  15. I've had the "new Features" turned on for a couple of months, and my domain mails still is without the labs section.

    I'm guessing they are rolling it out in sections.

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  16. Please, please find some way of incorporating the RTL LTR buttons in the email editor of the Western interface. They exist in the Hebrew/Arabic interface. How hard can this be?

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  17. Would you know what Eric Schmidt was doing at Bilderberg 2008 ?

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  18. Yes so you like this but what about integrating GPG support in your webmail?

    You might miss a lot of data to do datamining if people start to cipher their emails but isn't the privacy of your users important?

    I don't need photos in web google talk, I want ot be able to chyper & sign my emails using gpg easily, it should come integrated with gmail or using a google provided open source firefox plugin.

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  19. These are small features created by one or two people in their spare time. You shouldn't expect to see complicated features like: themes, task management, mail encrypting or custom spam filter.

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  20. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  21. IMHO, this is Email site. Not some entertainment portal for teenagers.
    I believe there are things much more important to have, at least these:
    It would be much better if you fix Gmail Contacts. Extremely useful, but terribly managed. I'd love to keep my contacts with Gmail, but it so hard, so not intuitive. And why Gmail always add some people to my Contacts without even telling or asking me?
    Also, Extremely useful feature, which can be easily implemented based on asynchronous AJAX technology - sending Personalized Bulk Email.
    I need to send personalized email to all my IT employment agents at once - not possible! :( Extremely useful feature. Must have.
    I personally don't need Snake and Tetris gadgets here. Much better would be to have functionality I mentioned before.
    And... recently, I believe many would agree with me, Gmail site became significantly slower. Maybe, instead of building these gadgets (which already exist on iGoogle) would be better to improve the performance? Thanks.

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  22. The blog posting from Google says it's available for apps users, but I have the "new features" option turned on in my domain account (and have since shortly after they added that checkbox), but I still don't get the labs link in settings :(

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  23. It doesn't work to my Google Apps.... Whats happening?

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  24. For Google Apps, try signing out and back into your account, that worked for me.

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  25. IMHO, there are numerous more important features that Gmail needs to add:

    - search/sort by message/attachment size

    - optionally search within attachments of text-like types. (docs, spreadsheets, pdfs, ppts) like DesktopSearch.

    - optional/adjustable spam filter aggresiveness

    - search keywords that (optionally) expands plurals, tense, common synonyms, spacing, like regular Google web search.

    - Improve the compose interface, to allow easy in-line embedding of externally-hosted images, like most forum systems.

    - performance fix for compose interface in Firefox2. Lagging text cursor, poor responsiveness sometimes during typing, especially when backspacing/deleting many consecutive chars.

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  26. Absolutely can not get Labs working for Google Apps. Sign out doesn't work.

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  27. Same here, still no lover for Google Apps users.

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  28. Doesn't work for me either. Perhaps it only works for Google Apps Premier folks?

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  29. Same here, still no lover for Google Apps users.
    is there any special trick to enable?
    I've had the "new Features" turned on!

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  30. Any luck yet? Still no labs in my apps account (or themes, either), though I have everything enabled in the dashboard.

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  31. Love the snake!!! I think it is very addictive and it can be show off in class.

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  32. Mine works great! My friend is French and his lab tab doesn't shoe the option for getting the superstars. Can't find it.

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  33. Labs: GPG would be great!

    @Edulux:
    Agreed! +1

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  34. Hm, there was some double-post above. Dear Google, can you please delete the comments of me above. They were plain stupid.

    It doesn't make sense to let you implement a gpg/pgp-feature, because the message would go to your server in PLAIN TEXT and then cyphered. So there would be still room for a man-in-the-middle-attack... *sigh*

    But PGP-Signature (as attachment not in-line) would be nice!

    Regards,

    R

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  35. I agree with Jamie. Lots of cutsie stuff, but nothing particularly useful on a business level. Especially agree that time-driven follow up flagging is huge. A major impediment to moving away from Exchange. Star reminders aren't really functional for a business-class email solution - I don't want to have to read every day what it is that I need to remember to include in staff scheduling 2 weeks (or 3 months or whatever)from now. I want to be reminded when the time comes and even then be able to defer it for 10 minutes, an hour, whatever, and be reminded again, as in Exchange. Powerful tool that it seems is either used extensively by individual users or not at all. I use flags extensively....sending an email to me from the calendar is a poor substitute. It's not interactive enough.

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  36. Gmail has very unique feature that it shows last login history that display ip date time. But what if someone guess/hack your password and change it and also the security question. You will be in a great trouble. What I want to say is Google should also verify old security question's answer at the time of changing security question for better identify the person who actually own the account. Isn't it?

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