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.