Simplify your email

I don’t normally do a lot of work with social media in the evenings. That’s family time and normally we’re out doing something. But, with the rain last night, we were home and I had my laptop open on the table next to me.

This message from Peter Beens flew by…

If you’re a Gmail user you need this extension. It took me all of 10 seconds to decide I’m keeping it. The only thing I miss is the Apps icon but it’s not a big deal. Thank you @leggett!
“The former lead designer of Gmail just fixed Gmail on his own”— Peter Beens (@pbeens) April 25, 2019

Now, Peter is one of my go-to people for sharing information about Google so I grabbed the laptop and read the article.


As I’ve lamented on this blog before, I miss the Inbox program from Google. Like many, I hoped that its impact would have changed Gmail. Sadly, some of the features have but the overall look is much the same. I’ve looked for replacements and haven’t had much luck but the story above looked interesting.

A quick download later and I was in business. My first reaction was the Gmail didn’t fully load! I’d been used to so much cruft. I clicked through and read the documentation from the developer. Click through and see the screen captures to get a sense of how he did Simplify Gmail.

He explained that the extension was mostly CSS and gave the obligatory promise about not stealing your information. So, I’m playing around with it and I really like it.

So, kudos to Peter for staying ahead of the curve and sharing his learning. After all, that’s why we create and maintain learning networks, isn’t it? I do agree with Peter that the Application Launcher would be nice. I also use the right sidebar quite a bit and was pleased to see that it was reduced to a popup button in the bottom right corner of the screen.

As it would happen, a story talking about this extension appeared in my morning reading. But, thanks to Peter, I had scooped the information 12 hours in advance.

You can download the extension and try it out for yourself here. If you’re a longtime Gmail user, it make a bit of getting used to it. Your screen is just so clean!


Two Gmail Features I’m Liking

I use Gmail as my email service to mange all things social.  So, if I email subscribe to a blog, follow a mailing list, subscribe to a service, it goes there.  I really wanted the address but I was slow off the marks and someone else has it.  Oh well.  Them’s the breaks.

For the longest time, managing this account was brutal.  No matter what I’d do, it seems, the number of unread messages continued to pile up.  It’s like the banner on Jenny Luca‘s blog: “Getting Information off the Internet is like taking a drink from a fire hydrant”.  I just couldn’t seem to totally manage it.  The best tool that cam along was Mailbox for iPad but I’m not always doing my reading there.  Reading on computer just gives one big queue of messages.  Sure, Google had created the option for a priority mailbox, and that helped with the filtering, but never quite got me to the mythical inbox zero.

Then recently came a makeover to the mailbox.  Somehow, Google is able to make decisions and filter my incoming for me.

Somehow by classifying messages, I now have gained control over my mailbox.  I actually had knocked things down to nothing unread when I started writing.  A screen capture later and you can see that it’s growing…

and growing…

There must be something psychological happening here.  I can open my mail on the computer and actually tackle it all.  I start with Primary where personal email comes and then just work my way across the tabs.  I’ll never go back.  Should you want, you can go into your settings and go back to your Priority Inbox.  I tried it once just to experience nostalgia from last week and it seems so archaic now!

When I step back and really think about the “why” this works, I think it speaks volumes about the modern browsing experience.  Whether I’m using Chrome, Firefox, or Opera Next, I have numerous tabs open.  Rather than a single browsing space, I have a bunch of them.  Each tab, in effect, filters my browsing experience.  The leftmost tab is always open to Hootsuite.  Within Hootsuite, I have a number of columns (tabs, if you will) open at any point in time.  These columns allow me to focus my attention based upon the theme of the column.  Whether it’s News Feed, Mentions, Ontario Educators, Ontario Educators 2, Inbox, Outbox, Keynote Speakers, etc., they’re all devoted to a particular theme.  I don’t know if it’s safe to say that I’m wired now to think in columns or tabs, but whatever it is, it just seems to work.

So, the second feature.

I’m a real fan when a developer does her/his best to focus you on the task when there are so many other distractions.  The “New Compose” window does a terrific job of that.

There’s a couple of really nice features.

First, everything but your new message is darkened so that your message stands out on top.  When I’m writing an email, I don’t need anything else on the screen to distract me.  Unlike the previous Compose which sort of took over the bottom right corner of the screen, I like the clean and functional way the new version gets you right on task.  To make things even better, although it freaked me out the first time I experienced it, once you address your email, it gets hidden to give you even more real estate on the screen for your message.  It’s just another wonderful usability feature.

Gmail certainly has been an outstanding success in the Google set of products.  It’s good to see that it’s still not “finished” and that new ways to make us more productive around the seemingly simple task of managing email.

Determining What Calls Home

I’ve done some thinking about computer security and privacy over the past while.  It’s been precipitated by conversations with Gust Mees.  It’s good thinking.

We’re all in the same boat.  Just think of the number of times you’ve clicked the checkbox beside this.

