Known by most simply as Google’s version of web-based email, Gmail has quite a fascinating background. Released to the public in 2004, Gmail was actually in beta for five years. This means that users have only known the official Gmail for a little more than two years, except for those users who immediately turned on the “Back to Beta” feature as soon as the email service switched out of its initial, temporary state.
However, perhaps the greatest feature that the Google email service had to offer was its impressive amount of storage space. Though it has since increased to 7 GB of free storage, Gmail’s initial offering of 1 GB of storage to users was more than forty times the 25 megabyte average that most of its competitors were offering at the time, making the service an almost instant success. And by the time other email service providers began competing with Gmail’s generous storage offerings, Google responded by adding several new features to maintain its competitive edge.
By flanking Gmail with useful features such as chat, group chat, video chat, draft auto-save, Gmail Labs, and continually increasing amounts of storage space, Google made it clear that it was going to take much more than offering extra space to catch their email brainchild. Since you probably won’t find a better email service for quite some time, it would probably be worth your while to get acquainted with Gmail.
The Sign-up Process
Getting signed up for Gmail is a fairly simple process. Start by entering www.gmail.com in the web address bar at the top of your browser, and you’ll be taken to the sign-in page. In the upper right-hand corner of the page there will be a red box to the right of a caption that reads “New to Gmail?” Choose Create an Account to get started.
The next page will ask you for some basic personal information so that Google can set up your new account. This includes information like your first and last name, a custom login name, a password, security question and answer, and some other general information about yourself. As you’re determining which login name to choose, you can use the check availability! button below that field to see if the name you want to use has already been taken.
Once it tells you that your login name is available, move on to determine a password with as of a password strength rating as possible. The bar to the right of the “Choose a password” field will tell you if your password is sufficiently strong.
Now that you’re done filling in your information, be sure to read and accept the terms of service, and then Google will create your new Gmail account, and you’ll be taken to your inbox, which will already have a few messages from the Gmail Team, showing you how to import contacts and old email, set up Gmail on your mobile phone, and even customize your email account with different colors and themes.
Creating a Valuable Email Address
While you’re checking the availability of different login names for your new email account, be sure to keep a few factors in mind. Even though name availability will limit you in some respects, try to stick to the following guidelines as you search:
1) Make it memorable – Whether you’re going to be using email for work or for play, you want it to be easy for people to know how to contact you. Don’t use a name that’s overly complicated (m009a384t842t), too personal (coolsk8erguy99), or, especially if you are using Gmail for work, unprofessional (sexybeast5000). Keep it simple, clean, and easy to remember.
2) Use your name – If it’s available, use the firstname@, firstinitial.lastname@, firstname.lastname@, or even firstname.middleinitial.lastname@ format to create your login name.
Obviously if you have a common name like John Smith, the login name “john.smith” is probably going to be taken, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have some good alternatives. Sometimes adding a two-digit birth year or luck number to one of those formats will be available. Other times, using a middle name or well-known nickname in place of your first name will give you a few more available options.
3) Keep it simple – Making sure that your login name is simple will help you meet the first two guidelines. The more simple, the more memorable, and, even if your name is difficult to pronounce or spell, creating an email alias for yourself doesn’t get much simpler than some variation of your name.
Setting Up Filters, Labels and Chat
Once you’ve successfully created your account and read your messages from the Gmail Team, you might want to customize your account a little bit so that you can preemptively organize your account. That way you won’t have to go back and organize after your inbox fills up with new messages. You can effectively organize your email account by using the following tools:
1) Create a filter – Filters give you the option to sort your incoming email in a variety of ways. If you select the Create a filter link toward the top of the page—to the right of the mail and web search buttons—you start by determining what category you want your filter to be based on.
For example, you might want to separate all of the alert emails from Facebook from all of your other messages. Just insert “Facebook” in the From field, and then choose the Next Step button. This will allow you to decide what it is that you want to do with all of the messages from Facebook. For example, you can label them, mark them as read, or mark them as important. Once you’re done, just select the Create Filter button, and you’re done. You can create as many filters as you need to keep your incoming messages organized.
2) Create a label – If you want to organize your inbox based on the category of emails that you receive, labels are a great way to keep track of the various types of messages you plan to receive. For example, if you bank online and receive your bills via email, you can create a label for all of your statements. To do so, go to the left-hand margin and choose the Create new label link above the chat section. If you do not see it, select more to unhide the rest of your options.
