Home Office: Is Gmail the Hotmail Killer?

I got lucky. One of the Google PR guys set me up with a Gmail account. That's Google's new Web-based e-mail that's getting so much buzz. And well it should--it's a hot product, one that I like for lots of reasons.

The Gmail Back Story

Features aside for a minute, I think it's important to understand why I'm predicting Gmail will be insanely popular.

It's clear the folks at Google know a thing or two about marketing. They've built a massive foothold in users' minds with their search engine. (I know, that's a mixed metaphor, but it's my newsletter, okay?) People know the name, and trust the company to turn out cool products. Based on my experience with Google's smart Toolbar I anticipated a bright, innovative e-mail service. I was right.

But why anyone would bother with Google when a slug of companies already offer Web-based e-mail? One word: advertising. When I think about two of the best-known e-mail services, MSN Hotmail and Yahoo Mail (my least favorites), I visualize their ad-laden, cluttered screens.

What's appealing about Gmail--and what's stirring up so much controversy--is the way it handles advertising. Gmail reads my e-mail (actually, no humans read it; it's scanned by a computer), determines the content, and posts a text ad on the page. The ads are unobtrusive, just like the ones you see on the right side of the page in Google searches.

So far, many of the ads I've seen have been wildly inaccurate: For example, promoting glass windows when I talk about Windows, and deep-sea fishing when I get e-mail from someone at Sunbelt Software. Take a look at a couple of screen shots--one from Google's official ad page sample, and one from my account.

Dig This: Do you ever get tired of hearing Windows sounds--you know, like the error ding or the annoying alert when you've done something dumb? Some folks don't mind them. In fact, someone created a musical composition that uses these sounds.

The Gmail Controversy

If you've been reading my scribblings for a while, you know I have tight rules about privacy. I'm not threatened by Gmail, for two reasons. First, the ads aren't placed in the body of my e-mail. Second, call me naive (you will anyway), but I don't believe any one person at Google is examining my e-mail.

To get you up to speed on the ad issues--and to save me from repeating all the controversial details--I dug up a few articles.

Almost 30 organizations, including the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse and the Electronic Privacy Information Center, are up in arms about Gmail. Learn more in "Google's Gmail Already Under Fire."

In "Privacy Issues Plague Google's Gmail," Google addresses some of the accusations and begins a little posturing, saying it may make changes.

Another company has decided to step into the e-mail fray and challenge Google. I wonder, though, if the company's name--Spymac Network--might dissuade some people from trying it. (Hey, don't sue me, I was just pointing out the obvious.) Read "Spymac Rolls Out Free E-Mail" for details.

One question I have is whether Google will continue to provide Gmail for free. Eric Bender took a look at Hotmail and Yahoo's strategy for sneaking in fees. Read the whole story in "Free Web Mail: Here to Stay?"

Some of you may be new to the game and don't know much about Web-based e-mail. Our e-mail aficionado, Dan Tynan, crafted "Hassle-Free E-Mail," a solid article about, well, e-mail. If you want to see what Dan has to say about Web-based e-mail in particular, go directly to the chart on page 5.

Dig This: Want to play plastic surgeon? Can do--just head for the Morphases site and start changing faces. You should be able to kill a half hour instead of working on an important project.

Next week? Gmail's features, including the super-duper 1GB limit, quirky e-mail threading, and not-so-hot spam filtering.

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