March 30, 2009, 10:49 AM — Google released some new features, or add-ons, to its free Gmail e-mail service last week. These add-ons make the emails sent over Gmail more interactive by embedding bits of media such as YouTube videos, Picasa Web (or Flickr) photo albums, and restaurant information from Yelp. There is even one that lets you "unsend" e-mails.
In order to access these new add-ons, you must click on the Gmail Labs tab, which appears as a green beaker in the upper right hand corner of your Gmail inbox, next to where your e-mail address appears in bold letters. After you click on it, you will be brought to the master list of Gmail add-ons. Simply click "enable" next to the add-on of choice, and then scroll to the bottom of the page to "save changes."
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As the name Gmail "Labs" indicates, these are experimental features. Gmail's engineers caution users that they break from time-to-time.
YouTube Previews in Gmail
How it helps do no evil: Many of us like to share YouTube videos with friends, family and colleagues. Although you can post YouTube videos to Facebook and other social sites, many of us still use e-mail as our primary sharing tool. The only problem is, a simple URL doesn't do much to entice people to watch your video. With YouTube Previews for Gmail, now you can see a small thumbnail of the YouTube video embedded in the body of the e-mail. When someone clicks on the thumbnail, it will enlarge the video to YouTube's default size and play inside the body of your e-mail.
How to set it up: After adding it from the Labs list (as described in the introduction), it's simple. Copy and paste the link into your e-mail. After you send it, it will appear as a thumbnail at the bottom of the e-mail.
Doing no good: Unfortunately, people won't see the thumbnail unless they are also Gmail users and if they have this lab feature enabled as well. In addition, regardless of where you paste the link in relation to other text you might have written, the preview will appear in the bottom of the e-mail, never the top or middle.
Preview Pictures in Gmail
How it helps do no evil: Much like the YouTube add-on, this allows people to get a preview of pictures you took and uploaded to Web-based picture services. For now, there are add-ons for users of Picasa (from Google) or Flickr (from Yahoo). In the past, if you wanted previews of photos to appear in a Gmail message, you'd have to attach the pictures.
How to set it up: It works the same as the YouTube add-on. After you enable it, simply grab the link from Picasa or Flickr and paste it into the e-mail. The preview will appear at the bottom of the e-mail after it's sent.
Doing no good: As one of the Google developers wrote in the feedback threads for Gmail Labs, the Picasa Web Albums don't always work properly. Some simply won't load properly. In addition, this add-on has experienced some browser issues with Google's own Chrome, as well as versions of Apple Safari and Mozilla Firefox.
Yelp Previews In Gmail
How it helps do no evil: Yelp, the service for user-generated restaurant reviews, generally has specific web pages for popular restaurants. When you paste the unique URL for a restaurant's Yelp page into Gmail, this add-on will generate a preview (much like the aforementioned YouTube and Picasa add-ons). It will show the name, location, phone number, and phone number. It also displays how many stars the restaurant has garnered, and the amount of users who have reviewed it.
How to set it up: It works the same as the YouTube one. After you enable it, simply grab the link from Yelp and paste it into the e-mail. The preview will appear at the bottom of the e-mail after it's sent.
Doing no good: For me, it wouldn't load the address of the restaurant. It often just pulls up the neighborhood within the city. If the address could be added, it would be nice to see it automatically linked to Google Maps.
How it helps do no evil: If you accidentally send an e-mail, or if the moment you send one you have second thoughts, "Undo Send" is the add-on for you. After you send an e-mail, in the confirmation message, it will give you an "undo" link that you may click on to halt delivery. Caution: You only have five seconds before the "undo" link disappears. At that point, the message has been officially sent.
How to set it up: Simply enable it under the Labs tab and "save changes."
Doing no good: Five seconds isn't a lot of time to debate the merits of an e-mail, or to correct the mistake of accidentally sending one for that matter. I think 10, or maybe 20 seconds would be better. It should also have a count down clock after you send it before it becomes official. 22.214.171.124.1. Sent!