Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The greatest Google Mail feature you may not be using

There's a wonderfully powerful and subtle technique in Google Mail that can be used to enhance every reply you make to a mail: if you select an area of a message and then hit Reply only the selected text will be quoted in the response.

For example, here's an email I need to reply to:

If I simply hit Reply then the entire original message is quoted in the response:

But if I first select the piece that's important to me:

And then hit reply, only that part is in the response:

Use this to respond to just the right parts of a message and cut down those enormous chains of replies where the messages grow and grow and grow.

PS This feature has been disabled by default in Google Mail. You must enable it to use it.

If you enjoyed this blog post, you might enjoy my travel book for people interested in science and technology: The Geek Atlas. Signed copies of The Geek Atlas are available.


Blogger Mohammed Kashim said...

Seems like an important email. Are you sure you want to share it with the rest of the World?

8:53 PM  
Blogger Rod Salazar said...

That's a nigerian scam email

9:00 PM  
Blogger Rod Salazar said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

9:00 PM  
Blogger Erik Thayer said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

9:31 PM  
Blogger Erik Thayer said...

Also works the same way in the Mail.app on OSx

9:31 PM  
Blogger Paul Albrecht said...

This is the worst feature ever. I often accidentally select some letters. When hitting reply the whole quotet text gets lost.

9:37 PM  
Blogger Gabe da Silveira said...

@Paul - How do you "accidentally select some letters"? I'm sorry if you're not very good with a mouse or you have a weird faulty trackpad, but that doesn't make this a bad feature. For those of us who use Gmail day in and day out for a huge volume of email this is a tremendously useful feature.

9:42 PM  
OpenID marjancek said...

Wow; this is really incredible!
Desktop emailers should implement this!

Wait a second...

9:52 PM  
Blogger SpamKids said...

I don't like this feature because I usually select the text to read it. :)

10:06 PM  
Blogger bunwich said...

This feature has been available in Thunderbird for a while.

10:25 PM  
Blogger Dogsbody said...

Yeah, this has been in Thunderbird a while and does trip me up every now and then as I tend to highlight text as I read big paragraphs.

11:15 PM  
Blogger Kris Linquist said...

OS X's Mail application does this as well.

11:19 PM  
Blogger Bob Foster said...

Using a scam email as an example of how to selectively quote in your reply seems in bad taste. No one should reply to a scam email.

11:20 PM  
Blogger ege madra said...

@Paul Albrecht
Ditto. Same thing in thunderbird, always.

11:40 PM  
Blogger Paul Albrecht said...

Sometimes i select to copy dates, keywords or other material. Sometimes i just select words or text i am thinking about. Maybe im "not good with my mouse" when reading.
Im doing a LOT of emails and this does happen a few times a day.
My mailclient Sparrow does this too, and its really bad that its not optional.
Ok, the feature/idea is not bad but the implementation is.

11:51 PM  
Blogger Paul Albrecht said...

HackerNews Poll on selecting text while reading:


12:06 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I use this feature all the time. Earlier this week I upgraded to the new compose window and it completely removes this functionality. I ended up reverting back to the original view.

2:41 AM  
Blogger Pras said...

I was really amused when I found that Outlook did that. Really handy feature.

3:58 AM  
Blogger Lighton Phiri said...

Mozilla Thunderbird has that feature as well. I had no idea it could be done in GMail.

5:14 AM  
Blogger முத்துவேல் said...

is it applicable for Forward also ?

5:36 AM  
OpenID mhd said...

Quoting is still not quite optimal in gmail. For once, it continues the sad trend of making top-posting the email standard. Started by the inane quoting of Outlook, where you didn't have line-prefixes. Google has those, so it should at least give the option of properly starting below the quoted text.

Also, I always find manually deleting quoted text to be quite iffy, due to the quote-char (">") to colored line conversion. Often a line or paragraph ends up unquoted if you delete the wrong character, and the only way back is undo. Makes trimming quoted text and replying to individual parts below them (as is the One True Way) a bit difficult.

8:51 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Note that this doesn't work with the new compose view, which I beta'd for a few days. It also hides the text you've quoted *while* you're writing the email, which just seems like a terrible idea.

Still, it's better than Zimbra, which only lets you top-post, and doesn't even wrap lines correctly in the quoted text.

1:29 AM  
Blogger Tom.Gamma said...

I've been looking for some time for thoughtful discussion regarding Reply With History. Certainly your selection technique helps, but I wonder... is even that chunk of history needed?

If a reply is prompt, has a relevant subject line, and contains complete sentences, you don't need any history.

The "complete sentences" part is the key. Instead of requiring the reader to constantly switch contexts between the history and your reply to form a coherent thought, just write a coherent sentence instead.

I suppose I am old and cranky, steeped in many years of exchanging paper letters. The idea of receiving a copy of my original letter with the reply written on it would have been considered rude. Ok. I know things have changed.

4:37 PM  
Blogger Robbin Edgren said...

The big question is: was this a lab feature until very recently? Since everybody started talking about it just now, and I have been using it as long as I can remember.

3:16 PM  
Blogger Michael Jenny said...

Me 2. This way the New compose Window is completely unusable.

7:31 PM  

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