If you read my previous Tech Tips Tuesday installment, you’ll remember that I gave you a homework assignment – Set up your own Google account, including creating a Gmail account. If you haven’t done so, please take a couple minutes (which really is all it takes) to create that account. A large part of what we’ll do with Google from this point on will need that account, although there are still plenty of tools, including Google Search, which you can access without logging in.
As you’ve deduced from the title of this week’s post, as well as the fairly obvious logo I’ve thrown at the top of this post, we’re going to start with Gmail. Today’s post will cover the basics (Gmail basics, not email, although there may be some overlap). Over the next few weeks, we’ll start digging deeper into Gmail, looking at features like Gmail Labs and the Priority Inbox. I really could spend an entire 52 weeks of posting on just Gmail, but there are so many other tools under the Google umbrella and I’d like to give them their due, as well.
Once you’ve created your account, head to http://mail.google.com. The first time you go there, you’ll hit a one-time introduction page to Gmail:
Immediately, you see three features of Gmail which set it apart from other email services – Archiving, chat, and labels. We’re going to focus on the first two of those three features in this post.
Click on the “Show me my account” button and you’ll enter your Gmail account for the first time:
As with most web-based email services, you’ll find emails waiting for you before you even do anything with your account. These emails are basically a continuation of the intro to Gmail and are worth looking through to find out more about how Gmail can work for you. We’re not going to look at them right now, but we ARE going to put them to use to demonstrate our first feature – archiving.
Unlike other email services, Gmail follows a different method of handling your old email. Most of the time, you delete the messages you’ve read or don’t care about. After all, you don’t want to clutter your Inbox and you only have so much space allotted to your account. You will notice, however, that Gmail supplies you with a ton of email space – about 7.5GB of space as of this post. Unless you plan on receiving a ton of multimedia files via email, you’re going to have plenty of space to keep all of your emails. Why does Google do this? Basically, Google is doing with email what it’s already done with the web by indexing your email in it’s memory and making it searchable should you want to refer to an email again in the future. Headed to a party but lost the printout of the directions you got via email? Just do a quick search on the email sender, party location, or any other item which you remember from the email. Gmail will show you all of the results, including the directions email. You then just open the email, print it out again, and you’re good to go. Personally, I like this feature because I can literally keep every single email I receive from my wife, almost like a scrapbook of our lives together. This gives Gmail a personal side to it that goes beyond communication.
Let’s play with the archive function right now. We do have three emails in our inbox, after all, and, while we do want to know more about Gmail, we aren’t interested in the particular features Google talks about in the emails they’ve sent us. You don’t even have to open the emails to archive them. All you have to do is:
- Select the emails you want to archive, either by checking each individual email or, if you want to archive all the emails listed, clicking on the “select all” check box above the email list:
- Next, click on the “Archive” button to the right of the “select all” button.
That’s it! The emails are now out of your inbox, but still stored in your account. You can even undo your archive action by clicking on the link which appears above your inbox:
You can also look at your archived email without searching by clicking on the “All Mail” label. Come to think of it, though, I don’t see that label, do you? This is a good time, then, to talk about labels, how you create them, and how you use them to organize your email.
In other email systems, both web-based and application-based, the general practice for saving emails is to move them into folders. This is especially true when using a personal information manager like Outlook, where many users tend to keep emails for long periods of time as reference material for their business or job. What happens, though, when some emails fit under more than one folder or category? Sure, you can make a copy of the email in question and put each copy into it’s respective folders. What you have, though, is multiple copies of an email and, if you’re storing them on a server with limited space, you’re finding that space getting smaller and smaller. Gmail’s answer to this problem is labels.
If you look on the left side of your Gmail screen, you’ll notice some labels are already created for you. They are listed below some standard email options like the Inbox, Sent Items, and Drafts. There’s also a couple other options like Buzz and Starred which we’ll get to later. What we’re really interested are the last three choices in that list:
Personal and Travel are two examples of labels you can apply to your emails. There’s multiple methods of doing so and they are all easy to do. The first is to simple drag-and-drop the email into the label, similar to how you would drag-and-drop and email in Outlook into a folder. The other method is to use the Labels button, available in any Gmail view:
Clicking on that button will give you a list of all your available labels, as well as the ability to create new ones by simply typing them in. Note that you can select more than one label for an email, allowing you to organize your emails without having to duplicate them.
What if you don’t see your label listed? Just click on the “x more” button at the bottom of your labels list and the rest will appear. You even have the option to drag labels from that list and put them in your main list so they are visible at all times. Go ahead and do that with the “All Mail” label, then click on it to see all of the mail you’ve received, regardless of location in your account.
Next week, we’ll continue looking at Gmail basics, focusing on chat functionality within Gmail and on prioritizing important email with the Starred function.