Gmail, which overtook Yahoo! Mail in 2010 as the most popular email service in India, has been updating its offerings almost every week for the last five years.
While Gmail by itself has been very compelling, one of its strongest points is the ability to completely change the email experience by adding “plugins”. These add-ons help deal with problems such as fixing a messy address book or sending multiple personalized emails.
Gmail’s growth and popularity in India is impressive—120 million, or 62%, of all Gmail users worldwide are in India, according to Google. Because most people don’t delete their old email identities, older services like Yahoo! Mail have almost as many users—Gmail accounted for 56.7% of Indian Internet users, while Yahoo! had a 56.1% share, as of November, according to Internet marketing research company comScore. Rediff’s September earnings report said Rediffmail had 95 million registered users.
Aristo Bhupal, head (products), InstaMedia, says: “Gmail innovated on the otherwise generic email. It added basic but useful features like threaded conversations, SPAM filters that actually worked, unlimited space when others were offering only 2 MB— these were simple things, but they worked. And even today, Gmail continues to innovate and add new features at an impressive rate.”
So even as Gmail adds something new ever so often, companies developing Gmail plugins continue to grow too. Here are some of the more useful plugins that can enhance your Gmail experience:
Xobni is an address-book builder which uses the addresses from your mail—along with names, phone numbers and profile photos—to build a cloud-based contact list. Xobni has plugins with Outlook (at work), BlackBerry (on the go) and Gmail (at home) so your contact list can be shared and accessed everywhere, even building the offline phone book on the BlackBerry.
Xobni for Gmail also shows the contact details and a graph of all the mails you have shared with the person you’re having a conversation with, as well as the names of people who come up often in your emails with each other.
The free version of Xobni lacks the cloud backup and BlackBerry connect, making the pro version the better option—it is available online for $7.99 (Rs 365) a month or for $48 a year (www.xobni.com/learnmore/pro).
Rapportive is a free plugin that connects with Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn to give a comprehensive graph of the person you are emailing. It also shows recent emails so you can easily keep track of conversations.
You can reply to tweets or follow people on Twitter right from Gmail. A glance at the sidebar will tell you their designation and role in the company, thanks to LinkedIn, and their Facebook status might give you a clue about their mood before you send that mail.
Sanebox is like Gmail’s Priority Inbox. Using heuristics and user guidance, it tracks the important emails and shows them to you first. It uses folders instead of panes, and you can drag and drop mails whenever you have time—Sanebox analyses them to put new mails in the correct folders. When you correct mistakes in the sorting, Sanebox learns from that as well, making it better and less cumbersome over time.
Sanebox applies multiple levels of priority. It has five levels compared with Priority Inbox’s three, and with some training it can be very effective in dealing with inbox clutter.
If you need to send similar emails to a lot of people, then Gmail’s canned responses are not the most effective way. Tout allows you to create templates that you can modify, allowing you to get the work done quickly. There’s a comprehensive analytics option to help see which templates work best.
Tout has also integrated with LinkedIn, so users can send messages to their LinkedIn contacts without having to leave their Gmail inboxes, which should be particularly useful for people in sales and marketing, where the social network is a key tool.
Tout for Gmail is free, but you have to sign up for an invite. If you can’t wait, there is a paid $12.99 version that is already available.
Boomerang is a free Gmail plugin that functions as a scheduling tool for mail. Suppose you’re working on a file at night and want it to be in someone’s inbox at 10am so it’s the first email they see, then Boomerang works really well.
Boomerang can also be configured to send you a reminder email at a particular date or time (or scan the message for date/time and send a reminder a little earlier) so that important appointments and assignments don’t get forgotten. Boomerang can also be set up to send you a reminder email if no one replies to the message within a set period.
Find Big Mail
Gmail launched with the promise of never having to delete emails—but as our dependence on email grows, that is very unlikely. The random attachments that are lost in thousands of emails are to blame, and Gmail offers no way to sort mail by size.
The Find Big Mail plugin does exactly that by creating labels for Big Mail, Really Big Mail and Ultra Big Mail which go from 100 KB to 2 MB. After that it’s all about using the delete button.
One tweak that would make the plugin even better is if it could save mails and strip out attachments, so that users would have a record of important conversations without having to keep the attachments. Find Big Mail is free if you have an @gmail.com address, but with an @yourname.com domain name, it costs $4.95 per use.
Multiple accounts and address books across mobile devices and desktops mean that there are often duplicate, conflicting and junk entries which are very hard to resolve manually. The Scrubly plugin scans your contacts for duplicates and marks them for review—and you can remove them with a click.
Scrubly has a 30-day free trial period, and a personal version that remains free for up to 250 contacts. More than that requires a one-time payment of $9.95, or an annual subscription of $24.95.
Google’s built-in search function is extremely slow and displays only a small set of results at a time, making it a lot less elegant than Gmail itself. CloudMagic allows you to retrieve Gmail messages almost instantly, and view them in a side window next to your main Gmail inbox.
CloudMagic goes a step further and connects all your Google tools, so when you run a search it doesn’t just check the inbox but also your Google Calendar, Contacts, Tasks and Google Docs files, making it a very useful tool.
FollowUp.CC sets up reminders for emails. Send a CC to have the reminder sent to you and the people you mail, or a BCC so only you get the reminder. You set the reminder time and date by the address you mail (for example, email@example.com) so it allows easy customization for every email.
FollowUp.CC also has a website where users can log in to manage their alarms, remove alarms that aren’t required any more, or set alarms for mails they have already sent, making it more versatile than other free services such as FollowThen.
The other half
Hotmail and Rediffmail don’t support third-party plugins yet, but Yahoo! has recently added this feature. Called Mail Apps, the service is still new and most plugins only allow users to use “cool” fonts or check their calendar. However, Mail Apps has two useful features:
The size of attachments is limited to 20 MB, so to send a larger file you need to use an uploader service like RapidShare or YouSendIt and then share the link with the recipient. The YouSendIt app for Yahoo simplifies this, and you can attach a file of up to 50 MB in the free version and up to 2 GB in the paid version (starting $9.99, or around Rs 460, per month) without leaving your email. It generates and adds the link to your mail automatically, and sends a receipt when the file is downloaded by the recipient.
Picnik is a simple photo-editing tool which connects to your Yahoo! Mail, so you can do basic touch-ups to pictures before you send them out, and can also add effects, captions or stickers easily. The Picnik premium package costs $2.08 a month.