Why Gmail

A client asked me about switching from their current email provider and I suggested that they switch to Gmail. Here are the top four reasons why I think the Gmail web interface is the best choice for handling email.

Labels

The concept of labels can revolutionize how one approaches email. “But labels are just folders, right?” No, they are not.

In Gmail, all email gets put in a giant pile. Then labels are applied. When first looking at your inbox, you are actually looking at a filtered view of your email that is just showing you mail that has an Inbox label. The power comes with the fact that you can apply multiple labels to a single email conversation.

You can also apply labels to messages that you are sending so all responses will have those same labels. This means you can label a conversation when you start it as associated with a certain project and all future messages in that stream will carry the same labels.

An example of how this works for me: I send an email to a sub-contractor about a client project but before I hit send I apply a number of labels: a label for the client’s project, a label for the sub-contractor, and a label “_Waiting”.

Each day, I start by reviewing the messages in my “_Waiting” label and see if folks have gotten back to me about things I emailed them. If they did, then I remove the label and don’t worry about that message anymore. If they haven’t, and a response is overdue, I follow up with them either by email or phone.

Conversation view

Whenever I hear people complain about getting too much mail, I expect that they are likely not using Gmail. Conversation view is how Gmail displays email by default and displays all the responses to an email sharing the same subject line altogether in a unified view. This means that a conversation can be had about a single topic that goes back and forth many, many times but it will all be included under one listing in your inbox.

Also, since you have previous messages close at hand when you are replying it’s a simple matter of reading up while you are crafting your reply.

Google Drive attachments

If you have Gmail (either with a Gmail account or with a Google Apps account) you have access to the rest of the Google Drive suite. Gmail has made it very easy to include a Google Drive file in your message.

It makes it easy to click a link to the document and checks to make sure the sharing permissions are set properly for the person you are sending to. All of the files you have been working on in Google Drive are just a click away. It’s very handy.

Email aliases

The power of Gmail is something to always be exploring. I’ve been using Gmail for at least four years now and only came to the power of email aliases recently. In Gmail, you can add an alias in between your account name and your domain name. For example ethan@campaigngears.comand ethan+test@campaigngears.com are both addresses handled by Gmail and handled the same way. Gmail treats the plus sign (+) as an alias modifier.

What is this useful for? Combine it with the filtering functions in Gmail and you can do some very powerful things. About to sign up for an email list and want to filter the list into a label? Use the alias function to have that email list announce itself when it sends you mail. You can even catch lists that sell your data to others because the address will have the identifying address.

For my clients, I often need accounts with online services. I use the same services for multiple clients by making accounts under ethan+client@campaigngears.com. There are all sorts of ways this is useful!

Bonus: Google Drive is awesome

While not directly related to email, having access to Google Drive (which you get from having a Google Apps or Gmail account) is great. While Google Docs was frustrating in the past you should  be aware that Google Drive is many steps beyond that in terms of ease of use, functionality, and stability.

Google Drive has a limited feature set (compared to the “everything including the kitchen sink” approach of Microsoft) but almost everything you need in order to create business documents is there.

The documents are in the cloud so they are available at any time and you can even do fairly high-level edits on your mobile device.

Google Drive really shows its forward thinking in things like the spreadsheet’s ability to scrape information off websites and into your spreadsheets and the ability of the presentation program to play videos.

And yes, all of the Google Drive apps can now be used in offline mode in case you are going to be away from the cheap internet for a while.

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