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Top 10 Gmail tips and hacks

Gmail offers a lot of flexibility when it comes to the way you manage your email. Innovative features like labels, a dedicated mobile phone client and rich script-ability via Firefox's Greasemonkey plugin create a unique appeal for users from nearly all walks of life.

Since you can do so much with and to Gmail, I thought I would round up my favorite tips and hacks for users both old and new. Some of these are simple ideas for thinking about labels in a different way, while others add more powerful functionality for the most dedicated of Gmail ninjas. Of course, this list is by no means complete, so have at it in the comments with your own tips, scripts and workflows. For now, here are mine:

  • Greasemonkey repository at Google Code: Started by Mihai Parparita, a Google employee (though unaffiliated with Gmail), this Google Code repository has some of the coolest and most functional Gmail scripts for Greasemonkey, an add-on for Firefox. Scripts for adding colors to labels, saving searches and even integrating Gmail + Google Reader can all be found here.
  • The Macros script: Found at that Google Code repository, I firmly believe this is *the* essential Gmail trick to end all Gmail tricks. It adds a serious dose of productivity that can make Gmail more functional than any desktop email client on the block. This script has shortcuts for label navigation, simultaneously marking as read + archiving, labeling messages on the fly and much more - all from the keyboard. Once you get this script installed, pressing 'h' should display a slick overlay of all available shortcuts.
  • Trick your labels: Using unique characters to prefix label names brings them to the top of the alphabetized list of labels. The @ symbol, numbers and even underscores are all useful for bringing important labels out of their standard organization, and they make labels more accessible to other hacks like the Macros script.
  • Join the Power Users group: The Gmail Power Users Google Group attracts many users just like you, looking for ways to extend and bend Gmail to their will. If you find yourself getting as hooked on Greasemonkey scripts as I have, this is a great place to find other people who are customizing them to their specific interests.
  • Quicker Contacts: Gmail includes a built-in chat feature with a clever pop-up window for easy access to some of the contacts with whom you communicate the most, but why limit this handy functionality to the tiny chat area? Quicker Contacts is another fantastic Greasemonkey script that adds this pop-up window to every message in Gmail. One catch, however, is that you need to be using Gmail's standard + chat mode in order for this script to work. If you don't like chatting inside of Gmail though, the good news is that you can simply sign out of chat and collapse the panel to avoid being bothered with it.
  • Bookmark any label, folder or message type: Another apparently undocumented Gmail trick is the ability to bookmark a label, a standard folder or even a message type such as 'read' or 'unread.' It isn't quite as easy as bookmarking a website, but it's useful: simply copy and paste this link into your address bar: and then add any label name, folder or message type after the colon (examples: fs=1:todo, fs=1:Drafts and fs=1:unread). Press enter, and then bookmark that page once Gmail loads.
  • Backup Gmail offline: Some Gmail users can occasionally find themselves needing access to their email when they're offline somewhere, or - worst case scenario - their account might have accidentally disappeared. No matter what the reason is, it's always a good idea to have a backup of your data, and email from an online service is no exception. Gmail offers instructions for accessing and downloading your email to a desktop client, with a ton of customized instructions for nearly every client in the book. As an added bonus, it seems Gmail has recently introduced a "recent" mode just in case you want to download your email with more than one client.
  • Manage multiple Gmail accounts: For one reason or another, many Gmail users find themselves opening multiple accounts. Throw the ability to run Gmail on your own domain with Google Apps for Your Domain, and things can get complicated. Gmail Manager is an add-on for Firefox that untangles your Gmail web by allowing you to manage, swap between and receive new message alerts from multiple Gmail accounts, including those run on Google Apps.
  • Fetch your other mail: A recent and quietly introduced Gmail feature is Mail Fetcher, which can check up to five other email accounts and download all that mail into your Gmail. To help keep things organized, Mail Fetcher can automatically label and archive all this incoming mail.
  • Bookmarklets: These are typically javascript-enabled bookmarks that do something instead of simply 'mark something. To make Gmail more functional, there are two bookmarklets which the Gmail community have cooked up to make the web service feel more like a desktop app. The first is Compose (drag that link to your browser's bookmark toolbar or 'mark as you see fit), which skips directly to opening a compose window in Gmail (sidenote: To save my life I can neither find nor hack this one to open a new window; if any readers were more successful, I would join many others in thanking you if you shared in the comments). The second bookmarklet is really handy for sharing whatever page you're viewing: Gmail This opens a new, smaller composition window with the title of the front-most webpage in the subject and a link to the page in the body of the email. If you selected any text on the page, this will be added to the message body as well.

    [Update: Download Squad reader bcnewman hacked the Gmail This bookmarklet to create a new, blank compose window in a popup, just like the Gmail This 'marklet. Get the javascript from bcnewman's comment here, or simply drag this link to your toolbar to create the bookmarklet. Thanks a lot bcnewman!
Like I said, this list is by no means complete. There are plenty of runner-ups in my book, such as the dragdropupload Firefox add-on which allows you to (amongst other things) drag and drop files you want to attach directly onto the "Attach a file" link, so be sure to (try and) trump me with your own perfect Gmail setup.

Tags: add-ons, addons, bookmarklets, browsertips, gmail, hacks, labels, POP, tips, tricks