Seven Gmail Add-ons That Make Email Suck Less

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Editor’s note: Sidian M.S. Jones is the founder of OpenSourceReligion.net and does graphic design for BookLamp.org. He has a forthcoming book called The Voice of Rolling Thunder. Follow him on Twitter @SidianMSJones.

I think it says a lot about the current state of email that we have so many startups trying to change the way we do it. Gmail has been a key player for many years now. With features like threaded messages and filters, they’ve kept ahead of the game; but the feeling still seems pretty unanimous. Email sucks! Someone has got to burst this bubble and, when they do, they are going to make a mint.

I don’t know, this legendary “empty inbox”, if it does exist, still evades me, have you ever seen one? What happens when when there are zero emails? A win screen? Now there’s an idea…

While we’re waiting for the next big disruption, there are services that can make the experience a little better — and maybe more than that. This is a list of Gmail add-on services that are at the top of the game right now.

Rapportive

Rapportive has been, more or less, the standard for email sidebars that display the latest social network updates of whomever you are emailing. However, many users are lamenting the recent LinkedIn acquisition, claiming the popular add-on will no longer be updated. You might, like me, be interested in switching to Smartr Inbox for Gmail, or one of the few other alternatives. Either way you go, having the latest on your contacts is a very good way to build meaningful relationships in the digital age.

AwayFind

You may not be able to escape the tyranny that is email, but you could apply a bit of “out of sight, out of mind” technology with AwayFind. It lets you assign parameters to emails like “push to iPhone if this person emails me within the next week” in which case AwayFind will notify you on your mobile device with an SMS, Voice call or one of their iPhone or Android apps. With features like this in place, you can finally walk away from the inbox. Just slowly…back away…

MailPilot

This one I’m most excited about but it’s also the only one I can’t get. The Mail-Pilot team leads with “Your inbox is now a to-do list…” It hadn’t struck me until reading this tagline how much sense this sort of approach makes. Of course my inbox is my to-do list! But then why do I have a Tasks widget sitting in the bottom right corner of my Gmail? Probably because email services haven’t been treating emails as to-do items; but maybe they should.

“Today’s email apps mark your email as “read” as soon as you open it, even though you still have to act on it. All messages require further action: deleting, replying, or some other activity.”

Again, a slightly different perspective with potentially large consequences. I’m keeping an eye on this one. If you weren’t part of the KickStarter funding then you won’t be getting your hands on a copy, though I’m sure they’re working hard on a public release.

Find Big Mail

Not quite so much an add-on as much as it is a utility, FindBigMail is just too useful to not list here. There isn’t much explanation needed for this service, you sign up and they give you a rundown of your biggest emails, and therefore what is taking up the most space in your Gmail account. The interface is slick and easy to use, but I will add the caveat that FindBigMail does toss a few new (and unasked for so far as I can tell) folders into your account. Then again, while this surprised me, I’m not sure what other way they might be able to do it. But just try not clicking that little refresh button over and over as it scans your email!

SaneBox

SaneBox, which was recently reviewed by TechCrunch, uses algorithms to determine email importance and then moves them into separate folders, something I think Gmail covers in more than one way but maybe SaneBox is better? They do, however, boast social network integration, follow up reminders for when someone hasn’t gotten back to you, and my favorite, the SaneBlackHole Unsubscribe. “Drag an email into the SaneBlackHole folder, and you’ll never hear from that sender again. Unsubscribe from mailing lists with 1 click!” Something about dropping unsolicited emails into a digital black hole makes me feel so good inside.

Boomerang For Gmail

Simple and effective. Boomerang For Gmail let’s you send email later, set follow up reminders, and remind you if you don’t hear back. Like AwayFind, I think I might categorize Boomerang in the “out of sight, out of mind” camp, as you still have to deal with the emails later, but you get the potential solace of an empty inbox. It includes a calendar picker for dates but also understands language such as “next week” when telling Boomerang when to send a message.

CloudMagic

Cloud magic, who competes with Greplin, is a search service that crawls through your Gmail, Google Apps, contacts, calendars, documents, and Twitter updates. Install the extension and CloudMagic will insert a search function in Gmail and Twitter, and It is also now available as a mobile app which, according to Sarah Parez is “…really, really, really, fast.” Advanced Operators like “content:” really help you get down to business by searching Gooble Document texts. Yes, you can do that from within a document, but why not just do it all from one search box?

Gmail Labs

Gmail Labs is one of the best, and first, places you should visit if you are looking to get more out of your Gmail experience. To access Gmail Labs log in to your Gmail account, click the gear in the upper-right of your inbox and then click settings. From here there will be a tab labeled “Labs”. The Gmail team describes Labs as “…a testing ground for experimental features that aren’t quite ready for primetime. They may change, break or disappear at any time.” Despite the warning, Labs features have never disappeared nor drastically changed their functionality on me to the point of stopping my use of one, or even ever frustrating me. And boy is there some awesome stuff in here. To name a few…

  • Undo send gives you a 5-second panic button, in case you have second thoughts.
  • Email previews of Picasa, Google Docs, Google Maps, Flickr, and Yelp from inside an email.
  • Free SMS messaging to mobile phones with Gmail Chat.
  • Unread Message Icon adds a numeric icon to your Gmail tab indicating your unread emails.