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Gmail LogoIf you were to ask someone what makes Gmail different from other free email providers, what would they tell you? I suspect some would suggest that they use Gmail because it is constantly evolving and improving – becoming more than just email for many people.

From Gmail it is possible to chat with friends, organize and share calendars, edit word documents, and far more. The addition of Gmail Labs created an excellent way for Google to provide users access to extra functionality still in the development process. It gives users like myself the ability to personalize Gmail in such a way that it becomes more than an email client.

It is important to note that the list of add-ons for Gmail Labs is always changing – things can be added and removed without notice. I personally have been using Gmail Labs since it came out in 2008, and have never seen one of the features disappear, but Google reserves the right to do so if they decide.

With that said, what aspects of Gmail Labs are worth noting to the average user? When scanning a growing list of 50 or so Gmail extensions, what might most users find essential? I’ve taken some time to consider these questions and want to suggest four Gmail Labs extensions that I think you’ll love.

Note: To enable Gmail Labs, navigate to Settings > Labs within your Gmail. Simply select a feature from the list of labs by clicking enable and then save changes at the bottom of the page. If Labs ever malfunctions and prevents your mail from loading, use this link to disable Labs.


Navbar Drag and Drop

DragNDrop“Allows you to reorder the items in your navbar using drag and drop.”

Sounds relatively simple, right? This Gmail extension lets the user decide where those widget-looking boxes (like “chat” and “invite a friend”) on their sidebar in Gmail will go. To re-order a “widget” grab it by the bar at the top, and simply drag it somewhere else.

Face it, if you’ve just added a bunch of new Gmail Labs extensions you’re going to want some of them in different locations than where the all-knowing Gmail Labs placed them. It’s a fact of life. Embrace that desire with this useful extension.

Google Search

Google Search Box“Displays Google search results inside your mail window, letting you quickly find things and use them when you’re writing an email.”

Google SearchThis is another feature that most people tend to overlook. Once enabled, this extension appears as a small, unobtrusive Google Search box in the Gmail sidebar on the left. Searches in that box return results in a nice chatbox-style area at the bottom of the window.

When clicked on, results will open in a new window so that your email session is not disrupted. This may actually be the perfect extension for those of us that read emails which cause us to impulsively Google Search things.

Give this one a try””you won’t regret it.

Text Messaging in Chat (US phones only)

SMS Gmail“Allows you to send and receive text messages (SMS) in Chat.”

Basically, this Gmail extension lets you text message other US cell phone users from your Gmail account in a chat-based style. To send a text message to a user, hover over their name in the Chat box, and under Video & More click Send SMS. From there it’s just a matter of inputting their number (which Gmail will remember for later use) and sending them a message. I’ve found a use for this on more than one occasion recently – it’s organized, handy, and free!

Gmail Beta icon

gmail_beta_logo_640“Soothes the soul by putting the familiar beta sticker back on the Gmail logo”

If your Gmail inbox is anything like mine you’ve got features from Labs enabled, gadgets popping up all over the sidebar, and that strange feeling that something still isn’t right. Sometimes its helpful to have a reminder that if you’ve reached that point with your add-ons, your inbox is (whether you’d like to think so or not) mostly in a Beta state. That’s why Darren over at Google has created a Lab that changes the familiar Gmail logo back to the old one that many of us hardcore beta testers know and love.

As Gmail continues to evolve into more than just email for its users, Google continues to look for the public response to the changes they make. That’s why it is important to leave feedback – what do you want to see in the future of Gmail?

  1. Phil
    November 12, 2009 at 9:21 am

    I appreciated this post, thank you! I love the texting feature personally.


  2. Paul Bozzay
    November 11, 2009 at 5:44 pm

    Hey guys, thanks for the feedback.. I definitely understand where you're coming from--I'll take note about that for the future (I agree with most of the comments).

    I do know some people that use/love these extensions, but there are definitely better ones out there. I personally like the gadgets one the most. My main issue is that almost all of the Gmail extensions have been mentioned before.. ;)

  3. LH
    November 11, 2009 at 10:30 am

    Chris nailed it.
    Add a bunch of useless crap, that may not work, then change your icon to remind yourself that you did that. Real useful.

  4. Mike
    November 11, 2009 at 7:49 am

    Four pretty useless Lab features, if you ask me.

    The texting would be awesome, if only I lived in the states.

    Flickr / youtube previews in mail (very helpful).

    Mouse Gestures - one of the best Firefox add-ons and a great addition to Gmail.

    Mark as read button - saves an extra mouse-click and scroll. Those saved seconds turn into 10s of minutes over a week.

    Multiple inboxes - excellent! No more logging in and out for work and personal mail.

  5. Chris
    November 10, 2009 at 8:30 pm

    By far the worst list of extensions I've come across.

    Navbar Drag and Drop: Yeah, so it could be reasonably helpful, but it doesn't improve Gmail or add any new features.

    Google Search: Most web browsers already have a search bar, why would you want another? Chrome has improved things by getting rid of the unneeded search box (like in Firefox). Adding another one is pointless.

    Text Messaging in Chat: We don't all live in the US.

    Gmail beta icon: Need I say anything?

    • maratom
      November 10, 2009 at 10:49 pm

      totally in agreement with chris-da-man

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