Gmail can greatly enhance your email experience, even for your non-Google accounts if you learn a few tricks.
(Update (4/3/07): A year has passed and a lot has changed. Check out my new post here. )
Reading Paul Kedrosky’s and Michael Parekh’s recent posts on the limits of Gmail storage prompted me to list the bag of tricks that made my life easier. Note: I’m still not entirely online, have a lot of stuff on my desktop and am enslaved in Outlook-prison.
Multiple Gmail Accounts and aliases. We probably all do this: have a separate account for personal, blogging, subscriptions …etc use. POP-download all, or use forwarding between the accounts. Here’s a trick: the firstname.lastname@example.org format. Your core gmail account is email@example.com, but anything addressed in the “+alias” format will end up in your inbox. That way you can separate your subscriptions, different banks, brokers, airlines ..etc by setting up matching labels and corresponding auto-filters to assign the labels in gmail.
- Having said that, my most important Gmail account is the one that I don’t use at all. It’s my archive account.
All-In-One Searchable Archive.
- Transferring historical data Like Paul, I also made Gmail my overall email archive. However, forwarding current email is of little value to me unless I can get ALL my historical email (those ugly Outlook archive.pst files dating back to the mid-90’s) dumped into ONE gmail account. There are several “gmail-loader” tools on the Net, none of which are up to the task, IMHO. Some simply don’t work, others change the original sender information to the email account they use – pretty bad. The simple solution is using Thunderbird with a redirect extension. Steps to achieve this:
- Open old archive.pst files in Outlook
- Import all Outlook email into Outlook Express
- Import from Outlook Express into Thunderbird. (Yes, I know, Outlook > Thunderbird directly looks like a simpler process, but for some reason the direct import takes forever – we’re talking about a day for 1G of stuff … the extra steps saves a lot of time, don’t ask me why)
- Download the Mail Redirect extension for Thunderbird.
- Select all your email and redirect them to your gmail account. The whole process will likely take hours, but it’s worth it.
- Optional step: set up gmail labels that match your Outlook folders / categories / archive files, and do the transfer in batches matching those groups. On the gmail end set an autofilter that assigns the relevant label to ALL incoming email. Obviously change the label for all new batch.
- Forwarding all current email
- Setting up auto-forwarding for your incoming email is a no-brainer. The ideal choice is to do it server-side, before it hits your Outlook (or whatever email client). Unfortunately the choice with most ISP’s and email hosts is either POP or forwarding. The service I use (1and1) allows 3 simultaneous destinations for inbound email: inbox (for POP access) and two forwarding targets. When forwarding several (ALL) email accounts, you can use the alias-trick, i.e. forward to firstname.lastname@example.org and autolabel accordingly.
- You’ll need to forward all your outgoing email, and while using the BCC option is a more discreet approach, unbelievably Outlook does not have a rule for auto-BCC. Hidden BCC is a great little tool to help with this, and at about $3 it’s as inexpensive as it gets … Remember to use the alias-trick for your forwarding address, i.e. email@example.com.
- Managing your account
- Don’t ever use this email address / account directly; this is exclusively your personal archive.
- With the above + using the alias trick, no email should ever directly be sent to this address, you can safely set an autofilter that moves everything that still arrives to firstname.lastname@example.org into the trash.
- If you ever run short of space (see Paul’s concern), just create another gmail account. No need to notify anyone, this is passive searchable storage, remember? This is unlikely though, considering that Google continuously increases the available capacity, and if it still happens, you can separate the two archives by calendar year.
SPAM-filter for non-gmail accounts
“Spam detection and filtering in Gmail is as good as Yahoo’s SpamGuard” says Jeremy Zawodny. He probably meant it as a compliment, but my impression is that Gmail is far better; I left yahoo email specifically because of the insurmountable amount of spam. Gmail meets the two fundamental criteria: it catches all spam, and does not generate false positives.
- Using gmail directly.
Of course a very simplistic approach is to forward all your email to a gmail address, have it spam-checked and pick it up from there, while making sure your outgoing email setup always shows the non-gmail address. If you’re like me and have reasons to directly use your non-gmail servers, the following will do the trick.
- Indirectly We’ll set up all inbound email to make a round-trip to gmail and get spam-filtered there.
- Set up a gmail account to forward ALL inbound email to your primary, non-gmail address. (email@example.com)
- Set up a server-side filter on your your primary (non-gmail) account to examine the message header and look for this string: “X-Forwarded-For: firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com “ . Any email not containing this string should be forwarded to gmail. In other words, only email on it’s way back from the gmail spam-check will get into your inbox, everything else will be forwarded.
The target gmail account for the Spam filtering and Archiving could be the same, you just have to make sure to set the gmail forwarding rule to also keep an archived copy of all email locally.
Get even more productive
By using less email … but that’s the subject of another post (hint: Think Wiki)