One of the Coolest Things About Gmail: The Filter Function
Gmail is one of the most popular email services available, and for good reason. It offers a vast array of features that make it efficient and easy to use. One of its most powerful features is its filter function. Properly set up, filters can add a lot of functionality to your Gmail account, saving you time and space, helping you get rid of unwanted emails, and turning your Gmail into an indispensable tool.
However, there are limitations to Gmail’s filter function that could be improved in the future. Some of these limitations include the inability to mark a post as read, difficulty in adding a large number of email addresses to a filter, and the inability to create live “smart folders”. Despite these limitations, the filter function is still cool, and here are some ideas on how to use it:
1. Killfile. If people send you too much junk mail, set up a simple filter that looks at the “from” field, and deletes any message that comes from an address you have added to the filter. This way, you don’t have to waste time going through your inbox deleting unwanted messages.
2. Booleans. The filter works much like Gmail’s search function, in that you can add search terms such as AND or OR or NOT. For instance, you can set up filters to look for emails from several people using OR, or set up filters to find emails that include all the words in a list using AND. You can even use search operator symbols to make it easier.
3. Other search terms. Beyond the common terms, your filters can use other terms such as “from:”, “to:”, “has:”, “is:”, “filename:”, and “label:”, to mention a few. Using these terms, you can make your filters even more powerful.
4. Send reminders to someone. Unfortunately, Gmail doesn’t have a feature that allows you to send delayed emails or reminders. Instead, sign up for a reminder email service to send reminders meant for other people to your Gmail address, and then set up filters to forward the reminders to various people depending on the subject or content of the email.
5. Calendar and log. Set up Google Calendar to send you reminders of appointments or events. You can set up a label called “events,” so that your reminders go straight to the label, star the message, and skip the inbox. This feature ensures that all your events are in one place, and you can un-star a message when you complete a task or attend an event.
6. To-dos. You can email yourself tasks you need to do and set up a filter that has your email address in both the “to” and “from” boxes, and which applies the label “to-do” to the message. This way, you can view all your to-dos in one filter. If you’re a fan of Getting Things Done (GTD), you could set up to-dos for each context (@work, @home, @errands, @phone, etc.), by creating different labels for each, and then setting up filters for different email addresses.
7. Follow-up. Having a follow-up label is essential, and you can simply set up a filter to put messages that need follow up in a label called “@follow.” When sending an email that needs follow up, put yourname+follow in the “bcc” field, and it will go into your “@follow” label. Be sure to check this label daily for updates.
8. Send spam to trash. Instead of having Gmail-filtered spam go into your Spam folder, set up a filter with “is:spam” in the “has the words” field, and “delete it” as the action. This way, all spam messages go into your trash folder.
9. Archived bookmarks. If you use bookmarking services, you can archive them all in a Gmail label called “bookmarks.” Get the feed urls for each of your bookmarking services, enter them in a forwarding service such as rssfwd.com, and then set up a filter to label them all “bookmarks”.
10. Attachments. If you get a lot of media sent to you, such as music files, videos, and photos, set up filters using “filename:wmv | filename:mov” for videos, “filename:mp3″ for music, “filename:jpg | filename:gif” for photos, or “filename:pdf | filename:doc” for documents. This way, you can quickly find any media.
11. Backups. Create a second Gmail account for storage, and create a filter to automatically forward emails with attachments (“has attachments”) to this second address. This way, you can delete old emails without guilt or worry.
12. Newsgroups or feeds. You can set up filters for your newsgroups, so they don’t clog up your inbox. Or forward your favorite feeds to your Gmail, and automatically label and archive them for later reading. Now you can access them from anywhere and search through your feeds.
13. Bloggers. If you run a blog, you can have all your blog’s comments and pingbacks automatically archived and labeled (“blog”), so your inbox doesn’t get filled up fast. Also, have your blog stat reports mailed to you and shunted to this label, so you can get a quick look at your blog’s success.
14. Delete old sent emails. You can set up a filter with “before:2006/06/01 label:sent” and “Delete it” as the action to delete old sent emails. Every month or so, update the date of this filter.
15. No delete. Some emails you don’t want to delete — those precious ones from your kids, for example, or maybe ones from your boss. Set up a label (“nodelete”) and a filter that puts the nodelete label on emails from (or to) the addresses you want. Now, some of the above filters, add the string “-nodelete” so that it doesn’t show these emails.
16. Flickr. Forward your Flickr account’s feed to your Gmail, with a filter to automatically label it. Now your photos are searchable through Gmail. You can also set up filters to send notices that certain tags in your Flickr account have new photos.
17. Notes. Email yourself notes on web research, on meetings, on books you’re reading, on classes you’re taking. Set up a filter to archive and label them (if you send notes to yourname+notes, for example). Now they’re accessible from anywhere and searchable.
18. Twitter. Use your mobile phone to send text messages or IM messages to Twitter, with a keyword at the beginning of each Twitter message. Forward your Twitter account’s feed to your Gmail, and set up filters for each type of keyword. This way you can send notes, to-dos, follow-up reminders, and more to your Gmail through Twitter.
19. Wildcard. Use the wildcard character (*) for companies that use multiple types of addresses from the same domain. One great use I’ve seen is to use the wildcard character for vendors such as Amazon or eBay to make it easier to track online purchases.
In conclusion, Gmail’s filter function is a powerful tool that every user should take advantage of. It saves time and helps to rid your inbox of unwanted emails while turning Gmail into a multi-functional tool. With these filter ideas, you can make Gmail even better and more efficient.