Where Gmail Notes Are Used

Some people are thrilled to learn about Gmail Notes and can't wait to start using it. Others are left wondering what the big deal is about adding notes to Gmail conversations. If you are in the latter category, and are curious about what we use Gmail Notes for, here are the top dozen or so reasons. In no particular order:

Newsgroup digests: (Believe it or not, this is the original reason we developed Gmail Notes.) Many of us receive daily email digests from newsgroups of interest. Each digest might have 2-10 messages, most of which aren't of interest, so most digest emails get deleted. Once in awhile, however, there is something good in a digest that we want to keep it for future reference. By attaching a note to the digest, we can remind ourselves why the digest is important to us and identify the specific messages that are relevant to our interest.

Important emails: Just like newsgroup digests, some emails contain "good stuff", that is, information that we can foresee being useful at some point in the future. In those situations, we like to add a note reminding us what is in there that caught our attention.

Attachment info: Sometimes email is used to send one or more files from one person to another. In many cases, the sender doesn't do a good job identifying the purpose or describing what the files are and/or why they are sent. So when the subject line says something like "Here it is", we will add a note with more descriptive information, like "Attachment is the template file to use for all new web pages".

Downloaded file name/location: And if we download an attachment to a Gmail message, we also like to create a note indicating what folder the file was saved or moved to, and/or if we renamed the file. That helps prevent downloading the same thing multiple times.

Login info or hints: When you sign up for some new web service, you typically get a confirmation email and maybe a friendly welcome message. When we get one of those emails, we like to attach a Gmail Note with our login information, or if it is a really sensitive site, a reminder that will let us reconstruct the username and password. (We like attaching that info to our Gmail message so that it goes with us when we change computers.)

Summaries of long email threads: Email threads can get very long sometimes. Once there are more than five or so messages in a conversation, we sometimes add a note with a synopsis of the messages to date. That way, when a new message comes in on the same thread, we can get back up to speed quickly.

Linking split email threads: Sometimes long email threads get "split" because someone starts a new thread in order to avoid sending a big set of embedded reply messages. (Gmail users don't have this problem, since Gmail collapses previous messages.) Since Gmail assigns a unique and persistent URI to each message thread, we can link two threads together by adding notes to each thread listing the URI to the other thread. Not particularly elegant, but it sure beats losing part of the conversation.

Outlining before writing: Sometimes we want to write down some thoughts to review before authoring a new/reply message. Although we could do that as a draft message, we prefer using a note, where we don't have to be careful not to send it by accident. More importantly, with Gmail Notes it is easy to see our outline/notes while we draft the new message. Interestingly, once the Gmail message is sent, we usually do NOT delete the note, because it has some additional information that didn't end up in the message, but we want to keep around for future reference.

Doing before writing: In addition to planning the words to put in a reply, we sometimes create a little checklist of things we should do — people to consult with, papers to read, etc. — before drafting our message. Of course there are other task management software programs for this, but we like something that is tied to the email thread.

Summaries of phone or in-person discussions: Sometimes, instead of replying to an email message, we call the person so that we can discuss the matter in more detail or more quickly than is possible with email. In those situations, we like to attach a note to the email summarizing the discussions.

Incoming fax info: We use a fax-to-email service, so that an incoming fax is sent to us as an attachment to an email. The subject of the fax email only indicates the phone number of the sending fax machine (for example, "fax received from 800-555-1212") and we have to open the attachment to see what the fax. To avoid opening too many files, especially when looking for some particular fax, we attach a note to prompt our memory without having to open the attachment.

Tracking ebay shipments: This might seem a little odd, but when one of us buys something on ebay, he likes to keep track of how long it takes for the seller to actually ship the item, and how long it takes the shipper to deliver it. Although this isn't important enough for him to create a spreadsheet, he does record this stuff in a note attached to the "Congratulations" email from ebay. Go figure...

Afterthoughts: On more than one occasion, we send an email and an hour later say to ourselves "gee I wish I would have sent this instead". Although we can't do anything about the original email, we attach a note with the better idea, in case we get a chance to reply sometime in the future.

Personal reminders: In today's flat world, we don't always know much about the person at the other end of the an email conversation. Sometimes we like to add a note with some personal information, for example, "this came from the guy I met at the last conference who told me about interframe scripting". Although that might be better suited in the Gmail Contacts page, we often put the notation in Gmail Notes first.