Google's Gmail team has altered its labels feature in a major way, moving them to the left of the in-box, and adding drag and drop and other navigation capabilities. These changes are rolling out today, July 1.
Gmail labels essentially do what folders do, but let users add more than one to a conversation. Once you create a label, you can view all the messages with that label by searching, or by clicking the label name along the left side of any Gmail page.
Google has now moved labels above the chat list, grouped together with Inbox, Drafts, Chats and other labels. Previously, Google kept labels in the lower left-hand corner of the in-box navigation screen.
Michael Leggett, a Gmail user experience designer, said only 29 percent of Gmail users were using labels, which he attributed to them being hidden from the user: "Not only were 'labels' unfamiliar, they were kind of hidden. So, we set out to make labels more accessible, as well as more powerful."
To wit, users now have control over which labels are showing, and may choose to show, hide or delete a label by clicking the down arrow to the left of that label. To edit labels in bulk, go to the Labels tab under Settings.
Do you love that you can drag and drop e-mail messages into your folders in e-mail clients such as Outlook? You can now drag messages into labels the same way. You can also drag labels onto messages. To label or move many messages at once, select the messages and then drag and drop the label.
Google said you can also drag labels into the "More" menu to hide them and vice versa instead of going to the Settings menu to add or drop labels.
These changes made it easier for Google to squash its Right-Side Labels experimental Gmail Labs feature, as Google Software Engineer Damian Gajda wrote:
"Now that labels aren't in their own little box and take up much less space, moving them around the screen didn't seem as important. We realize quite a few of you used and liked Right-side Labels, so if you feel strapped for left nav screen real estate without it, try turning on Right-side Chat in Labs instead."
More interestingly, Google said Right-Side Labels is the first Labs feature it's retiring, adding that "the idea behind Labs was always that things could break or disappear at any time or they might work so well that they become regular features. More on that soon."
My question are: What does Google mean by that? More on what soon? More Gmail feature squashing, or regular feature inclusion, or both?
I'm asking because the Gmail text chat feature has been knocked out for a week now. Could Google be considering nixing that feature, which has proven mighty popular and sometimes invaluable to users? Google's Gmail team doesn't want that blood on its hands.
UPDATE: A Google spokesperson got back to me with the following: "We're currently working on reinstating SMS chat, which means that it's only temporarily disabled. We will be retiring some Labs features, but we haven't yet decided which ones."
Circling back, if you're a labels user, I'd love to hear what you think about the move. If you aren't a labels user, will you consider it now that Google has made these changes?