Thoughts and opinions of a technology enthusiast.

Email Consolidation with Gmail

What is it

This article was inspired by an episode of the Mac Power Users podcast talking about strategies to manage email. With those tips in mind I set about carving out an email strategy that would help me get my multitude of email accounts down to a reasonably dull roar.

The concept is simple. The fewer mailboxes you have to check, the simpler checking email becomes. It can also be easier to answer the question “what’s your email address” when you don’t have so many to choose from.

This is admittedly a problem that only a relatively small subset of people will have. There are always going to be people out there who only have a single email address and who would never need to read through this article because one is about as consolidated as you can get.

This series will get into a fair bit of detail on what features of Google’s email service best serve these needs, and how you can put these things to work for you.

Why would I do this?!

To illustrate, a parable:

Bill was a busy man. He would spend his time every Saturday going from bank to bank moving money and paying bills. He had accounts at many different banks. His reasons were as varied as the banks and the accounts themselves, but each of them had add perfect sense at the time.

He had a chequing account with a bank that was partnered with his employer, that’s where his pay was deposited. He had a savings account with a bank he’d been with since he had his first job 15 years ago. He had a joint account with his wife at another bank which was partnered with her employer (where her pay was deposited) and an account with another bank that held his mortgage. While each individual account was in and of itself a good idea, and seemed wise at the time, all of Bill’s Saturdays were sing consumed with trying to manage and move money between his various institutions.

Bill could save a lot of time and energy by replacing some or all of these accounts with single account. In short, consolidate. By having his pay and his wife’s pay deposited into the account that their mortgage is drawn from it would greatly reduce the complexity of his life – and might even open up a few hours on Saturday to do something more important.

That story should sere to illustrate my point, but in case it wasn’t clear, let me be blunt. Shutdown and if necessary re=point your old email addresses to a new single collection point. Instead of bouncing around between who-knows-how-many different email inboxes, you can manage everything from Gmail or from one of the client solutions that ties into Gmail’s IMAP services.

It sounds like a lot of work

It is. I won’t sugar-coat the truth by pretending this is something you’ll get done in 10–15 minutes. You won’t. If you’re still interested, Here’s how I went about it:

1. Identify accounts to kill

The first step in the process is to figure out just what needs to be cut. Be ruthless. Any account that receives way too much spam should be considered to go on this list. Another good set of candidate accounts is those that only allow POP access. Many ISP accounts, and some free email accounts are set up like this. If you can eliminate your dependence on your ISP’s email account, you will eliminate a major barrier to leaving that ISP if you need to down the road.

2. Identify accounts to keep

If you already have a Gmail account it may be at the top of your to-keep list – assuming of course it’s not the one you’ve been using to sign up for every shiny new cloud service, I which case you may need to dump it. I also recommend keeping any important email addresses that you have, even if you don’t use the email service. I have an address from school which is useful for getting some student discounts. I’ll talk about how to handle this later.

Finally there’s the question of what to do with work and personal email. As far as I’m concerned the only thing to do is keep them separate. This is one case where mixing work and pleasure is not a good thing.

3. Identify accounts to create

This is a place to give some thought. If the stuff you’re keeping doesn’t fully fit the bill for the addresses you need you may need to create one or two. If you have your own domain, you may want to consolidate down to have your email addresses live there. This can add a sense of personality or style to the email addresses you use.

4. Map old to new

Decide which old addresses that you’re keeping need to flow into which of the mailboxes you’re keeping. This is an important distinction – you don’t have to keep the actual mailboxes for each of the addresses you want. For new addresses that are aliases, you may be able to do this from your domain hosting provider’s admin panel. For addresses that were formerly mailboxes you had been using it will involve some trickery. This is a step that helps to have some visual aids.

5. Import messages

In each of the new Gmail accounts that will be receiving messages from old addresses you need to setup mail import from the existing account using POP.

  1. Open your Gmail settings
  2. Select Accounts and Import
  3. In the section Check mail using POP3 click Add a POP3 account that you own
  4. Follow the prompts to configure that account

6. Forward old email accounts

If your email provider for the old account supports email forwarding you can set that up instead of using up one of your POP mail slots.

7. Tell your friends!

Once all of the configuration is done, you need to tell people about your shiny new address(es). Send emails out to all of your contacts who need to have your new addresses. Send these messages from the new accounts so that people who reply to the messages will already be using the new ones. And don’t forget to BCC everyone, please.

Google Goes Gold – FINALLY!

GmailGoogle finally scraped the five-year-old “beta” tag off it’s popular Gmail service. From being perpetually in beta, to becoming a set of enterprise tools Google’s App suite has finally gone gold.

The collection of technology (some built in-house and some acquired from other service providers like writely back in 2006) has become a key part of Google’s strategy to index the world’s information by providing a way to make Google a first-hand provider and storer of that information.

There were no real major releases with the removal of the beta designation, just a feeling from many that the big “G” must be working on something else at their Mountain View, CA campus.

Flippin’ Email

This is the third post in my series of reviews of the BlackBerry 8230.  These were originally written in April, 2009 on an internal blog and are being reposted here.

003-black-pearl-flip-thI’ve been a BlackBerry user for the past 6 months or so, and before that I had used a couple of other Windows-based smart phones. The biggest difference that I noticed when I moved to the BlackBerry was that the device seemed to be designed around being a great email tool. All email functionality seemed to be very well thought out, and synchronization with my corporate TELUS email account was flawless.

With the Flip, I decided to point my Gmail account at the device in hopes of using it for my personal email, this is where I ran into my first major snag with the device: Email synchronization.

003-emailUp to this point, whenever I’d been using the BlackBerry email client, it was leveraging the BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES). BES is what allows the BlackBerry to securely interface with TELUS’ internal mail servers. Using BES email is perfectly synchronized and changes in my inbox show up on the BlackBerry in seconds.

003-gmailWith the Flip, I set up my Gmail account using the built-in wizard. Because the email client on the phone is the same as the one I was using on my Curve I expected everything to work the same way. It doesn’t. Because the link to Gmail is working over an older (and unencrypted I’d bet) POP3 connection there’s no way to synchronize the status of messages (whether they’ve been read, deleted, flagged etc). This causes all mail downloaded to the BlackBerry to essentially be a copy of what was in the inbox when the message was downloaded.

I’ll talk about another way to get your email working on the Flip (for Gmail at least) in my next post. But for now my email experience, for personal email at least, has been less than ideal.

Google Launches Tasks for Gmail

GmailToday Google announced on the official Gmail blog that it had added tasks to Gmail Labs.

The new feature provides a simple task list that can be activated using the labs menu.  To activate this, click on the green beaker at the top of the screen.

The task list in and of itself is basic, and provides a point that Google can use to extend its functionality in the future… features like integration with Google Calendar (yea, they left that out) and the ability to collaborate & share tasks through Gmail.

While this won’t likely satiate the desires of the Getting-Things-Done crowd, it’s a decent to-do list for keeping track of a non-complex list of items.  The most functional advantage that this has over desktop-based task solutions like Outlook is the ability for it to be accessed anywhere you can hit-up your Gmail.

Overall I’m a big fan of Google’s “Labs” concept. Pre-releasing new functionality in an opt-in manner is the hallmark of open-source and the web 2.0 community, and is a principle that the search giant seems to have embraced wholeheartedly.  Here’s hoping we see more useful features coming out of Mountain View.