Tuesday, December 04, 2007

New Gmail Features : Color-Coded Labels and More

I love Google's Gmail application! Though this is certainly not news to anyone who has read any of my prior software and technology reviews here, it is noteworthy that Gmail has further extended the functionality of their awesome free Email application.

They just added color-coded labels to the Gmail interface. For anyone new to Gmail, labels are the mail-organization strategy employed by Google's Email program (as compared to folders or directories). Though they take a bit of getting used to perhaps, labels have a clear advantage over the old "folders" concept -- you can apply multiple labels to any given Email, whereas with the folder/directory approach, you could only place your Email into a single folder (or, category). How often have you went searching for an old email in one folder, only to find it in another? Well, with labels, you can apply as many organizational / retrieval keywords to an Email as you deem necessary, and quickly filter / search to return only those Emails tagged with your label keyword(s).

I borrowed the following pictures from Gmail's updated Help system, which shows how super simple to use this new coloring-feature is:

Colored labels

Better organize your email with new colored labels. Just click the color swatch next to each label to assign a color.

Thank you Gmail developers!

This is a huge improvement to the Gmail Labels feature! I liked labels, but have been longing for a quick visual cue mechanism like this. Now I have both the power of being able to apply multiple labels to my emails for quick searching and retrieval, plus the ability to quickly spot certain flagged items in my Email quickly just on sight alone (like, I have a "TO-DO" label, and a "Blog Topics" label - both of which are reminders that I have followup actions to perform regarding the Emails in question - and now I can quickly visually detect outstanding items in a hurry, without performing label-searches all the time). Quite nice, and a big time-saver and organizational improvement for me. Side thought: perhaps Google will also add a text-highlighter to Blogger now too (in addition to text-color), as I couldn't quite demonstrate the look of my new Gmail labels without it.

I still have some outstanding wants and desires for Gmail (Google Gmail Developers - I hope you are reading this and thinking about these suggestions for innovative Gmail improvements):
  1. Please, be innovative and leading-edge again, and implement what I would call "Email Subject Renaming (or re-labeling)". This to me is something all Email packages should allow for, but I have yet to see a single one that does it. Basically, I'm sick of managing emails with no subjects (or incorrect, irrelevant, or misleading subjects), when people send me Emails without giving them a Subject (or contextually relevant subject) value. Just let me assign a meaningful subject label to the Email(s) and override whatever is currently shown. The original value could still be stored somewhere if needed I'm sure, but fact is, it is the subject-value I want to assign that is what matters most. What does a subject of "(no subject)" really tell anyone?! Come on, please, let me have a way to quickly edit those and put a useful subject text value there.
  2. Give me a way to quickly split an email-thread into more than one thread. This is especially important to me, and goes along with item#1. How often have you started an email conversation about one thing, only to have it fracture and splinter into two, three, or more topics that are all now stuck within the same original email thread? I have found, repeatedly, that people find it so much easier to just click "Reply" without ever updating the Subject Topic value, and the next thing you know, you have emails about what's on TV tonight mixed in with a conversation about world politics. What a mess. There is certainly a way to improve this.
  3. Give me a place to store my "common Email templates" (perhaps you'd call them "form mail" or "form Emails"). This is not to be confused with "Drafts", which move from draft-status to "Sent". I want re-usable Templates! Once again, I have not seen ANY Email programs do this - so Gmail, listen up, be innovative, and wow people further! Create a folder called "Templates" where I can store common email Text. The ideas is simple: I, like many others I presume, must send similar common replies to people on a regular basis. When people ask my a question about the status of my upcoming Gluten-Free Biscotti book, the response is the same (and, only gets updated infrequently). So, I want to have a Template called "Biscotti Book Status" that I open (which also has Subject set to same), and simply send to someone. If I am replying to someone, I want a "Reply using Template" option, which should be rather obvious what I'm after. And, color-coded regions within my template (to prompt me for any recipient-specific changes I should make) would be nice, and I can do that just by highlighting in the Gmail editor already. Also, I want templates with attachments to be available, so if I reply with a PDF file or such, it's all setup and ready to go. Although I have focused on Replies, I surely want to send templatized /standard emails to recipients (not SPAM, but valid emails - like when I request that my blog be included in a list of articles or such).

Gmail is already much better than Hotmail / Microsoft "Live" Mail, or whatever the name-of-the-week for that product is (no comparison in my book - read my blog about Gmail vs. Hotmail / Windows Live Mail for some further input on this). Still, Google can make Gmail even better by implementing my suggestions above - I wish I could access the source-code for GMail and make such modifications myself. Gmail source-code would not quite be enough though, as I'd have to be able to install my programming / software changes on their servers, and I don't think they would let me do that :)

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