Gmail add-ons stretch boundaries

Email providers are notoriously cagey about releasing user figures, but by some measures Gmail surpassed Hotmail as the world’s most-popular email server in 2012, and with good reason. Great search capability and huge amounts of storage quickly made anyone with a Hotmail email address suddenly look terribly 1990s.

While Google is currently rolling out an email organiser add-on called Inbox by Gmail, you have to wait for an invitation to try it out. In the meantime, add-ons such as Boomerang and Streak are helping to turn the old-fashioned email inbox into a workflow system for your entire business, and as Streak currently offers a more comprehensive service free of charge, it’s the one that’s winning my affection right now.

Streak bills itself as a customer relationship management system, but it’s customisable enough to be useful to just about everyone who wants to get on top of their emails. While you can start from scratch when designing a workflow system that works for you, there are more than a dozen pre-set options to choose, including everything from wedding or holiday planning to sales, product development and fundraising.

Once the extension is installed, your Gmail homepage will look the same, except for a few extra buttons. The sidebar where your inboxes and outboxes are listed now has an extra item, Pipelines. Let’s say I pitch a feature to my editor: I can add that email to my “journalism” pipeline, creating a new “box” for that particular story.

If other emails relating to this story build up, I can add them to the box, and the same goes for images and files. As the story moves through the process of commissioning, editing, publication and invoicing, I physically move it along the different headings of the pipeline. This way, I can see at a glance what stories I have at which stage of development. A similar process, of course, applies to anything from event planning to building a new start-up.

There are lots of tools to make life easier along the way, such as a service that lets me know when my emails have been read by the recipient, and a “snooze” function which reminds you to chase up emails that haven’t received a reply.


Jessica Holland reveals the advantages of signing up for Streak:

Wait, it tells you when someone’s read my email? That means other people know if I’ve read their email and am ignoring them? I’m quitting the internet.

Whoa there. Services like BlackBerry Messenger have had this function for years. I’m afraid it’s true, but on the up side, it’s incredibly useful for figuring out when to follow up on important emails.

I already have a CRM that integrates with my work email, and I don’t want to faff around with pipelines. Why should I install Streak on my personal account?

It has a few tools that are widely useful, like a function that allows you to write emails and then schedule them to leave your outbox at a later time. “Snippets” allows you to quickly and easily create canned responses to replace phrases you have to type over and over. Mail merge allows you to send a whole bunch of personalised messages at once and reminders can make sure you never let an unanswered email drop off your radar.

Can I share my pipelines with colleagues?

Yes, you can choose whether to keep your pipelines private or allow other people to share and edit them.

And all this is free?

As always, you can pay for an upgrade for services like email filtering and reports, which give you statistics about your pipelines. Currently, though, all the features mentioned above come as part of the free package.

Who should I thank?

The same small, San Francisco-based start-up behind the encryption add-on Secure Mail for Gmail.

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