Google will start to release tonight at 6 p.m. Pacific a new set of features for its Gmail email service, called Gmail Labs. They will be earlier-than-beta features, 13 of them initially, that Gmail users can add to the service. They range from the interesting (Quicklinks, a way to bookmark any page in Gmail so it’s easy to find, say, an itinerary for an upcoming trip) to the whimsical (Break Time, which locks you out of Gmail for 15 minutes).
Gmail Labs features will roll out starting tonight to all the tens of millions of Gmail users, who can click on a button to enable them—or, if they don’t like them or they don’t work well, a distinct possibility, they can click on another button to disable them. They’ll be available through the settings tab at the top of the page.
What sets these features, and the process of releasing them, apart from Google’s current release formula is that they’re coming out way earlier and in less tested form than standard features that get added to services after weeks or months of testing internally at Google. These features, created by Google engineers, have been tested only to ensure that they work (most of the time; they might break at times), not for usability or design.
The intention is to take Google’s famous 20% time a step further by letting users try out potentially valuable features early and provide feedback—both direct and indirect, through Google tracking how they’re using them—to drive the best features faster into the mainstream product. “We’re launching a big change in the way we do product development here,” said Gmail product manager Keith Coleman. “It’s a way for us to take our ideas and get them out for feedback much more quickly. We want to build the model of a 100 million-person startup.”
Mike Arrington and his gang at TechCrunch have more details live from the afternoon event here.