Once you choose to make a new label, you can choose whichever name you want, and if you want your new label to be classified under one of your existing labels, you can select the Nest label under checkbox, and choose the appropriate label. You can manage the operation of all of your labels by choosing the Manage labels link above Create new label in the left-hand margin.
3) Set up your chat – As noted in the introduction, chat is one of the initial new features that continue to set Gmail apart as a web-based email service. With the addition of voice and video chat, Gmail’s chat feature makes this service a comprehensive communication hub for its users. In order to make sure that your chat feature is set up the way you want it, choose the dropdown arrow next to the Chat label in the left-hand column. This will drop down a menu that contains a chat settings option, which will take you to a list of options that allows you to determine how the chat feature is maintained on your account, including the use of voice calling and video chat.
Once you’ve determined the settings that are best for you, just select the Save Changes button at the bottom.
Integrating Other Email Accounts
For most new users, Gmail isn’t their first email address. And even though many will make their new account their primary email address, Google has made it easy for people who are not quite ready or able to separate themselves from their other email services. It has also made the hassle of re-entering your contacts into a new contact list a thing of the past. You can begin the process of importing contacts by selecting the gear icon in the upper right corner, followed by the Mail Settings option. Then choose the Accounts and Import tab.
In addition to changing various account settings such as your password, you can also import email and contacts from other sites, such as your Yahoo!, Hotmail, and AOL accounts. Simply select the Import mail and contacts button, enter the email address, and follow the steps to associate that account with your new Gmail account. If you prefer to do so, you can also select to send messages from a different email address while logged into your Gmail account by selecting the Send mail from another address button.
On the other hand, if you have another account that you still want to keep as your primary email address, you can forward messages from your Gmail account to that address by choosing the Forward and POP/IMAP tab. Choose Add a forwarding address and enter the email address that you want your messages to be forwarded to in the box provided, and a confirmation code will be sent in an email to your other account inbox. The sender of the confirmation message will be the Gmail Team. If the message is sent to the correct inbox, select the confirmation link in the body of the email and you are set. If a confirmation email is not sent to the intended inbox, check all of your folders in that account to make sure it wasn’t filtered as spam and then try entering your forwarding email address again.
Before moving on to the next sections, take a moment to congratulate yourself on successfully creating a Gmail account that’s customized to meet your communication demands. Then take a look at a few other things to make your Gmail experience that much more fulfilling.
10 Tricks to Get the Most Out of Gmail
1. Create Variations of Your Email Address
Say you want to sign up for a monthly newsletter from one of your favorite sites, but you hesitate to do so because you don’t want to sign up to be spammed. Gmail gives you the ability to use a variation of your email address so that you can set up a filter for messages sent directly to that variation. Confused? Let me explain. Suppose the newsletter you want to subscribe to is from a popular video game website. Using the example email address “email@example.com”, all you need to do is sign up for the newsletter using the variation “firstname.lastname@example.org”. Then you can set up a filter so that every email directed to that specific variation of your email address is sent to the label you choose.
2. Use Gmail Offline
Obviously there isn’t a way to send and receive new messages without an Internet connection of some sort; however, before Gmail rolled out its offline feature, users could not read or compose messages without being online.
Offline Gmail enables users to do just that, allowing you to compose messages and read already-received messages while you don’t have the convenience of an Internet connection. This is especially convenient for people who frequently fly or spend a lot of the time on the road.
To set up your Gmail account with the offline feature, log into your account and then select the gear icon in the upper right corner, followed by Mail Settings in the dropdown menu. After selecting the Offline tab, follow the steps to download and enable the free Offline Google Mail app, which is only available to Google Chrome users. (If you don’t already have it for your computer, you can download Google Chrome for free on the Google website.)
After you’ve downloaded and started it up, this app will automatically synchronize your messages and queued actions whenever your browser is connected to the Internet, enabling you to you read, respond to, search, and archive mail without network access.
3. Use Chat Off the Record
If the idea of a virtual paper trail of everything you say online bothers you, Google had you in mind when it developed the Gmail chat feature. With off the record mode, you can prevent your chats from being stored in your Gmail chat history. This setting is available from user to user, so it is important to keep in mind that going off the record with one chat contact does not automatically take you off the record in all other chats.
