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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Extending The Chrome Experience

I remember when I first met Firefox. It was love at first type. I was bowled over by the “wow factor” of extensifying and customizing your browsing experience with add-ons and plug-ins. Firefox just seemed so very cool, especially to someone who, at that time, could chalk up their prior entire web browsing experience to Internet Explorer 6.

But lately, I have found Firefox to be slow and glitchy. I am sure it has much to do with the many extensions I have added to the browser. On several occasions, I have gone in and purged extensions I never or rarely use. But Firefox still struggles sometimes with the weight of the load.

About two or so months ago, I began spending more time with Google Chrome. Although it is not the fastest browser out there (apparently Opera is – and I use it as well), Chrome is far slicker and speedier than Firefox. And lately, it has beefed up its library of extensions and add-ons, so that you can approximate your “pimp my ride” Firefox experience.

I figured it might be high time to tout Chrome and list some cool extensions (link here) that might make you forget about those “other” browsers. Or at least encourage you to explore the other side of internet life for a little while.

I bet you can guess my very first Chrome extension. That’s right, Feedly (link here). That great magazine start page that translates your Google feeds into a relevance-weighted, easy to read and share format.  Another cool add-on for heavy Google users is OneNumber (link here)- it collects within a button all of your Google (‘cept Buzz) sources with quick links to compose for Gmail and new post / mail counts. If you are constantly searching and have a need to hop to your search terms quickly, try Google Quick Scroll (link here) – it adds a button to the bottom of a page within  your Google search results allowing you to jump right to the place where your search terms show up.

Do you love Twitter? Try Chromed Bird (link here) which pops out a Twitter window within the browser, offering many of the Twitter web features. Manage passwords and fill forms with Last Pass (link here). If you Wave with Google, check out the Google Wave Notifier (link here), so you can glance at your Wave activity in the browser bar. Make Gmail your default email with Send Using Gmail (link here). Make Gmail better with Better Gmail (link here) and lose ads, chat, invites and footers.

Select foreign language text on a site and have it automatically translated via Google Translate with the Auto-Translate add-on (link here). Access your Google Voice inbox in a pop up window with Google Voice Dialer (link here) or get a quick call box with Google Voice (by Google) (link here).

If you like Remember The Milk (not personally a huge fan), you can gussy it up with A Bit Better RTM (link here). Or, you can keep track of tasks with the Google Task extension (link here).

Are you sick of extensions and want one that does absolutely nothing? Well, son, there’s an app for that too. Nothing (link here).

Do you have any favorite Chrome extensions? Would love some suggestions in the comments!

Pimping Chrome For The Social

Yes, apparently it is Google day in the Studio. And, yes, I said “pimping.” What else would you call customizing with Chrome? With the growing number of add-ons and extensions coming to a Chrome developers’ version near you, my indoctrination into all things Google is nearly complete. Mashable has a great list of social media extensions for Google Chrome, Google’s agile web browser, and you can read it here.

 You must be running a developers’ version of Chrome to use them. The extensions include a Gmail checker, a couple of Twitter extensions, a mini Last.fm bar, a Google reader gadget, and a Facebook notification checker. Nice cross-section of tools for budding Chrome-heads. For more gadgets and extensions, head over to ChromeExtensions for a more complete list.  

For almost two years now, I have been a heavy duty fan of Firefox, but as my browser has become more overburdened, the quickness of Chrome is heady and compelling. Now you can pimp your speedy Internet ride and keep tabs on all things social via Mashable’s add-on list.