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How to use GMail as a handy personal database


GMail has been my email of choice for some time, but only recently that I've learned about some of its 'lesser known features', and especially their potential applicability. In this blog I'd like to describe how some of such features can be used to turn GMail into a handy personal database. For example, quite often I need to store information, such as scriptlets of code, notes, blog ideas, etc.. Before this recent discovery, most of this stuff just floated around in my head or kept piling up as a collection of sticky notes. I kept forgetting good ideas, spent time searching for previously available/discovered information, etc.. This extended even further when I started paying attention to catchy quotes, recording movie names, music tracks, etc... Then it occurred to me how some of already available and known features, such as
address aliasing,
labels and
filters can turn GMail into a pretty simple and cool personal database. For example, I just had an idea for a blog, but don't have the time nor ability to record it properly. So I pick up my
favorite mobile device and send an email to mymail+blog@gmail.com containing basic ideas and title for my new blog. GMail supports address aliasing, such as adding any word combination after '+'. This becomes very handy in combination with 'labels' and 'filters', since then one can create a 'filter' to assign a 'label' to all emails with 'To' field = 'mymail+something@gmail.com'. Here is an example list of aliases that could be pretty useful: mymail+blog@gmail.com mymail+code@gmail.com mymail+notes@gmail.com mymail+movies@gmail.com mymail+quotes@gmail.com etc... On GMail side, setting up following filters will assign labels to selected mail: To: mymail+blog@gmail.com -> Blogs To: mymail+code@gmail.com -> Code/Scriptlets To: mymail+notes@gmail.com -> Notes To: mymail+movies@gmail.com -> Movies To: mymail+quotes@gmail.com -> Quotes Other possible items could be Ideas, Recipes, Howto's, Todos/Tasks, Stocklist, Wishlist, Shopping list, etc... This seems like a simple enough task, but adds a very handy ability to easily record information that previously was just floating around. Then one can use
advanced search to find desired results. For example: label:blogs [search phrase] to find [search phrase] in label 'blogs'. For me, this type of usage transformed GMail into a handy personal storage tool, with ability to record, group and search for information. Other very useful GMail Tips & Tricks can be found
here. And if you are a bit programmer savvy, like me, and would like to extract this information, just use any of available mail client API's to tap into GMail, and get your results, possibly for use in other applications or widgets. We hope you find this post useful. Thanks for reading and Aloha!
Ikayzo - Design • Build • Localize | Web • Desktop • Mobile

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Comment by Sherwin Gao on August 17, 2009 at 10:44am
Wow that is really neat, would definitely be handy! Thanks for sharing this :)
Comment by Konstantin A Lukin on August 6, 2009 at 12:02pm
Sure. Once the number of labels starts growing, it is also visually helpful to pick a predefined color for each one. Labs also offers 'Custom Label Colors' widget to extend color selection even further.
Comment by Kurt Sussman on August 6, 2009 at 11:38am
I use a few of the 'labs' modules, especially 'multiple inboxes' which lets me group mail by label in a separate box on the screen. I hadn't thought of using the '+' notation with GMail, though; great idea! Thanks.
Comment by Konstantin A Lukin on August 6, 2009 at 7:17am
Yes, it is ironic how simplest things that we crave the most :-)

I've also been waiting for a simple task manager that integrates nicely with my existing environment.. The new tasks widget in GA is transparent yet easily accessible and functional, which makes it a very useful addition to the GA family.

I've tried other task managers in the past, yet none have provided smooth integration. No matter how good they were, it is an integrated solution that does the trick. The new GA task manager just magically appeared.. no installation.. no hassle.. just use it and love it :-)
Comment by Daniel Leuck on August 5, 2009 at 10:30pm
Thank you for the great tips and the link to Google's tips & tricks! I learned a dozen new useful features today.

On a related note, I'm absolutely loving the new tasks functionality in Google apps. I've been waiting for a task manager this simple and useful all of my professional life!

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