To take a conversation off the record, select the Actions dropdown menu in the upper right corner of the chat window of the conversation you want to take off record. Simply select the Go off the record option, and all subsequent conversation with that contact will not be recorded until you decide to go back on the record, which can be done by selecting the same dropdown menu and clicking the Stop chatting off the record option.
4. Get the Gmail Notifier For Windows/Mac
As Google continues to develop Gmail, it is constantly taking note of the different things that can be done to make email access more convenient. Noting the common inconvenience of having to open a new browser window, navigate to www.gmail.com, and log into your account each time you just want to see if you have new messages, Google introduced the Gmail Notifier. By downloading this application, you will be alerted on your computer screen when you receive new messages.
As an added convenience, the Gmail Notifier not only alerts you about new messages, but it shows you the subjects, senders, and snippets of your unread messages, all without having to open your web browser. A free download of Google Notifier is available for both Windows users and Mac users.
5. Master the Gmail Keyboard Shortcuts
If you send a lot of emails every day, you know how time-consuming it can be. Allowing you to keep both hands on the keyboard and off the mouse, Gmail’s keyboard shortcuts help you save precious time as you read, organize, and compose messages in your email account. All you need to use these shortcuts is a Standard 101/102-Key or Natural PS/2 Keyboard. Then go to the gear icon at the top of the Gmail page, choose Mail settings, and (under the General tab) choose the option next to Keyboard shortcuts to turn the keyboard shortcuts on.
Have you ever accidentally sent an incomplete email to a contact? Or even worse, have you ever sent an important email to the wrong contact only to realize your mistake right after you sent it? With your Gmail account, you don’t have to worry about being helpless when those situations occur. By holding sent messages in a folder for 30 seconds before it actually sends to the recipient, Gmail allows you to undo sending your message if you realize that your message contained errors, was sent to the wrong contact, or was incomplete.
To use this feature, you can select the Undo link next to the “Your message has been sent” caption that appears above your inbox after you send your message. Because Gmail thinks that everyone deserves a second chance.
7. Drag and Drop Attachments
If you tend to send several documents or images in your messages, you know what a pain it can be to have to load them all individually using the Attach a file feature. Thankfully, Gmail provides you with a quicker way to upload your attachments and get your message sent. All you need to do is open the folder containing the file(s) you want to attach, select the appropriate file(s), and drag them into the space between the recipient and the body of the message you are composing. When you’re holding it over the correct area, a green box saying “Drop files here” will appear. Then just let go, let them upload, and send your message.
8. Customize Your Web Clips
One of the nice things about Gmail is that it is so much more than a simple email service. One of the convenient features Google provides in Gmail is Web Clips. If you select the gear icon in the right corner and choose Mail Settings, there is a Web Clips tab in which you can find news, blog posts, ads, and other interesting information. By going here you can search through existing categories, remove the default entries, and add your favorite blogs and news sources, so that you can keep them all centrally located and easy to manage.
9. Use Chat to Send Text Messages
When you’re at your computer, sometimes the people you need to chat with only have their phones with them. To use this feature, go to chat as you would to chat with anyone else, except when you enter the contact’s name in the “Search, add, or invite” box, select Send SMS in the box to the right of your contact’s name. If you already have a chat window open for the contact you want to text, you can select Option, followed by Send SMS.
Once the dialog box appears, enter the phone number in the “Send SMS messages to this number” field, select Save, and then enter text as you would in a normal chat once the Chat window appears.
It is also good to keep in mind that SMS in Gmail Chat is only available for U.S. phone numbers, but the feature can be activated and used by those outside the U.S. who want to contact American phone numbers by manually enabling the feature in the Chat settings.
10. Voice and Video Chat
Available for Windows Mac, and Linux users, Google has also added a voice and video chat feature that allows users to call phones from Gmail. This feature offers free calls in the U.S. and Canada, cheaper rates for international calls, and free video chat. To take advantage of this feature, Google only requires that you download the free voice and video chat plugin for the appropriate operating system.
Once it’s installed, all you need to do is select the Call phone link in the chat section of your page and dial, or select a contact in your chat list that has a green video icon on its left to initiate a video chat.
After you finish this guide, you should feel more comfortable using some of the more useful features that Gmail offers. However, chances are that you will still have more questions as you continue to use the service and want to know more about how you can take advantage of its other features. To help you with that, here are some additional resources that will get you better acquainted with some of the features mentioned in the article, as well as let you explore some of the other parts of Gmail that might be useful to you.