Help me use GMail Better
August 28, 2008 12:25 PM   Subscribe

My company recently switched from a standard POP mail server to having GMail as our MX server and hosting all our business accounts. Overall the benefits are quite positive, but I'm having some usage issues that bug me. Can you help me use gmail better? Specific questions inside.

Part 1: I love the benefit of the IMAP mail system, allowing my inbox to be anywhere I am, rather than centralized around a specific computer. Previously I had my POP work account for 3 years and amassed thousands of emails coming in at about 4GB, all of which I must keep for reference of correspondence, e-mail addresses, etc. I had my mail sorted into folders, about 30-40 different folders depending on correspondence type. All of that mail was in Outlook until I recently became a Mac convert. Now it's all in Thunderbird.

So I can have ALL my mail available where I can get to it from anywhere, I'd like to migrate it all to GMail. I read that using IMAP I can just drag these old e-mails into my Inbox folder in Thunderbird, but given that I have about 40 folders, I'm not sure how to get them to GMail without just having a very large Inbox with a conglomeration of e-mails in it. I am guessing I could drag one folder to the Inbox, then organize that on Gmail, drag another folder, etc. but that leads me to problem #2:

Part 2: I know GMail uses labels...are there no folders? Would I need to drag in the e-mails, then label them all to use GMail's label system instead of my current folder-based system? And is that the most efficient way to do this?

Part 3: I am really NOT a fam of the "message threading" that GMail does. Often I will send solicitations to business partners and each subject line will be identical, the messages nearly so. However because the subject lines are the same, GMail takes e-mails from different business partners and puts them all in one thread, filling me with paranoia of sending the wrong e-mail to the wrong person or, worse, sending an entire e-mail chain from one business partner to another business partner which may contain confidential data. Is there any way to alter the functionality or, perhaps ideally, turn OFF this "feature" in GMail?

Part 4: As I'm still new to GMail, any "Power User" tips for me?

Final Notes: I still plan on using Thunderbird as my client of choice when at my work PC. I just want the ability to have ALL my mail accessible from ANY location as I feel it will enable me to work more efficiently, rather than having to hold some e-mails until I get back to my primary PC.

Thanks for any suggestions!
posted by arniec to Computers & Internet (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Power User Tips.

I would create folders in Thunderbird and move the folders into that which should force GMail to put them in the correct tags. On that I am not an expert.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 12:40 PM on August 28, 2008

Part 3 Threading: Currently no way to turn it off.

Personally, I find that feature to be one of GMail's most valuable offerings. If you can find a way to make your subject lines different for your similar messages I think you might get to see the tremendous value in being able to see a single thread of conversation all on one screen.
posted by mmascolino at 12:58 PM on August 28, 2008

No, there are no folders, but labels > folders. You can have multiple labels per message, like 'Golfers', 'Company XYZ', 'Leads', etc.

I think you'll find that once you're using Gmail for a few weeks after the import, the threading will behave properly. Gmail uses a message id instead of the subject but since you've imported old messages it isn't really available. I hate using a client because it doesn't have the threading, as a matter of fact.

Honestly, I would try to use the web interface as much as possible before trying to shoehorn Gmail in to Thunderbird. Once you've searched those 4GB of messages in an instant(label:Clients from:Bob-Smith), you'll start to enjoy it too!
posted by cdmwebs at 12:59 PM on August 28, 2008

Response by poster: Okay, so I can't turn off threading. A follow-up label question: is there a way for my "inbox" to only show messages without a label?

And follow-up threading question: If I label a message, do all "grouped" messages that come in after that automatically get the same label? Because I have a "replied to" folder to get mail out of the inbox, and I wouldn't want new mail to be automatically marked as "repleid to"
posted by arniec at 1:02 PM on August 28, 2008

If I label a message, do all "grouped" messages that come in after that automatically get the same label?

No, but only if you label the message itself and not the entire conversation. To label an individual message, click the blue drop down arrow in the upper right corner of the message. You can also delete a single message in there.
posted by cdmwebs at 1:05 PM on August 28, 2008

And follow-up threading question: If I label a message, do all "grouped" messages that come in after that automatically get the same label?


is there a way for my "inbox" to only show messages without a label?

