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Using Gmail’s Filters and Labels to Organize Data

When users of Gmail are asked why they prefer to use Gmail, they may give many different answers. Some Gmail users might say that they like how Gmail offers a large amount of storage space. Some of them may use Gmail because of its spam filtering capabilities. Some of them like the features that it has, as some like to be able to easily search, filter, and label their e-mails. I set up a Gmail account for all of these reasons that I mentioned. I previously had not found that I had much need to be able to search, filter, or label e-mails in my inbox. However, I recently found that I had more use for filters and labels than I thought I had.

E-mail may often be considered a medium of communication that tends to be between two individuals. However, it has been made so that it can be a one-to-many communication medium in addition to being a one-to-one communication medium. Electronic mailing lists have been in existence for a long time, so e-mails have been sent in bulk without them being considered spam for a long time. Also, websites that are often updated tend to include the option for users to receive updates about them via e-mail. Some websites simply send e-mail alerts to users who have accounts set up on them by default. This type of e-mail gets sent out so often, the term “Bacn” was coined for it. Users can limit the amount of Bacn that they receive by not subscribing to e-mail lists, and by subscribing to RSS feeds instead whenever possible. However, e-mail updates can sometimes be necessary.

E-mails from mailing lists and websites tend to be characterized as being sent from the same sender, and these e-mails tend to have similar text in their subject lines. Therefore, users can easily set up filters in Gmail so that messages that match characteristics of Bacn that they receive can have appropriate labels applied to them. For example, I use a WordPress plugin named “WP-DB-Backup” to send myself backup copies of the database that this blog uses via e-mail. The e-mails sent by this plugin all list “WordPress” as the sender of them, and have “Jake Kasprzak Online Database Backup” in the subject lines of these e-mails. As these e-mails have these characteristics, I was able to set up a filter so that all messages that have these characteristics will have the label of “blog backup” applied to them. Therefore, any time I want to display only the backup copies of this blog that I have received via e-mail, I can select the appropriate label. There may also be times that I may not want to see my inbox cluttered with Bacn such as this. As I tend to label the Bacn that I receive, I display only unlabeled messages to filter out the Bacn in my inbox. There are Greasemonkey user scripts for displaying only unlabeled messages in Gmail, and I use those ones. One titled “Gmail Unlabelled” can be used with the older version of Gmail and the version of this script that can be used with the newer version of Gmail can be found here.

There are other reasons to use these labels. This is because e-mail account inboxes are sometimes used for purposes other than storage of messages from other people. When e-mail services offer large amounts of space for storing messages, users use these services for storing large files. The storage capacity offered to Gmail users is one of the reasons many Gmail users, myself included, use it to store files. In fact, GmailFS was created for storing files on Gmail accounts. However, Google’s terms of use prohibit the use of their services by any automated means or any means other than through the interface provided by Google, so GmailFS violates these terms. Nevertheless, Gmail can be useful for storing files, albeit through non-automated means. I sometimes store files there, and I sometimes perform searches through Gmail’s interface to find these files. I also create filters that apply labels to essentially save the searches that I perform most often.

In the time that I have spent blogging, I have sometimes found that I have needed to send notes to myself. I sometimes need to e-mail links to myself, and I annotate these links with information on them. I am often at different locations when I find interesting information on the web, and so I often have my information stored on and accessible from my Gmail account. As you may have surmised, sending myself many e-mails leads to clutter in my inbox. I have found that when I e-mail information such as links to myself, I tend to use similar subject lines. I often include the word “notes” in the subject lines of these e-mails that I send myself. Therefore, I can create a filter that looks for what I tend to include in the subject lines of these messages, and applies appropriate labels to them. I can also have these filters search for appropriate text within the messages that I may want to bring up at later times.

What I have mentioned here may certainly not be considered novel or innovative by those who already try to get the most out of Gmail. I do not plan on being one of those who will submit a video on how I organize my Gmail inbox. However, there may be many who may not be getting the most out of Gmail, and may find that it is even more useful than they thought it was. This blog entry is intended for those who have yet to see how useful Gmail can be. E-mail accounts may often be used for storing personal information, and Gmail seems to have been designed with that in mind. Gmail truly is an e-mail service that has been made better than users have previously imagined an e-mail service could be.