I could not live without Gmail*, and I shared a few reasons yesterday that show how email makes living far away from friends and family easier, but it makes work life easier as well. Even though Gmail and Google have become a dynasty which scares some people away, their innovative, cutting-edge products have proven that they deserve the cult-like following they have amassed. Google is rarely, if ever, content with just putting another widget out onto the market. They rethink–and in many cases, completely redesign– the current widgets, creating a new generation of widgets which surpasses in quality those currently available.
The most recent example of this is Google Chrome. While Google hasn’t ironed out all of the kinks yet, they have certainly raised the bar for the other browser developers. They started from the ground up, instead of building on an already existing framework.** That is what Google did when they created Gmail, and the effects changed emailing for me forever.
5 Things I Love About Gmail
It’s hard to narrow down what I love about Gmail, but here is what I think are my top five favorite things about Gmail.
- It’s free. And it offers services that other email providers make you pay for. Hotmail, AOL Mail, Yahoo Mail are some of Gmail’s top competitors, but none of those services provide full access to all of their features for free. For example, Gmail allows you to forward mail from another service for free***. Hotmail and Yahoo will let you, but you’ll have to pay, and I don’t see this option at all in AOL.
- It has 7268 megabytes (and counting) of free storage. When it launched, Gmail offered 2 gigs of storage, which made Hotmail’s 200mb look like peanuts. Gmail is constantly adding more and more storage, so in this age of emailing photos, PDFs, and all sorts of other things, you never have to worry about messages bouncing back to the sender because your inbox is full. Or having to worry about carefully deleting messages you hope you’ll never need again. And it’s all free. Other services charge for the extra space. (How do they do it? The Joy of Tech has a creative answer!)
The conversation view revolutionizes using email. Instead of keeping each email separate, Gmail rethought email and came up with the conversation view. Emails stay grouped together**** so you have context for each message. It does take some getting used to, but once it becomes the norm, non-conversation view emails feel so awkward. Try it; you’ll like it!
- Gmail auto-adds contacts you email frequently. Gmail automates this action, and it’s nice. One of the big changes made in the last year or so was a total rehaul of the contact management systems, including a division between “My Contacts” and “Suggested Contacts” which significantly–and for the better–changed this feature. My Contacts are the people you have explicitly added to your contact list, and Suggested Contacts are ones that you have only emailed several times. This new division essentially eliminated true automaticity of new added contats, but returns some control to the user. Now, we have the choice if we want to add email addresses, but you don’t have to worry about mistyping an email address or copying and pasting incorrectly.
- And much, much more! Google Talk is built in, so there is no need to have other windows or programs open if you need to chat. Labels allow you to escape the confines of folders. Filters, and the “Filter messages like this” feature, can help keep you focused when you’re working and create an overall neater inbox. Plus, who doesn’t love Old Snakey and the recently added themes, some beautiful, some fun?
My Gmail Wish List
- Continued improvement of contacts. I mentioned above that the Gmail team made one very necessary improvement to contact management, but there are still several needed. One example is contacts have multiple entires. I don’t want someone to have 5 entries in my contacts list just because they’ve sent me emails from all 5 of their email addresses. It should be dead simple to combine contacts. But instead, you have to copy email address #2 and then delete the contact before adding it to email address #1. If you don’t delete address #2, you get a nasty red message telling you that a contact already has that email address. Frustrating.
Better attachment management. Yes, we have over 7 gigs of storage space, but that doesn’t mean I want to keep all those extraneous attachments. Someday I might actually run out of space, and it should be easy to make sure that doesn’t happen. I have two suggestions. First, there should be a tab, perhaps under Settings, where we can manage our attachments. Zenbe does it, and quite nicely, I might add. Why can’t Gmail? Second, we shouldn’t have to delete a message to delete an attachment. We should be able to select attachments from the nice file manager mentioned previously, and then selectively delete them.
- Full support and development of “Canned Responses,” including a more accurate name and description. “Email for the truly lazy”? Are you joking me? These email templates make a busy life much easier, and they have already eased mine. To make these email templates more effective, though, several changes need to be made. First, the Canned Response shouldn’t completely replace the message that’s already there: No more context. Second, better management (seeing a trend here?). Create a tab under Settings, much like Labels and Filters.
- Default font settings. This is surely a simple request, right? Again, under General Settings, we should be able to choose everything from the font face to the size to the color.
- Make complex labels easier to add. I know that we can write complex rules for filters, but I want it to be easier. Lots of academic search engines have implemented practically dummy-proof complex search pages, and it would make Gmail that much more (easily) powerful for its users.
Question of the Day
What would be on your Gmail wish list?
* Okay, okay, I could live, but so many things would be so much more complicated!
** Just to be completely fair, Firefox apparently also did a complete, from-the-ground-up redesign for Firefox 3.
*** If you’re like me, you have at least a email private address and a work address. Simplify your email by forwarding your work address to Gmail, as long as your workplace allows access. Since most universities don’t force people to use a specific mail server. This simplifies my life so much.
**** For the most part. Sometimes, messages don’t stay together, and I don’t know why. It’s somewhat rare, though.