Getting more out of Gmail

June 19, 2004

UPDATE: Also see Google Hacks (Second Edition) and Hacking Gmail — I was the technical editor on both books.

The large number of Gmail invites that I've given out in the last few days has spawned a lot of dialogue between friends and I on how to do certain things with the service. There are all kinds of neat things popping up for Gmail. Given that I don't use Gmail for anything more than sending invites, my experience and knowledge with these things is somewhat limited, but that doesn't mean I don't have to answer my friends' (and strangers') questions, right? I had half a mind to send all inquiries to Fucking Google It, but I digress.  :)

That said, the following is a collection of programs, sites, and information that will allow you to get more out of Gmail.

Easily Move All of Your Contacts to Gmail

I received quite a few questions from friends wondering if they could import their contacts into Gmail. Unfortunately Gmail doesn't yet offer the option to do this (they will in the future) unless you're running Mac OS X or *nix (see next section), but I've come up with a very simple solution that you can use in the interim.

  1. Send out a single e-mail (preferably one that announces your intention) to all of your contacts from whatever program/site you used before Gmail and make sure you also send it to your Gmail account (or to an account that you forward to Gmail).
  2. After you receive the e-mail through Gmail, open it and choose "Reply to all."
  3. Write something in the e-mail explaining its purpose and send it off.

Gmail automatically adds to your contact list the names and e-mail addresses of the people you e-mail from Gmail, therefore the e-mail you sent in Step 3 should add all of those people to your contact list.

Import Contacts Directly With Mac OS X (and *nix)

Apparently Gmail already offers the option to import contacts directly, but it seems that this is hidden to all browsers except Camino (v0.7 only) on Mac OS X.

Instructions for how to do this on Mac OS X.

I've heard that this method also works for Gecko-based browsers running on *nix (though I'm not sure which versions of which browsers can see the import option).

Helpful/Interesting Sites

  • Gmail Gems — a weblog devoted to Gmail tips and tricks.
  • Gmail for the Troops — a site that looks to give Gmail invites to the troops in Iraq.
  • Gmail 4 Troops - same as above.
  • Gmail Swap — a site where you can trade your invites for almost anything. It should be noted that in the last couple of weeks Google has been tossing out invites left and right and subsequently the 'value' of the invites has effectively been reduced to zero (this goes for selling them on eBay as well). After all, it is (or rather will be) a free service.
  • Gmail Machine — a site that gives away Gmail invites (you have to keep refreshing the page and hope that the "magic" number pops up).
  • GmailForums - as the name implies, a forum to discuss all things Gmail.
  • Most Wanted Gmail Features - a site that allows you to vote on which features you'd most like to see in Gmail (including those that we know Google is already working on but hasn't yet released). If there is a feature you'd like to see that isn't already on the list of things you can vote for, let him know.

Helpful Programs

  • Gmail API - There are two distinct components here: an open source Gmail API written for the .NET framework, and a proof of concept Windows application built on top of that API that provides basic remote Gmail functions.
  • Mbox & Maildir to Gmail Loader (GML) — allows you to import your mbox or Maildir files into Gmail. The only problem I see with this is that it doesn't get the timestamp right — messages will be timestamped with the time that they are received by Gmail (there is presently no way around this). If you're thinking about using this program I would suggest waiting for Google to add this functionality (and it will) so that the timestamps are correct. I don't plan on making this move any time soon, but if I were, I would definitely wait for Google to offer a solution — the idea of e-mailing 13,000+ e-mails, one every two seconds, does not sound very appealing to me. While this program automates the entire process, the practicality of this method has to break down once you go beyond a certain mailbox size. Also, there is still no way to import your sent messages, which, at least for me, are often as important as those that I've received. You can now specify where you want your e-mails sent (i.e., "Inbox" or "Sent Mail").
  • gExodus - a graphical Gmail import utility written in Python.
  • Import Mail from Mac OS X into Gmail — uses the source from the above program along with some AppleScript to allow you to migrate e-mail from your Mail.app mailboxes to Gmail.
  • Export your Gmail inbox with Python — allows you to export e-mails from your Gmail inbox. Again, this is something that I'd wait for Google to do on their own, but by all accounts it works fine. Like the importers there is still no way to deal with your sent messages.
  • gCount (Mac OS X) — displays the number of unread Gmail messages in the Mac OS X menubar.
  • G-Mailto (Mac OS X) — allows you to associate mailto links with Gmail (instead of a local client).
  • G-Mailto (Windows) — allows you to associate mailto links with Gmail (instead of a local client).
  • Pop Goes the Gmail (Windows) — allows you to retrieve your Gmail e-mail through POP3 clients.
  • GTray (Windows) — an icon in the systray shows the number of unread messages in your Gmail account.
  • GetMail (Windows) — forward your Hotmail e-mail to any address.
  • Transfer files to and from Gmail - a tiny PHP script that allows you to send files to and from Gmail accounts. Very very cool. This is actually something I've been talking about with some of my friends for a while now. It's not going to take too long for more robust and powerful scripts to surface. When Gmail is made available to the public I don't see why one couldn't sign up for an unlimited number of accounts; the accounts could be entered into a script similar to this one, and provide, theoretically, unlimited storage.
  • GmailCompose (Firefox/Mozilla) - browser extension that adds a context-menu link for opening a GMail compose window when clicking on mailto links or when selecting a text e-mail address.
  • Gmail Bookmarklets - all of these are for composing messages in Gmail. Some claim that they are browser-specific, but these usually work across the board.

    Bookmarklet One
    Bookmarklet Two
    Bookmarklet Three
  • libgmail - pure Python binding to provide access to the Gmail service.

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