It’s long been my opinion that Gmail is the best e-mail service there is for personal use. Period. More and more, though, I’m discovering that Gmail is a powerful webmail platform that small businesses can use to really take control of their online communication. I had a chat with a client last week where I explained the beauty and power of Gmail, and I thought my readers here might appreciate knowing what my client learned as well.

Enter Gmail

Gmail is, as they put it, Google’s approach to e-mail. Gmail is a free web-based e-mail service. The major benefits of Gmail versus other services are that it’s reliable, can be accessed anywhere, and that it gives you a ton of space to store e-mails and attachments (i.e. you’ll never delete anything again).

Conversations

My favourite part of Gmail is in the way it organizes messages. In run-of-the-mill e-mail software (think: Outlook, Hotmail, etc.) each e-mail is it’s own stand-alone item. When someone responds to an e-mail, it becomes a new, separate item in your inbox, with the previous e-mails being quoted in that item. So, if you have a long chain of e-mails between a few different people, it gets really tough to follow the chain of e-mails after a while. If you’ve ever had an e-mail chain going between four people, and each one of them responds, then you need to reply back again, you know how frustrating it can be to sort through things. Gmail solves that by organizing e-mails into “conversations”.

In a gmail conversation, each e-mail to someone the responses to those e-mails gets organized into a timeline. That way, all the emails are in a single place, organized chronologically. It’s incredible. You can actually follow how the conversation unfolded by just reading it top to bottom.

Reliability

I realize online storage may look like a downside for some, but I think of it as a huge bonus. I would trust Google’s servers to be more secure than my own computer. I think it’s way more likely that my personal computer crash than Google’s servers crash. Google has backups of their backups of their backups.  Their uptime (the proportion of time that their equipment is working and you can get to your e-mail) is at 99.99%. That’s pretty hard to beat if you ask me.

Access Your E-mail Anywhere

With Gmail, as with other web-based e-mail clients, you can get to your e-mail anywhere that has an internet connection. It’s that simple. You simply don’t need to be at your desk to check e-mail any more. In fact, you don’t even need a computer. You can get to your g-mail account with any smart phone. Back when I was a student, before smart phones were the “in” thing, I was able to read e-mail from my Gmail account on my Motorola Razr “dumb” phone.

Searching Works!

One of the amazing features that Gmail offers is its search tool. Sounds lame, right? Doesn’t every e-mail program have a search bar? That’s true, dear reader. But how many of them work? I’ve always found it a painful experience to try and search for a particular e-mail by using the search function on a program like Microsoft Outlook. In Gmail, though, when you search, you find. It’s just like Google’s search engine, but for your email, and it’s a beautiful thing. Simply put, it works.

Tags

The other thing that makes it easy to actually find e-mail in your account is the use of “tags” to categorize your e-mail. Tags are like folders, but with one important difference: an email conversation can have multiple tags, while you can only put an e-mail in a single folder. This may seem pretty minor, but it makes a world of difference. For example, let’s say you were working with folders, and you had two folders, one for “Family” e-mails, and the other for “Band Stuff”. Now let’s say your brother sent you an e-mail with a poster he designed for your band. Which folder do you put it in? Will you remember your choice a year from now when you’re looking for that e-mail. Maybe, but maybe not. With tags, you never run into this problem. You would simply assign a “Family” tag and a “Band” tag to that e-mail conversation. Then, when you’re searching through your e-mail, you can filter your list to see all your “Family” e-mails, or all your “Band” e-mails, and the one from your brother will come up in both lists.

Photo credit: Flickr/ Esparta Palma

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