Update: Our full story on Gmail Labs is here.
At 1pm PST Google is hosting an event to launch a new Gmail feature they’re calling the “next evolution of 20% time.” They say it will be a change in their development process and “users will be able to influence Gmail’s design.” Mike, Mark and Steve Gillmor are on the way to the event and we’ll be updating this post with live video and pictures.
Mike and Mark’s Notes live from the event:
We’re being given an overview of new product work Google has done with Gmail, as well as historical views of Gmail and Gtalk.
Google says they are making a big change in how they do product development. Currently they read user requests, their own ideas (GTalk is example, or single view on multiple messages in a related thread).
There are currently tens of millions of active Gmail users.
They’re trying to build a more open connection.
Google has invited us here to give the press a better picture of what Gmail looks like. They’re showing a lot of things that haven’t been shown before including a number of text features.
They’re going to show mockups of early version of Gmail and Gchat.
All features are launched internally weeks or months before it reaches the public. Now they want to get Gmail users to help them refine how they do things. Gmail was filtered for longer than that before shown to the public.
They want to take next step and test with users.
At 6pm PT they’re launching Gmail Labs – it will be a tab on top of settings, a list of features that are rough, have gone through almost no filtering. Using the send feedback link users can go to the Google Conversation. Every user will have this available.
The first batch will include 13 new features being tested now, all created by Gmail engineers. Everyone will have access to these.
When they opened labs, lots of engineers built on greasemonkey scripts. Lots of stuff is being built, some stuff good some bad. Someone even built Snake (the game) into Gmail.
The benefit of developing on Gmail is the user base is so large.
There will be a number in top right of screen will show you how many beta apps you have installed.
“Gmail Labs is taking the 20% of your own project time idea to next level.” It allows internal engineers to have a ready audience for their creations. Right now all of these ideas are Google’s internal ideas, any engineer can code a labs feature in 20% time. Once it’s working it will go out to users in the next code build.
It is not open to non-Google engineers, at least yet.
There is a code review vetting process to make sure it doesn’t break, but no user interface analysis or product analysis. It just has to be functional code to push out. Features can literally modify anything in the Gmail code base. They would like to get to the point where more people build on this — that world needs one interface, a more restricting one.
They have no plans to launch the open developer platform for others. Non-Googlers can build on the platform eventually, but it will require less interface because they can change any aspect of the code.
They’re interested in letting third parties eventually do things, but for now third parties go through send feedback.
Anyone can send feedback directly to the developers of these add-ons.
Gmail Add-on Examples:
Quick Links: adds a box to the left column that gives you 1-click access to any bookmarkable url in Gmail. You can use it for saving recent searches, important individual messages, and more
Superstars: adds additional star icons
Pictures in Chat: see your friends’ profile pictures when you chat with them
Fixed Width Font: adds an option to the reply dropdown menu that lets you view a message in fixed width font
Custom Keyboard Shortcuts: lets you customize keyboard shortcut mappings. Adds a new settings tab from which you can remap keys to various actions
Mouse gestures: Use your mouse to navigate with gestures. Hold right click and move the mouse left to go to a previous conversation, move right to go to the next conversation, and move up to go back to the inbox view. It works best on Windows.
Signature tweaks: Places your signature before the quoted text in a reply
Take A Break: locks you out of your Gmail for 15 minutes (you can refresh to get out of it). When it locks you out it says, “Break time! Take a walk, get some real work done, or have a snack. We’ll be back in 14 minutes!”
Users can enable or disable these modules.
The description on the top of the Labs tab in settings: Gmail engineers come up with new ideas all the time. Gmail Labs is our place to try them out and get your feedback. None of these features are really ready for prime time yet, so they might change, break, or disappear at any time.
There’s an escape hatch for broken add-ons
If (when) a labs feature breaks, and you’re having trouble getting into your account, there’s an escape hatch — just go to http://www.mail.google.com/mail/?labs=0 and Labs with be temporarily disabled.
The most popular add-ons will eventually be built into Gmail.
There is no integration with Google Reader on Gmail. They need to create a module. Product managers are writing these. Some keep the site up and running
Lots of different people in different roles creating these features. They are calling these “features” not add-ons or components or apps.
Engineers can integrate third party APIs into modules, like Twitter’s. You just have to make sure it can scale. They say “we generally embrace all APIs”
When will Gmail be Open Social compatible?
Their response: “We are interested in making Gmail Open Social compatible. It’s something we’re interested in doing, but nothing to announce right now”
Google will also continue to have regular launches of new features not through labs. They still plan to have regular feature launches for larger projects and more important ones.
A few dozen people work on Gmail, but they say they don’t know the exact number because they share so many resources
They can tell how many people are using which features, which will be a factor on which are actually integrated. It will be the primary metric for deciding this.
No one has proposed ad blocking add-ins yet, but… (he doesn’t really address whether it would be possible…assume it wouldn’t)
When Google Labs first launched internally, they had a 2 day hack-a-thon. They plan to continue to do this.
Here’s a video taken before the event: