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Oct 8

How to use Gmail as an Issue tracker

Posted on Monday, October 8, 2012 in User

If you are working on any project  (technical or otherwise), it is often necessary to have an issue tracker or “to-do” list which pending issues are tracked. There are many services which have been developed to fulfill this need, like Trac, Redmine, ChiliProject which offer self-hosted solutions, as well as others like GitHub issues and Trello which offer hosted solutions for tracking tasks and issues. And then comes the work of triaging and prioritizing…

Often times, issues are raised through email and you respond and have to track that issue to completion in your email. This is especially relevant in user support where help is requested through email. One such system which is built around email is IssueBurner. IssueBurner allows you to forward your emails to a specially assigned email and then be able to track them as issues.

As an alternative to the above solutions, I have been able to realize an issue tracker system using only the free Gmail service. Two Gmail features come in very handy in this regard: superstars and inbox sections. Gmail superstars is a feature which enables you to star messages not just with the yellow star, but also with a red bang, green tick, blue star and much more.

Superstars can be enabled and arranged under Settings -> General. For my issue tracker, I use 3 stars – a red bang, green tick and yellow star – in that order. But you could add more if you wanted to indicate more intermediate states.

Next step is to go to Settings -> Inbox and arrange your inbox sections so that you have the sections “Unread, Starred, Everything else” in that order. Also, under ‘Options’, set the Unread section to “Hide section when empty”.

Now you are all set, whenever you get new email, you always see the unread mails at the top. When you read and star a message, it moves to the starred section and has the red bang. When the issue is complete, you can click on the star again to give it a green tick. Combine this with conversation view and you have a fully functional issue tracking/user support system based only on email. The end result should look something like this:

When there are no unread emails, only the ‘Starred’ and ‘Everything else’ sections are displayed. Now you have a complete issue tracker which lets you keep track of issues in progress. If you are sharing the support email with others, you could use another star to indicate when an issue has been assigned to someone. Go forth now and track all the things!!

Jun 22

How to backup email with GMail

Posted on Wednesday, June 22, 2011 in User

In my previous post on email backup, I demonstrated how to backup email to a Storage folder in Windows Live Mail. Today, we’ll be looking at another alternative for archiving email when you are short on inbox space (remember I had just 48MB).

With the current talk of cloud computing, it will be nice if you could access your email backups from anywhere at anytime. Of course, you can do this by uploading your backups to a storage service regularly, but I am looking for a more automated solution which allows me to also search my email archive at any time. This is where GMail comes in.

If you are using GMail, (which is one of the best email services around) then you may or may not be aware of a little nifty feature which allows you to import mail from other email accounts. The only requirement is that your email provider support the POP3 protocol. The email import setting can be found in

Settings –> Accounts and Import –> Check mail using POP3 –> Add POP3 email account.

Once you click on ‘Add POP3 email account’, a popup window will be opened where you can input the email address of the account which you want to import. Give the email and click next. You will then see a window like this:

add_pop3_account_in_gmail

You can now enter the username and password for the email account, as well as the POP server address. Most POP server addresses are something like pop.emailprovider.com or mail.emailprovider.com, but check with your email provider to be sure what the address is. It will normally be found on the same page which describes email client configuration settings.

The same goes for the port. For POP, the default port is 110, but if you  check the box “Always use a secure connection …”, then you need to select port 995. Using a secure connection means that eavesdroppers cannot view your emails while they are in transit from your email provider into GMail and I recommend you check that box.

You can then choose to label the messages with the email address or provide a custom label. In my case, I also opted to leave a copy of messages on the server and skip the GMail inbox, since I am only using GMail for backup of the other account messages. Click Add Account and you are done. If GMail had any issues connecting to the mail server, it will let you know so you can adjust the settings accordingly.

Your email is now regularly imported and searchable in your GMail. GMail also nicely applies conversation view to the imported email and when you click on ‘Reply’, GMail uses your email address from the other account in the ‘From’ field. Your contacts would see the mail as coming from your other email account.

Now, whenever other inbox gets full, you can simply delete the mails to create more space, safe in the knowledge that GMail has your back!