  • My team of lawyers and I have read and studied your terms and conditions and we’re cool with agreeing to your rules and the fact that you’ll be accessing some of my private information on this device.  

I know that you’ve done it because you’re using a computer with an operating system and a web browser so you’ve already done the above twice.  (Unless, of course, you’re using someone else’s computer and they’ve already given permission on your behalf.)

This morning’s reading led me to a free application called “Permissions Explorer“.  Of course, my lawyers and I looked through the individual applications as they were being installed but once installed, they’ve got a little out of mind.

I installed it this morning and liked its legal terms –

“/* No permission required to use this app, no ads. Does only what you want it to do */”

So, I decided to put it through its paces.  I was quite impressed with its completeness.

Upon first launch, a menu indicates just what areas of privacy/security it will investigate.

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Ever curious, I decided to work my way through them.  For example, what 61 applications do I have that have access to my contacts?

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As I looked through them, I can see why.  After all, FirstClass and Gmail are the two email systems that I use on a daily basis.  It only makes sense that they have access to my contacts.  It was through exploring the rest of the applications that I became intrigued and really immersed in the exercise.

The next step is to ascertain what resources the applications have permission to use.

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Interesting!  I’ve got 66 ways to vibrate this device.

Look at the number that have access to the internet.  They will all have their purpose – Internet browsers, of course.  Email clients, for sure.  FourSquare?  That’s how you’ll know that I’m walking the dog at the Navy Yard.  It’s interesting to go through the list and  wonder about some of the less obvious ones.

There were a few surprises in the exercise but, for the most part, the results made a great deal of sense.  I’d really like to lay my hands on similar applications for all the major devices.

In the classroom, I think that they could be used very successfully to generate an awareness and a discussion about how students are connected and just what that means.

It would even be an enlightening exercise to generate a report and then look at all the applications that are on school or home provided computers and classify them as “necessary”, “unnecessary”, or “I wonder why”.

It might even generate more interest in looking at the legal terms and conditions the next time you install an application or sign up for a web service.

Self-Analysis of Twitter Etiquette

I read this post from Malhar Bahai “12 Most Basic Twitter Etiquette Tips” and found it really hit the mark.  Just sharing it was too simple so I decided to use it as a checkup for myself.  Here are my thoughts…

1. Don’t be an Egg Head

Got it!  I absolutely agree.  Personally, I generally won’t follow someone who hasn’t taken the time to change the default avatar.  Mine was from a bigger picture taken by Andy Forgrave at an OTF Teaching and Learning in the 21st Century Event.  I just cropped out the person I was helping at the time!  

Related to that, I do think twice before following someone with a cartoon avatar.  I really want to follow serious people and I think that using a real picture shows that they’re ready for transparency from the get-go.

2. Have a bio

Got it!  I really like RebelMouse for what else it offers.  While Twitter shares what you’re doing NOW, RebelMouse shares what you’ve done recently…automatically.

3. Short username

I’ve been dougpete wherever possible since the days of ENOREO and they created user names with first four, first four.  It’s me virtually everywhere except someone snagged the Gmail account before I could.

4. Tweet less than 140

I don’t conscientiously think about this until I go to reTweet someone else’s message and I realize that I’ve got to shorten it to fit.  This is good advice.

5. DM only if necessary

Got it!  I also notice that DMs don’t always get addressed by the recipient.  I think most of us are just accustomed to doing things out in the open.  I’m bad at finding and replying to them myself.

6. High volume warning

D’oh!  I don’t think I’ve ever done that.  It’s probably good advice.

7. Use # tags appropriately

I tend to use Hashtags when I’m actually at an event.  Otherwise, not so much.  I agree with the sentiment that including a string of hashtags is something to be avoided.

8. Engage — Twitter is not a monologue

I try to do that.  I wish that I had time to do more.  There are so many good people and so many good things to talk about.

9. Share/promote others

I honestly try my best to do that.  I think that’s the best way to engage people because everyone likes hearing good things about themselves.  When the urge to do otherwise hits, I just try to bite my tongue and move on.

10. Respond to others in a timely manner

Got it!  I try to do that.  Like most people these days, I have a Twitter client on my phone and try to get back to people as soon as I can.  I feel badly if I’m in the middle of working on a program or something and flip over to see that there’s a conversation that I should be in and I’m missing out.

11. Mind your manners, be gentle

Got it!  I remember hearing or reading this once.  “Never miss a chance to make a good first impression”.   I think it’s important to remember that, even if you’re having a conversation with someone that you know well, you just might be spotted by someone new for the first time.  What will they think?  We tell students to proofread and think before hitting send – it’s good advice for us too.

12. Thank often

I definitely don’t do this enough.  From the bottom of my heart, thank you so much to those of you who enrich my time online.  Your thoughts and teachings are so appreciated.

How did I do?  Why not try the twelve tips on yourself?  How do YOU fare?