Saturday, March 15, 2008

Tricks with Your Gmail Account

Due to their business practices, I generally eschew all things Google and encourage others to do the same, but let's face it: Google is a real force that cannot be ignored. So why not take a page from their book and use them for all they're worth?

Which brings us to Gmail.

Gmail is Google's ad-based e-mail service. You have to watch-out for deceptive advertisements, which Google cracks-down on when others use, but has no problem employing on their own services. However, once you get used to the interface, you can usually tell what is what.

Some of the features of Gmail include unlimited storage (so you never have to delete e-mail), a decent spam-filtering system that actually learns from what you delete (which means you need to check it every once in a while to make sure all your mail is coming through), and is completely free. Gmail also offers POP-access for those of you advanced enough to want your mail forwarded directly to your e-mail client (Thunderbird, Outlook Express, etc.).

While you can set-up filters and folders in Gmail, just as in your personal e-mail client, we all know how time-consuming and frustrating this can be. Gmail offers something a little better that you can use on its own or in conjunction with your filters and folders settings.

You can include a "+" or "." (plus-sign or period) anywhere in your Gmail e-mail. For example, if you post a comment here at Weird Ink and want to follow the comments others leave after you, you can click the box to have all further comments sent to your Gmail account. When you do, instead of entering "," you could enter "," or "" You cannot do this with most other major, free e-mail accounts (such as Yahoo! or AOL) - in fact, I don't know of any others you can.

Now, go into your Gmail account and create a folder and filter for all e-mail sent to this specific address, and all e-mail from here will automatically be routed into that folder from now on.

For example, you may decide to list your e-mail address at all blogs on which you comment to "" and then set a filter to send all of those e-mails to one folder named "Blogs." Filtering is an advanced technique we will look at in a future post, but there is plenty of documentation to tell you how to do it if you feel like looking for it.

These tricks can be quite useful with a little creativity. For example, you can customize your e-mail address to filter all of your communications concerning a particular subject into one folder, as discussed above, but you could also add a modifier, such as "+sold" to your address when you leave it at sites you fear might sell it to others. Then simply set a filter to automatically delete all incoming mail with the modifier "+sold." This is particularly handy when you sign-up for newsletters, donate to charities, and the like.

Not all forms will allow the "+" character, in which case, simply substitute a period and use it the same way.

Gmail and other free e-mail accounts allow you quite a bit of control over your e-mail while maintaining your anonymity. Used alongside your personal e-mail addresses, they are a great asset in protecting your identity online and filtering out unwanted mail.

© C Harris Lynn, 2008

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