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Updates from Gmail

GmailOver the last couple of months, Gmail has announced several exciting updates to its services and features. Here’s a quick rundown of a few of them.

First, and perhaps most exciting, is an update that isn’t directly about email. The folks at Gmail have extended users’ ability to make free calls using the Google Chat widget to numbers within the United States through the end of 2011. For more information, see the Gmail blog post, which will also guide you to instructions for setting up the calling feature.

Gmail has also announced a series of tweaks and improvements to Priority Inbox. As the announcement notes, these changes help the system learn more quickly from user input about the importance of messages. The system now also gives the user clues as to why something has been marked important; hover over the priority tag and a tooltip will tell you that the message has been labeled important because it was directly addressed to you, because you frequently read and reply to messages like it, or because of the Google “magic sauce.”

(An interesting side note here: the announcement of these tweaks to Priority Inbox also indicates that the system works; as the Gmail team notes: “Looking at median time in conversation view, we noticed that typical Priority Inbox users spend 43% more time reading important mail compared to unimportant, and 15% less time reading email overall as compared to Gmail users who don’t use Priority Inbox.”)

Google has also unveiled smart mute and unmute as an optional Labs feature. As the Gmail blog indicates, smart muting enables a user to tune out of an endless round of cc’d reply-all messages and to tune back in if a message in the conversation is addressed directly to you. Unmute has also been added to the “More actions” menu, so that you can start paying attention again to a conversation that takes an important turn.

Finally, Gmail now offers delegation to any Gmail user. Delegation, which was previously available only to Google Apps users, allows users to grant someone else access to their email accounts. This is of course useful for administrators whose assistants need access to their accounts, but also to allow collaborators on a project to share an email account for that project. Users who are given access to another email address will be able to switch quickly between their own account and the delegated account.

Are there other recent Google updates you’d like to hear more about? Or other updates you’d like to tell us about? Let us know in the comments!

[Creative Commons-licensed flickr photo by SOCIALisBETTER]

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