You know me: I can't wait

by francine Hardaway on May 19, 2004

You know me: I can’t wait to try Google’s new Gmail. That’s partly because I can’t. I am so anxious that I even logged in to a site called and tried to swap something for a Google account, because these accounts are now only available to beta testers, and I am not one of them.

After blowing an hour trying to find a way to get one of these accounts, I finally stopped to ask myself why I care. The account is free; that�s good, but I have a free Yahoo acount and a free Hotmail account. It�s web-based, that nice, but I have that with Yahoo. And anyway, I�m not a real fan of web-based email, which I use on the road with mixed results (dialing in at an Internet caf� in Costa Rica and having to read 200 messages while waiting for the screen to change each time is not my idea of how to spend a vacation). YahooMail often drives me crazy when the servers are busy, the network is slow, or whatever else can happen to frustrate a user.

Like all free email services, Gmail will be supported by advertising. Google will scan each email message and, when it delivers the message, it will also deliver a relevant ad. This is very clever, especially since the ads are the same kind of unobtrusive text ads you see on the Google search site.

When the technology was first announced, privacy �experts� went bananas. They had visions of people in green eyeshades opening and reading everyone�s email, the way prison staff opens and reads every piece of mail sent to an inmate.

But that�s not how it works. No human beings will read your email. Messages will be read only by computers, and they will scan them for keywords that match up with advertisers. So the hullabaloo about privacy has died out, even before the actual product launch.

Google will also give its subscribers one Gigabye of storage, which is more than I get on Yahoo for upgrading to YahooMail Plus (although I have just read that Yahoo has jumped on the 1G bandwagon, and so has Lycos.)

Why do we need all that storage? Because Google hopes to replace our virus-ridden desktop email systems with its ad-based webmail. By making the storage almost boundless, and by making email searchable as well, Google thinks we�ll be won over by the convenience of its service.

Searchable email is, for a person like me who lives and dies by email, the holy grail. I do spend an inordinate amount of time searching through my junk mail for things that are deposited in there by my overactive spam program, and foraging through my deleted items for things I read five months ago that have suddenly become relevant. A while ago, I tried a product called Bloomba, which features searchable email. But Bloomba was so buggy that I couldn�t use it, even after I spent a couple of weeks trying to train it. (You had to train it to put things in the right folders and train it to recognize spam).

So I think the fact that Gmail is truly searchable (yes, Outlook has a search function, but you could grow old and die before it delivers what you were looking for) might be the killer app, rather than the storage space (although they really do go hand in hand, because you can�t search messages you have totally deleted).

Apparently, Gmail isn�t yet ready for prime time. A few of the reviewers I�ve read have commented that the ads they received were wildly inappropriate � window glass companies when the email is about Windows � but I bet none of the reviewers really found that a bug. More like an amusement. And today there was a confusing test or bug that gave everyone 1000G of storage for one brief moment in time.

But I�m sure Google will get all that straightened out in time for its IPO, because the release of Gmail is the best way I can think of to raise the price of the stock. I would try to ask them about their strategy, but I�m sure they won�t tell me. After all, they ARE in a quiet period. And Sergei Brin is not Mark Benioff.*

*An in joke for people who know that�s IPO was just postponed because the arrogant Mr. Benioff went blabbing to the New York Times during *his* company�s quiet period and, strangely, a member of the SEC read about it.


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