If you archive any message that has a label then yes your inbox will be label free. Alternatively if you are applying these labels via rules, use the "Skip Inbox" option which will effectively do what you want.
posted by mmascolino at 1:05 PM on August 28, 2008

Oops, I'm an idiot. Scratch that - you cannot label an individual message in the web interface. Maybe IMAP would be better for that one (drag message to folder/label), but I'm not sure.
posted by cdmwebs at 1:07 PM on August 28, 2008

Response by poster: Okay, if I archive an e-mail/series of e-mails, when a new e-mail comes in on the same thread will it automatically be archived as well?
posted by arniec at 1:21 PM on August 28, 2008

Part 1 & 2: labels ARE folders in gmail when accessed via IMAP. Even the Inbox is just a label.
Create folders via your imap client (thunderbird) and copy your old emails into them, as you have your current structure. In the web interface, they'll be available under the label with the same name. Here's a breakdown of how the actions 'match up' between web interface and IMAP.
posted by ArkhanJG at 1:34 PM on August 28, 2008

Response by poster: ArkhanJG...the link isn't working for me. But I'm anxious to read it!!! :)
posted by arniec at 1:37 PM on August 28, 2008

Best answer: Ooops, sorry bout that. Got sidetracked by phone when posting, always a bad idea. Here's the matchup of actions.
posted by ArkhanJG at 1:42 PM on August 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

Archiving a message in the gmail interface takes it 'out' of the inbox label (deleting from the inbox via IMAP has the same effect usually, unless your delete action is 'move to trash'). It's still available under 'all mail', and any labels that apply to it, but it stops it being visible in the inbox. It will still count against your quota too.

So via IMAP, moving (or deleting) email from the inbox manually into other folders will clear up your inbox. New messages will still have the inbox flag, so will appear in the inbox, and not the other folders/labels. You can of course do this manually, or use rules in thunderbird to do it for you (though they still need to be triggered by hand, IIRC)

To actually delete an email, you need to move it to the trash folder/label. To kill it for good, empty the trash as usual. It will then be actually got rid of as far as you're concerned, though it will lurk around in google storage purgatory for some time to come.
posted by ArkhanJG at 1:51 PM on August 28, 2008

Best answer: The 'conversation' that a new message belongs too will be re-added to the inbox though in the web-interface, even after an email is archived.

The thing to remember with gmail is it does work via labels, not folders. All email is in one of three giant folders called 'all mail', 'spam' or 'trash'. Everything else is a label applied to it, so it shows up under different views. The inbox is a label, any folders you create in imap are labels. An email can be labelled by several things at once, or none - in which case it's only visible under 'all mail'.

Labels are a way to classify emails, folders are a way to store them. Think sets, and venn diagrams - that helps me think about labels vs folders.
posted by ArkhanJG at 1:57 PM on August 28, 2008

Okay, if I archive an e-mail/series of e-mails, when a new e-mail comes in on the same thread will it automatically be archived as well?


When an archived thread gets a new message, the whole thread comes back to the inbox, but clicking on it brings up the new message(s) first.

If you want to automatically move all future replies straight to the archive, use the 'm' hotkey to mute the thread. Mute is only available via hotkeys and not via any of the drop-down menus.
posted by GuyZero at 2:19 PM on August 28, 2008

Best answer: Gmail+GTDInbox+labels+filters+judicious use of the ARCHIVE button=nirvana.

Although really, for work applications (like we use), just continue using outlook/thunderbird. You won't notice a difference except for better spam filtering.

That's how I have it set up at our NPO, anyway.
posted by TomMelee at 3:33 PM on August 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

The 'm' key for mute only works if the messages are not being directly addressed to you, for instance if it's a mailing list. If you mute a conversation and another email is sent to you in it, it will reappear in your inbox.
posted by jacalata at 5:43 PM on August 28, 2008

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