Better Living Through Gmail
Written by Bwog Staff
2011 update: Some things have changed. Check out the latest guide!
Fresh-people, it’s the first day of school. If you haven’t switched from Cubmail to Gmail yet, something is terribly wrong. Being a Columbia student means dealing with e-mail. Craploads of it. You have an account through the school, but you’d do yourself a favor by getting a colorful Gmail account from our friends at Google. Why? Infinite storage space, accessibility from any computer, rapid-fire messages that don’t clutter your inbox, the best spam filter available, and a fun chat feature! Bwog dug through our archives to find Mark Holden’s September 2006 guide for how to forward your Cubmail to Gmail, and we’ve brought it up to date for your sanity’s sake.
First, you need to get a Gmail account, if you don’t have one already, and shame on you if you don’t. To sign up for an account, simply visit http://gmail.com and click the large “Create an account” button in the bottom-right corner. We’ll wait while you sign up and read the all-important Terms of Service; this one is super-long.
…Done? Good! Next, we need to forward all your Columbia mail to Gmail.
To do that, go to http://uni.columbia.edu, click “Login to Manage Your UNI Account,” and log in. Once logged in, click “Email Forwarding” under “Configure Mail Settings.” At the top of this page, click the “Forward” button. In the big box shown, enter your Gmail address. Since we don’t want your Cubmail quota to be filling up, uncheck “Keep a copy of messages in this account.” 2011 update: CUIT completely changed the way you set up e-mail forwarding! Now you have to log in with your UNI and password to INGO, a way to manage your Columbia email account. Once logged in, at the top of the page, click the “Forward” button. In the big box shown, enter your Gmail address. Since we don’t want your Cubmail quota to be filling up, uncheck “Keep a copy of messages in this account.”
See how difficult dealing with Columbia’s mail interface is? Luckily, this is the last time you’ll ever do so. Say your bitter goodbyes; if you feel any sort of nostalgia, slap yourself in the face right now.
Step 2: Set up your accounts
So now all your Columbia email is forwarded to your Gmail account. But you may be wondering — when I respond to a message someone sends me, will it show as my Columbia address or my Gmail address? This is especially important if you chose “hottchik6969” or something goofy like that for your Gmail name.
Fortunately, you can spare the world from your silliness. Log in to your shiny new Gmail account and click “Settings” in the top-right, then click the “Accounts and Import” tab. See the option “Send mail as?” Surprise surprise, that does exactly what it sounds like—it allows you to send mail from your Gmail account and have it appear as if it’s coming from another account.
Click “Send mail from another address.” Enter in your name and Columbia email address and click “Next Step.” On this screen, choose “Send through columbia.edu SMTP servers” and enter the following information:
- SMTP Server: send.columbia.edu
- Port: 465
- Username: [your UNI]
- Password: [the password associated with your UNI]
Select “Always use a secure connection (SSL) when sending mail” and click “Add Account.” It should crunch for a bit, but here comes the nifty part. Gmail sends a verification email to the account you’ve just specified to make sure you really own the account. But since your email is already forwarded, the e-mail goes straight to your Gmail account. So go to your inbox, grab the code, and verify your account!
You should now see a “When receiving a message” setting under the “Accounts and Import” tab. Select “Reply from the same address the message was sent to” so that when you send an email from Gmail it still shows up as from your Columbia email address. Voila! You can now receive and send email from your Columbia account in Gmail with no one on the outside world the wiser.
Go take a break and celebrate with some champagne.
Step 3: Be an e-mail packrat
Gmail gives you almost three 7.5 gigabytes of storage (and growing). That’s twelve thirty times as much as Cubmail offers. It’s enough so that you’ll probably never have to delete a message.
That, in fact, is Gmail’s great strength, and it’s where “archiving” comes in. Anything you want to be able to refer to later, highlight and press “Archive”–the message will leave your inbox, but be availible forever. To access archived messages, you can click “All Mail” on the left, or use Google’s immensely powerful search technology to find exactly what you want. Enter your query in the text box right next to the Gmail logo and hit enter to find any e-mail containing that search term. Voila! Here’s a further explanation of searching in Gmail. As with the keyboard shortcuts, it’s well worth spending some time now to learn the ropes. It will prevent much greater headaches later.
Step 4: Streamlining with labels and filters (or the “secondary inbox”)
You’ve probably used folders in the past to group your email (I’ll bet you had one for your college applications). Labels are similar to folders. The nifty thing about them, though, is that one message can have multiple labels at the same time. So if you have an email from one of your professors (label “classes” or “LitHum“) that’s really important and needs action soon, you can also apply the label “!important” to it so that you’ll remember to deal with it.
Pretty cool so far. But the real power of Gmail comes when you combine labels with filters. Supposing, for example, you’re a member of some campus group whose members are especially prolific with the email exchange (cough blueandwhite cough), you probably don’t want all those messages cluttering up your inbox. However, you do want an easy way to read and manage them. Enter filters.
Filters simply specify a certain set of actions Gmail should take when it receives an email that fits certain criteria. So for our imaginary student group’s mailing list, go to “Filters” under Settings, create a new filter, and enter for “From” some mailing list address. Here comes the magic. Go to the next step and tell Gmail to archive the message and apply a label for the group. Now, whenever you want to view the messages for that group, you can simply click the group’s label on the left. The label will even tell you how many unread messages there are! What you have created is in effect a secondary inbox within your main Gmail account. Don’t tell me that’s not useful.
Step 6: Priority Inbox
As if you needed another reason to forward your messages to Gmail, in the last few weeks, Google has been rolling out a brand-new feature called Priority Inbox for Gmail users. If you haven’t gotten this feature yet, it should come up as a little red link in the top right soon. Priority Inbox uses voodoo “algorithms” to figure out which emails are important and puts them in a “priority” inbox, in addition to applying your normal labels and filters. This means that, for example, emails from the mailing lists you interact with frequently will be put in the priority inbox whereas emails from other sources will be sorted into your regular inbox. Does your life feel a little better already?
Priority Inbox is still a new feature and obviously isn’t perfect. The fact is that it will get better over time, as it learns more about you and your emailing habits (the Future is here; be afraid). To help this process, you can manually prioritize or demote certain emails. To do this, select a message and press either the yellow flag with a plus to prioritize or the gray flag with a minus to demote.
The flags next to your messages might also highlight a previously unnoticed feature of Gmail: the “personal level indicators.” These really make dealing with mailing lists easier. If a message was sent to just you, two arrows (>>) appear next to the message. If a message was sent to a group, including you, one arrow (>) will appear next to the message. Finally, if the message was addressed to a mailing list that you’re a part of, no arrows will appear. Nifty!
Step 7: RTFM!
Look up this acronym. What I’ve discussed here only scratches the surface of the sophisticated uses to which you can put Gmail’s filters, labels, accounts, and forwarding if you’re creative. If you want to learn more, the best place is Gmail itself, then searching the web. Check out stuff in the Labs (the green flask in the top right). Read the help pages. Learn. It will pay off in saved time and headaches down the road.