Gmail Labs goes straight from concept to crowd

6 Jun 2008

Google Labs has been around for a while, allowing users to test new products or services while they are in beta, but Google has just released Gmail Labs which is tucked away in settings on your Gmail account and acts as an instant sandbox for Google engineers looking to test different features on willing participants.

A new feature can be released instantly to the public: “The idea behind Labs is that any engineer can go to lunch, come up with a cool idea, code it up and ship it as a Labs feature,” said Keith Coleman, product manager, on the official Gmail blog.

“(Labs’ features will be available) to tens of millions of users. No design reviews, no product analysis and, to be honest, not that much testing.”

There are currently 13 test features, and Mouse Gestures is particularly useful. By holding down right click and moving your mouse to the left or right you can flip through your inbox to the next or previous mail.

I don’t recommend Old Snakey though – it allows you to play this retro computer game by pressing the ‘&’ button. It’s counter-productive and potentially enraging if you need to use the ‘&’ key regularly in your emails.

Importantly, if the feature is not useful, annoying or has some bugs, there is an escape hatch that allows quick exit from the Labs section.

“Some of the popular ones will become core parts of the product and we’ll eventually retire the ones that don’t get much use,” said Coleman, adding that a user has the ability to submit feedback and even discuss pros and cons with the engineers themselves. The future of web development?

By Marie Boran