Jul 10

Making Gmail Work For You

Let’s begin with this: I love Gmail.

When it hit the streets 5 years ago it changed everything from the way I communicate to the way I store information. It is, like most things, not perfect. Fortunately, there are things we can do to inch it a bit closer to perfection. I’ve recently made some changes to the way I use Gmail and I thought I’d lay them out here.

Here are some of the tricks and tools I’ll be talking about:

  • Google Apps For Your Domain
  • MailPlane
  • Better Gmail 2
  • Multiple Inboxes
  • Themes: Shiny

Using a non-Gmail email address (Google Apps)

I use Google Apps for both my personal and professional sites. This allows me to have a fancy custom email address without subjecting myself to whatever lousy webmail interface happens to come with my domain host provider. Sure, I could set up Mail.app and use POP3 or maybe even IMAP, butI’m a Gmail guy and I don’t want to give that up just because I’m not using a gmail.com email address.

There are three tiers of Google Apps: Business, Education, and Standard. You probably want Standard, but they don’t make it easy to find. Good thing I do: http://www.google.com/apps/intl/en/group/index.html.

You may need to do a tiny bit of CNAME editing at your domain host to get set up, but the instructions provided by Google are clear and concise.

All done? Now you have a Gmail interface to your custom domain email address. Nice work, tiger! Oh, and don’t miss Gina Trapani’s great article on how to tweak your new Google Apps setup.

Google Apps Standard »

Website vs. mail app: The best of both worlds (Mailplane)

Gmail is subject to the same limitations as any web application. Although new tech like HTML5, CSS3 and web workers are squashing those limitations every day, they’re not gone yet. Additionally, a lot of folks think that mail tasks should happen in a mail tool, not a browsing tool. Academic? Maybe, but there’s something to it. Enter Mailplane.

Mailplane is a peculiar hybrid of web and desktop app. It’s essentially a smart wrapper for the Gmail web site, that provides some neat features like drag and drop attachments, multiple account support, formatted signatures, Growl notifications and an altogether more native feeling experience. I’ve been using Mailplane for a good two years with no complaints. Without it, I may not be quite so bullish on Gmail.

Mailplane is available for $24.95 (with a free trial) »

Gmail Labs: Multiple Inboxes

You may have noticed the Gmail labs section in the past, but it’s not unlikely that you skimmed the list and found very little of use. After all, it’s a big, long list of sometimes goofily-named items presented with no discernable order. There are some gems in there, though, if you look.

My absolute favorite is Multiple Inboxes. This feature divides your inbox screen into up to 5 boxes which you populate with search operators. For example, my main screen has the following boxes: Inbox, Starred, Projects, Drafts, Archive. This is invaluable in keeping my inbox at zero and my life in balance.

Here’s an official writeup of the feature »

Missing features? Not anymore! (Better Gmail 2)

I’ve recently made the move from Firefox to Safari 4 and, so far, I’m happy — but that’s a topic for another post. If you’re a Firefox user, you’ll want to grab Lifehacker’s Better Gmail 2 extension to seamlessly add powerful UI tweaks (row highlighting, custom icons, hide Gtalk, etc).

Read up on Better Gmail 2 »

Make it pretty (“Shiny” Theme)

The “Shiny” theme for Gmail not only makes the whole thing prettier, but does a better job of setting apart the more important information. You’ll like it, trust me.

Jan 09

Putting On The Fedora

I’ve always been a fan of those colorful “business culture” turns of phrase you hear so often in conference halls and agency pitches. You know, the ones that seek to reduce complex social, fiscal and strategic concepts to snappy, often vulgar vagaries.

As designers become entrepreneurs become businessmen, they’re more likely hear and use these handy devices with some regularity. Even so, I get the feeling that their heyday may have ended before mine began. A turn of phrase so descriptive and vaguely sexual as “opening the kimono” seems to have a long tail. Ooh, there’s another one!

As yet another tiny part of my plan to leave an indelible and vaguely offensively shaped mark on the world, I have decide to author my own business culture metaphor. I fully expect it to be uttered with at least the frequency and double the shit-eating-grinniness of such luminaries as “one throat to choke”, or “paving the goat path”.

I give you: “Putting on the fedora.

But let me explain.  This idea was inspired in equal parts by my work in technology product design and my life in and around Los Angeles (where fedoras have had a second heyday of their own as of late). The idea is based on two givens:

Not Justin Timberlake (photo by fuzzcat)

Not Justin Timberlake (photo by fuzzcat)

1) Justin Timberlake inarguably rocks the fedora. I don’t like it any more than you do, but he does. (Further: No one else does). (Even furthermore: An appreciation for the Timberlake/fedora combo is not an admission of any particular sexual proclivity).

2) You probably wouldn’t want to be stood side-by-side with JT and have a jury of your peers compare the two of you.

If we accept the above as being relatively accurate, we can then safely extrapolate that it’s a good idea to not walk around pretending to be — or be like — Justin Timberlake, lest you suffer the cold, cruel truth of a direct comparison. So don’t put on a fedora, because you will not rock it.

And now to apply this concept to the trade: If you don’t want to be compared directly to Twitter, don’t make status your main game. Similarly, making business networking a significant part of your offering will likely cause comparisons to LinkedIn, which may be daunting to say the least.

This isn’t another article suggesting that you find a niche. Everyone knows that a blue ocean is the best place to find something new and exciting. This article is about not riding someone else’s niche — unless you’re truly prepared to compete.

I think what I may be suggesting is this: do it backwards. Have a steady footing based on more typical functionality before developing/promoting a niche sub-feature in a highly competitive area. You may lose your chance to make an initial impression as a trail-blazer, but you also reduce the risk of that initial impression falling short of “trail-blazer” and landing squarely on “me-too”. Maybe.

Oct 07

iPhone + iCal + SonicLiving = Awesome

These three components combine to put a list of every concert or show that may interest you right in the palm of your iHand.

Continue reading →

Sep 07

Amazon Redesign On The Way

It’s apparently not live yet, or at least it’s not visible to all users, but Amazon seems to be preparing to release a new version of the site.

Continue reading →

Dec 05

My Friend Frank Hates The Word “Zeitgeist”

And he’s got a point. It really does kind of stink of Web Nouveau marketing hype. I’m sure at some point “zeitgeist” stunk of magazine or television trends as well. If there was a call to use the term more often, it might even find it’s place on a list of Obnoxious Industry Terms That Have Lost All Meaning right in between “edgy” and “compelling”.

Google doesn’t care, though. The word means something and is an accurate description of what Google Zeitgeist does. So there.

Google Zeitgeist

According to Google, their Zeitgeist describes:

[s]earch patterns, trends, and surprises according to Google. For both breaking news and obscure information alike, people around the world search Google. This flurry of searches often exposes interesting trends, patterns, and surprises. The Google Zeitgeist page is regularly updated to reflect tidbits of information related to the search behavior of Google users.

So firstly, let’s face it: A zeitgeist of Google = a zeitgeist of the internet = a zeitgeist of the world.

What other channel receives and parses more information for a larger demographic? This is it if you want to know what the modern world is thinking. At the main page, called the Zeitgeist Report, there is an overview of recent and common Google searches separated by category and type. From there, more granular queries can be made. It’s all very broad and simple and gives a very digestible view of recent transactions at Google.com.

Will this change your world? I guess not, it’s didn’t change mine. But it’s very cool all the same, so stop hating.