Google Feb. 24 said it is advancing six features in its Gmail Labs and retiring five, a sign the company's programmers are dutifully keeping up with user interest or lack thereof in the experimental tools.
Graduates include Search Autocomplete, Go To Label, Forgotten Attachment Detector, YouTube Previews, Custom Label Colors and Vacation Dates.
Muzzle, which conserves screen real estate by hiding Gmail contacts' status messages, Fixed Width Font, E-mail Addict, which lets users block the screen for 15 minutes to take a break, Location in Signature, and Random Signature, which rotates e-mail signatures, will all be turned off in the next few days.
Google launched Gmail Labs in June 2008 to let software programmers for its Gmail application write new features to augment Gmail's functionality. Features that made the grade would "graduate;" features that failed to spark interest would be retired.
With the Labs' feature list growing to about 60, the Tasks to-do list feature became a standard part of Gmail in July, with Offline Gmail getting a promotion in December. Right-side labels were retired last July.
If nothing else, Google's Gmail team is watching what the 176 million Gmail users are doing in the Webmail app. Gmail Software Engineer Mark Knichel noted:
"We've received countless comments and kept an eye on our stats: some of these experimental features were adopted by millions and others trickled along with little usage... Today, true to the original intent of Gmail Labs, we're graduating six more features and retiring five."
Knichel said Gmail Labs team improved some of the graduating features before making them default Gmail features.
In one such instance, Google combined Go To Label with Search Autocomplete to make it easier for users to search Gmail.
Go To Label has also been integrated into this search box. Gmail users of keyboard shortcuts can type "g" then "l" and instead of getting the old "Go to label" pop-up, they will surface in the search box with the "label:" operator filled in for users to begin typing the label they want to go to.
What will be interesting to see is the interplay of Gmail Labs features with the Gmail-hosted Google Buzz application, which leverages Gmail contacts to build a social network of conversations. Google Buzz already leverages the same keyboard shortcuts and formatting tools as Gmail.
Will Gmail Labs features such as SMS Chat and other tools find their way into Buzz? It's quite possible. Google officials have said the Buzz programming team will constantly iterate on the product.