Just a decade ago, we would likely use regular mail service to communicate with our distant dear ones, and paper would be the carrier of our thoughts and feelings. We could make our letters as personal as we wanted: choose the paper and the color of our pen, add some special marks or some aroma to the letter, and so on. When the Internet came along, some parts of that ritual ceased to be. Gmail is great, it's much quicker and we can send e-mails right from the comfort of our home, and our mailbox is nearly infinite; but our e-mails do not carry any fragrance, we can't touch them physically. And yet, there are some tricks that may help you make your mail more personal; you can do that in either of two ways: via visual or via functional aspects. The visual changes are achieved through themes in the Settings (I'm sure you are aware of those). But if you're after more precise personalization, have a look at another Settings tab, one called “Labs”.
What is Gmail Labs?
As Google puts it, it's “some crazy experimental stuff”. This is a testing ground for those features that are not quite ready for prime time, a list of handy plug-ins created to ease your mail experience. As for the reason of being experimental, “they may change, break or disappear at any time”, as Google warns us.
There is an emergency exit, though. If you find that some Labs feature causes problems and you can't access your mail, you just go to the Labs tab and click on the provided link. Or, if you can't access the web interface at all, just add “?labs=0” to the address line, which will block the Labs features in your account. Delete this suffix and you will get your Labs plug-ins back, exactly the way they were.
Choosing the Plug-ins
At the moment there are more than 30 Labs plug-ins available for you to try out, and there are quite a lot of interesting ones. I myself chose to enable most of them, as they are so awesome: for example, I sometimes face the problem of sending a letter too early, when it is not quite ready, so I just fell in love with the Lab feature that allows me to cancel the sending if I'm quick enough.
One more Lab plug-in that proved useful for me was Unread Message Icon. It saves my time by indicating right in the browser tab how many unread messages I've got in my inbox. The numbers are easily readable and are refreshed automatically, at least if you have left your mail open in the Inbox folder. You do not have to open that tab each time to check if there are any new letters for you, you just keep it open and keep an eye on the tab's title.
It is also possible to enable SMS (text messaging) in Chat, add a separate Mark as Read button, enable Google Maps previews for addresses listed in e-mails, enable image previews, move the chat to the right, etc. These changes can enrich your mail experience, making working with letters easier, faster and more informative.
To enable any of the Labs plug-ins, go to Settings and choose the Labs tab. You will see the list of all available plug-ins and you will need to change the Enable-Disable option on the right. Also make sure to save the changes, otherwise no Labs plug-ins will be applied. From now on, until you disable the plug-ins, you will have Labs separated in two groups: enabled and available, and you can use the enabled ones to the full.
As a Conclusion
Well, I was genuinely impressed to open this Gmail feature for myself. Labs do have some crazy experimental stuff I can't now do without. And if you use Gmail as your primary mail service, but haven't even heard about this digital nursery, you should try some Labs plug-ins. They can really change the way you work with the mail service.
Picture credit: janekgwizdala.com.