A good email client is a critical part of your toolkit if you’re planning to work online or establish any sort of web presence for your online or offline business. But then, you probably already know that. If you’re a fan of GMail (Google Mail), or just getting started, you may want to subscribe to their new official Gmail blog.

At this writing, there’s only their intro post, but no doubt it’ll spill all kinds of great tips for one of the best web-based email systems available. Veteran web-based email clients from Hotmail, Yahoo! Mail and others now have a spiffier AJAX-based interface, though GMail is still superior in many ways.

Some Gmail features

Google Mail has a few quirks that need fixing, such as the inability to open email messages in new browser windows/ tabs. However, there are many great features that make up for it:

  1. Multi-acount integration.
    Download email from other email account providers. You can leave a copy at the source or delete. The email can be redirected to a specific folder in your GMail account, or stuffed in the inbox.
  2. Message threads.This is more old-school than new. Many old pre-Internet mail systems had this feature. If you start a “conversation” and your recipients respond, all of the messages are clustered in a “conversation thread” for easy access. This can be both a boon and a burden, depending on how you use email. For example, if you want to send someone an email but on a new topic unrelated to other discussions, you should start a new thread. Just create a fresh email message instead of lazily responding to their last message to you.
  3. Folder redirection.
    Need to redirect email from one or more sources into special folders automatically? GMail makes it incredibly simple. I use this feature to auto-redirect newsletter subscriptions into a folder that I can look over later. Just create a “filter rule”, state any senders addresses, and the folder to redirect to.
  4. Wildcard account names.Want to sign up for various newsletters but are wondering if they’re honoring privacy? Use a wildcard name to sign up. (In fact, you can use a unique email address for each signup and create a redirection filter for each, as well.) If you start to receive unexpected email, you’ll be able to track which site has given your email address away. The way it works is to augment your existing Gmail address. So if that’s yourname@gmail.com, and if you want to sign up at, say, greatnewsletters.org, you could use something like yourname+gnl.org@gmail.com in the signup form. The text after the “+” is arbitrary, but make it unique for that signup. The caveat is that some web signup forms may either limit the number of characters in your email address or not be able to parse the plus sign. So this feature isn’t always useful. There are other uses of the wildcard. Consider visiting Amit Agarwal’s Digital Inspiration, which has many great articles on GMail and other technologies.
  5. Storage space.
    GMail gives you over 2Gb of message space, which can act as an online backup disk, provided you don’t exceed your Internet provider’s monthly bandwidth. The amount of space actually keeps increasing over time, a feature that a number of other webmail services are also offering. This can be used as a handy way to transfer files between two computers, without having to open up sharing on your hard drives. Just create an email message, attach the file (up to 20 Mb is the official word), then save the message as a draft. Then log into GMail on the other computer, open up the draft, and save the attachment to that computer’s hard disk. The alternative is to

    • (a) use a local network,
      (b) burn a CD-Rom,
      (c) use the file sharing feature on a chat client such as Google Talk or Skype, or
      (d) some other file-sharing service.
  6. Multiple accounts.
    Is 2+ Gb not enough for you? You can just sign up for another GMail account. Provided you’re not abusing the usage, Google probably will not mind.
  7. Better spam filtering.
    While the quantity of spam being sent to my GMail account is increasing rapidly, the numbers ending up in my inbox instead of the spam folder is decreasing. I can’t say the same about Hotmail and Yahoo! Mail, unfortunately. And the “webmail” installation that comes with many budget Internet hosting plans doesn’t seem to trap any spam whatsoever. Believe it or not, GMail does a better job of filtering the spam sent to my Yahoo email address, which I manage from GMail, than Yahoo Mail does.
  8. WYSIWYG editor.
    Okay, this isn’t an exclusive, though I find working with GMail’s message editor very much like editing a web page in “view” mode. It’s easy to use and compatible with email clients that can handle HTML.
  9. Integration with web services.
    Google has been integrating GMail with their other web-based “Office” software. If you receive, say, an MS-Word email attachment, you can choose to view it either in

    • (a) MS-Word,
      (b) as HTML in a browser window/ tab, or
      (c) as a Google Docs document in a browser/ tab.

    The same goes for PDF files, Excel spreadsheets, Powerpoint presentations, and no doubt more in the future.

  10. Integrated chat client.
    GTalk is the in-client version of Google Talk for GMail. If you have GTalk turned on in your GMail settings, you can actually chat from within GMail to one of your contacts. Some people don’t like the tiny chat window, and only people with GMail accounts can participate (to the best of my knowledge).
  11. Integration with MS Outlook.
    If you ultimately prefer a desktop email client such as MS Outlook, which is well-integrated with many other productivity packages, you can access GMail from Outlook (and other destkop clients). However, you lose out on GMail web client-specific features.

There are loads of other features, including all sorts of keyboard shortcuts for power users. Some drawbacks:

  1. A message cannot be opened in a separate browser window/ tab.
  2. GMail’s rapid popularity has resulted in mail distribution delays of several hours at times.

Aside from these drawbacks, the key thing for business owners to note is that even if you
have an official business email address that uses your website’s domain name, you can integrate it with a GMail account and manage it from there.