Back in the Paleolithic Era, the world was a very different kind of place. People were hunter-gatherers, lived in caves, and kept all their email in folders*. You can't really blame them. Between tracking woolly mammoths, fashioning crude stone tools, and auditioning for commercials, having a highly tuned system for organizing email wasn't their highest priority.

But people changed. We moved out of caves and into skyscrapers. We hunt for bargains at the corner grocery. And we play video games simulating ourselves playing video games.

As we've changed, so too have our demands for email. Out of the email primordial ooze, Gmail was born with evolutionarily advantageous features like threaded conversations, a mitochondrial symbiosis between mail and chat, and labels. Most email solutions make users slot their emails into bland manila folders, classifying their contents as either black or white, with no subtle shades of gray. But where do you put the heated debate about M&M color superiority: the "ridiculous philosophical discussions," "all things brown," or "chats with mom" folder? With labels, you no longer have to choose. You can sort it all three ways.

Today, we're happy to announce the next evolution of labels: the colored label. Until now the label has been a little inconspicuous creature, subtly suggesting categorical associations in its simple green coat. Oh, we've seen the colored label here and there, its precursors surfacing in various experiments and Greasemonkey scripts; but the label has never before been so brazen, so bold. How will it use its new colors? Will it disguise itself with the chameleon's camouflage or clamor for attention with the monarch butterfly's vivid contrast?

Me? I'm subscribed to a lot of mailing lists: "The Britney Spears Fanboy Club," "Foie Gras Lovers Anonymous," and "UFO Sightings Daily," just to name a few. I get so much mail from my lists, I filter and archive most of it right away but I add labels just in case I need to find it again later. Those labels are my chameleons draped in subtle tones of green and blue. They're there doing their job, but I barely notice them. Every once in a while I get mail that's really important. These emails get my monarch butterfly labels, sporting bright red and yellow. Thanks to colored labels, it's easy to scan my inbox and immediately find all the emails that are really important to me.

Evolution is a great thing.

*P.S. We actually kinda like folders. In fact, we're doing some work to add some folder-y-ish functionality. Stay tuned.

P.P.S. Several new features we've launched, including colored labels, only work in the newest version of Gmail, currently available for IE7 and Firefox 2. Please upgrade your browser to start using those features now.