Gmail Integrations: How Google’s Open Platform Is Changing the Face of Email

A decade ago, email was email. You’d log onto a specific email provider’s website, access your messages, send and receive whatever you needed to, and that was it.

Today, email is becoming something more. Instead of just being a platform for sending and receiving messages, it’s becoming a hub of organization and productivity for millions of users—at least, if you’re using Gmail.

Google is known for being very open to third-party developers looking to integrate with Gmail; as long as you give those third-parties permission to access your data, you can use pretty much whatever services you want in coordination with your core email app. This has led to the rise of hundreds of apps, extensions, and Gmail plugins, all intended to make the overall email experience more robust and productive.

Gmail Apps, Add Ons, and Extensions

Take a look at the Gmail apps available today, and you’ll see a wide variety of standalone apps, which rely on information from Gmail to operate, add ons, which modify or improve the central Gmail experience, and extensions, which enhance your web browser’s capabilities in a way that improves your email productivity (or the functionality of Gmail). For example, there are apps that can help you analyze your email productivity, add ons that help you set automatic reminders for emails that haven’t gotten replies, and extensions that help you proofread your work.

Gmail doesn’t just tolerate these third-party options—it embraces them. On the left-hand side of your desktop app, you’ll see a handful of icons for built-in Google apps that can be used in conjunction with Gmail, such as Calendar and Keep. You’ll also see a + icon, which allows you to browse the G Suite Marketplace for even more plug-in style options.

Are They Worth It?

Are these add-ons really worth it? Can they improve your email experience, or are they just distractions?

First, consider the fact that many of these add-ons are free or inexpensive, and the inexpensive ones usually offer free trials so you can see what you’re getting before you try them. This makes the cost barrier fairly low for these types of additions. Next, consider what you could lose in terms of time; it doesn’t take long to download and install these add-ons, and most are designed to be intuitive, so you can pick them up quickly.

Of course, any email system can easily get bogged down if you’re using dozens of different add-ons at once, so there’s likely a fundamental limit to how many add-ons a single individual can make use of at any given time.

The Future of Email

With Google’s encouragement of independent developers and with consumers always eager for new features and add-ons, it’s unlikely that this momentum will subside anytime soon. In the near future, we’ll see even more apps, add-ons, and extensions to modify how we use email, and for many consumers, email will come to take an even more central role in managing their personal and professional lives.

Perhaps even more importantly, we may see other email platforms copy Google’s approach, welcoming their own fleet of apps and add-ons. With more competitors offering more customizability and opportunities for developers, almost any email platform could become a universal hub for organization and productivity.

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