Along Came Gmail

By Scott Gray on 2004/07/13

I have been asked by our editor to write about a topic so hot you should be wearing your g-string or Speedo and having sex on the beach (the cocktail that is) while reading this. So what's the topic? Hotter than hot Gmail, of course!

For those of you that don't know, Gmail is Google's recently launched, free web-based email product, competing with the likes of established giants like Yahoo! And Hotmail. Even though its still in beta testing stage, with only a few lucky people invited to have a Gmail account, its already causing waves in the free web-based email market. Besides Gmail's praises being sung all over the net, big hitters Hotmail and Yahoo have upgraded their own offerings in an attempt to hold on to their valuable subscribers - a clear indication they're feeling threatened.

So what's all the fuss about? I hear you ask. I've been lucky enough to bag an account for myself, so I'll attempt to tell you first hand.

Saving space with Google Search

Imagine never having to delete an email because your inbox is too full. That's now a reality - a Gmail account gives you 1000 megabytes of storage space! That's unbelievable when compared to Hotmail's paltry 2 megs, and Yahoo's only recently increased limit of 100 megs.

"Google has included its famous search algorithm into Gmail"

But what's the use in having 999 megabytes worth of emails in your inbox? You'll have so many, you'll never be able to find what you want! Or maybe not... thanks to Gmail's archive facility. Instead of having to delete emails or put them in folders to save, you select your messages you'd like to store, click the "Archive" button and your inbox is cleared.

Now what if you want to find these messages again? That's easy, since Google has included its famous search algorithm into Gmail. You simply enter a phrase into the search box above your inbox concerning the subject or content of an email, and there it appears, along with all related emails. We all know how fast and effective Google's search facility is, and incorporated into Gmail, it's no different.

Targeted advertising on a new level

Google has also incorporated its Adsense technology into Gmail. Adsense is Google's advertising feature - the ads normally appear as banner-type ads alongside or below web page content. Webmasters then make a commission from Google each time someone clicks on an ad on their web page. The real beauty of Adsense though, is that the adverts are related to the content on the page. This is achieved by the use of Google's search technology that scans a page of content and matches the subject with the subject of adverts. Adsense is now incorporated this into Gmail - so the content of your email is scanned and banner type adverts are generated down the right hand side of the page that relate directly to what you're reading.

An example: Your friend sends you an email about her recent holiday at a game lodge near the Kruger National Park. Whilst wishing you were there, you notice alongside the email an advert from a luxury lodge in the area offering a special next month. You click on it, the lodge pays Google $1 for that click, you pay the lodge your discounted rate, and everybody is smiling.

This ad-serving technology is not without its critics. Visit www.gmail-is-too-creepy.com to see what I mean. One rather ambitious Californian state senator, a certain Ms Liz Figueroa, is planning to introduce legislation to block Google's Gmail service. Figueroa says that the 'free' email service, which users pay for by tolerating advertisements injected into their correspondence, violates the assumption that emails are private.

Whether or not you agree with Liz's point of view is not in the scope of this article. What is important is that when it comes to innovation, Google is still the leader. They developed a search engine that was only about searching, while other players like Yahoo! turned into portals. They pioneered pay for performance (pay per click) advertising as opposed to "pay and pray" banner advertising. And now they've decided "Hey, if people want some more storage, we'll give them more than they'll ever need." They've got the first mover advantage. They have positioned themselves once again as the pioneers.

How do you get yourself an account? In typically quirky Google style they are doing a gradual roll-out to a select few, who can then invite three friends to have an account. And if you don't know someone who has Gmail but desperately want an invite, visit www.gmailswap.com and trade something you have for an invite from a stranger.

I must admit, my gmail inbox is open all day. I think it's the best thing since the roller wheel on my mouse. If you have any comments about it, drop me an email at iarescott@gmail.com.