The last few weeks have seen something of an epiphany within my life. I fear that I may have inadvertantly, become a bit of a geek.
Now I have never been a stranger to technology – I used to play with various radar associated ‘toys’ for a living and was often involved in testing new software. But it ended there. I never really wore the ‘Geek’ badge. Until now that is.
It all started when I changed my email address. Circumstances dictated that I switched to a webmail based email account and I chose Googlemail (or Gmail as it is known almost everywhere else). And Gmail, comes with ‘toys’. Google calls them ‘Labs’ because in theory, they are experimental. So I dived in and enjoyed playing with many of them :
- There is one to incorporate Tasks (a to-do list into Gmail).
- There is one to show a video preview whenever you receive a YouTube link in an email.
- There is one to show photo previews whenever you receive a Picasa link in an email.
- There is one that gives you a 1-click access to any bookmarkable URL in Gmail, which is useful for saving frequent searches, important individual messages etc.
- There is one that adds a host of additional star markers.
- There is one that displays the timezone of the senders email, handy if you want to work out whether they’ll see you reply now or in several hours.
- There is one that enables you to have a whole bunch of what it calls ‘canned responses’.
- There is a neat one which tells you if you forget to add an attachment (we’ve all done it)!
- There is one to specify start and end dates for your Out of Office reply.
- There is one to chose the colours of your message labels, handy for making the important ones stand out.
- There is one to add a ‘Mark as Read’ button.
- There is one to show you a preview of the inbox before Gmail has even loaded.
- There is one that allows you to create a Google Document from an email conversation.
- There is one to import or export all of your filters.
- There is one to undo the action of hitting send, so that if you realise you’ve made a mistake you can unsend it.
- And loads more.
Gmail also presented me with a bit of sea-change. It does not use folders, but instead, allows you to assign tags (‘labels’) to a message. And each message can have none, one or more than one label. Then the process of applying labels to each incoming message can be automated by the creation of ‘filters’ – and this is where Gmail suddenly becomes an incredibly powerful tool. At first I was a little wary and unsure about the whole concept of not being able to store emails into various folders, but now I love the whole tag/label approach. And I wouldn’t switch back. Many of the filter possibilities are not really documented so you can have great fun experimenting, but I now have a library of home-grown filters, some quite complex, others really simple.