Tagging in Gmail

Gmail is not just an email client, but a rich, searchable database. Think of it as a data mining system. The more data that you allow to flow into Gmail, the more you'll get out of it - if it's organized.  Even better all of this information is available across any device and even offline […]

Gmail is not just an email client, but a rich, searchable database. Think of it as a data mining system. The more data that you allow to flow into Gmail, the more you'll get out of it - if it's organized.  Even better all of this information is available across any device and even offline using IMAP. In this post I want to offer tips on how to take full advantage of tagging information in Gmail.

GMail has labels, which are essentially tags, but they're unwieldy. You need to constantly manage them if you store a lot of info. It's a pain. I prefer to tag on the fly. And using GMail's unlimited plus addressing and filtering capabilities, you can.

Here's how:

  1. First, set up a filter in GMail so that all mail from the prefix of your email address to that prefix is auto-archived and marked as read. For e.g. this means mail from foobar to foobar. This will ensure that the emails do not show up in your inbox.
  2. Next, as I find information I want to collect, I email it to myself using Ubiquity, Google Toolbar for Firefox offers a similar email capability. However, instead of emailing it to just my regular email address I add a tag to the prefix by tacking a word on to the address with a plus symbol. To add multiple tags I send the message to multiple plus addresses all at once.

    For example, Nielsen just published some interesting data about health and social networking. I know I might need this later so I select the article and invoke my email command in Ubiquity and send the message to both foobar+health@gmail.com and foobar+socialnetworking@gmail.com. The article never hits my inbox. It gets autoarchived where I can get it later.

  3. Now if I want to find everything I have tagged under health and social networking, all I need to do is search for to:+health or to:+socialnetworking and bingo, the article turns up.
  4. Finally, you need to make your tags easily accessible. Searching for these keywords every time is a pain. The solution is to use GMail Quick Links. For tags I access regularly I pull up the search in GMail and either bookmark them in my browser or add them as a Quick Link in GMail. (Note you need to enable Gmail Labs first in the settings.)