Become A Mad Email Scientist with Gmail Labs

Gmail undoubtedly is one of the most popular cloud-based email systems out there. I would hazard a guess that a majority of those spending any reasonable amount of time on the web have a Gmail account. I myself have been moving more of my email activity over to my several Gmail accounts. The basic Gmail interface is excellent, with decent functionality and filtering in its unaltered state.

But, perhaps you want a little more from your Gmail. If so, then maybe you are adventurous enough to enter Gmail Labs.

What the heck is Gmail Labs, you ask. It is a subsection of Google Labs, those wacky guys who invent crazy apps (like Wave and Buzz), and set them loose to see what works and what doesn’t. Google is known for permitting (even encouraging) its engineers to spend 20% of their time on innovating and developing their own novel ideas. Everything within Google Labs, and consequently, Gmail Labs, is in a state of testing. That means the results may be buggy or might even be pulled from use at any time. Others may graduate to become regular Gmail features.

While the loss of a favorite feature may be sad, it does not occur very frequently, and you still are able to use cool new features between Gmail development cycles, which is certainly better than nothing. If a Labs feature breaks during use, Gmail offers an “escape hatch” (link here).

So, short of attaching the surname Frankenstein to your moniker, how do you gain entry to the Lab? It’s simple – click on Settings on your Gmail page and then click on the Labs tab. You will then be presented with different Labs features. Select any or all of them to start using them on your account. Save changes before exiting this dialog and Gmail should reload with all your new goodies in place. Labs displays as active via a little green beaker along the top of your screen next to Settings.

There currently are more than 50 different add-ons available in Labs to hot rod your Gmail. Think of them like you would extensions to Google Chrome or Gadgets to the now-defunct Google Wave. They range from creating a Google doc from an email conversation to setting up canned responses to formating options and emoji. You can get photo, Google docs, Google Maps and Yelp previews in your Gmail, set up a Google calendar, docs or voice gadget, enable mail previews, translate an email, select mouse gesture navigation, manipulate your labels and threaded conversations, format for quotes and even enable games.

The newest Labs feature is really cool: you can broaden your Gmail search to include Google docs and web sites. Click on the box in labs for Apps search, as seen below: 

Once enabled, you will get a list of search results below your Gmail message search results showing relevant docs and sites. Nice add, Gmail Labs team!

Check out the Lab for more cool features and you too can customize your Gmail to reflect its best use.

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Dropbox Gets Better

I have been using Dropbox (link here), the online file storage site, for a few months now and I have to say that I really love it. With 2GB of free storage (and up to 100GB paid), it offers seamless integration between desktop, Web and mobile device (for me, iPhone and iPad), with offline edits synced quickly across your systems. You can load most types of media, including text, audio, video and images. You can share a file with someone else without having to resort to email exchanges. Changes they make to the public documents are synced as well, so that you can easily collaborate on a single file.

While none of these abilities alone makes Dropbox the standout killer app among the crowd of on-line file storage tools, the combination of features, plus a few relatively recent additions to the service from third party developers, have made Dropbox even more compelling.

First, a few weeks ago, stellar password manager 1Password (link here) announced the ability to backup your passwords in that app via Dropbox. It used to be that you would have to manually update passwords between your Mac software and your mobile device. Now you can automatically back up all 1Password enabled devices for free via Dropbox and the cloud. Check out 1Password’s user guide on how to do it here.

Next, web app Airdropper (link here) allows you to send a request to Dropbox and non-Dropbox users to upload a file to your Dropbox. Simply connect to Dropbox, send a request to a colleague for the file via the web interface with a link for upload, wait for your colleague to follow the link and upload and receive the file in the spot you designated in your Dropbox.

Finally, if you like to dictate, check out Dictamus (link here), a dictating app that connects to Dropbox for cloud access to your transcripts. The app itself includes many professional dictation features, such as rewind, overwrite, insert and edit functions, and voice activation to avoid pauses. But the ability to sync your dictation to the cloud with Dropbox makes it even more compelling for quick entries and sharing. For the record, Dictamus syncs with MobileMe’s iDisk as well.

It really doesn’t get any simpler than that! I already am loving Dropbox and I applaud their efforts to combine with other developers to offer such great features for free. Can’t wait for the next upgrade to this already great system.