G is for gaps

March 13, 2012

While trying to set up some more intelligent Gmail filters, I’ve become aware of three frustrating gaps in the system:

  1. When I first used Outlook, about 10 years ago, I was delighted when I discovered that it was possible to highlight all the emails which were sent only to me. Simply changing the colour of these entries in my inbox made it easier to see at a glance which emails were expecting my personal attention, and therefore easier to prioritise accordingly.

    Given that this had been possible in Outlook for so long, I assumed it would be trivial to reproduce this effect with Gmail’s filters… but it appears not. You can filter on to:me, but this doesn’t exclude emails sent to you and others. You can filter out individual email addresses (e.g. filtering the To: field on me, -joe.bloggs@example.com will find the messages sent to you but not to Joe Bloggs) or wildcards (e.g. -*@example.com will filter out any emails sent to a recipient at example.com), but there doesn’t appear to be a valid wildcard which will match all email addresses other than your own.

    The most annoying thing is that Gmail nearly makes this filter possible with its Personal Level Indicators. Switching on this feature annotates the emails in your inbox with a “>” if the mail was sent to you and others, or a “>>” if it was sent only to you; this is useful, but there is still no way to sort or filter on this property.

    (Priority Inbox is another option which is heading in the right direction but still not quite what I want.)

  2. I like the idea of Google Tasks; I like the fact that I can move an email to the Tasks list or create a task independently of an email. I have two other accounts that I use as well as my gmail account, though; and I’m often checking email from my iPhone rather than a desktop/web client, so it’s harder to interact with the Tasks list directly. What I really want to be able to do is email a task to myself (or bounce an email from another account); ideally, I’d use plus-addressing and filters to do this — that is, filter anything sent to myusername+task@gmail.com straight into the Tasks list, so that I can set up an alias to that email address in other accounts. However, there doesn’t seem to be any way to apply a filter which will move an email straight to the Tasks list when it’s received.

  3. Related to the above, but slightly more obscure (and probably not compatible with the above): I want to be able to use plus-addressing to assign labels to the things I bounce into gmail from my other account. I can do this if I set up a filter for that label, e.g. I can get the ‘badger’ label applied to any email sent to janetmck+badger@gmail.com; but I don’t want to have to remember to create a new filter every time I add a new label. What I want is to be able to say that email sent to janetmck+(.+?)@gmail.com should be assigned label:$1, ie use the bit after the ‘plus’ to determine what the label should be.

Am I just missing something here? I’d be delighted to be told that the only gap here is between my ears, and that any of these things are actually possible!