Home Office: What's Behind Gmail's Popularity?

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Since my two columns on Gmail posted online ("Is Gmail the Hotmail Killer?" and "Test Drive of Google's Gmail"), I've had tons of reader questions, found some innovative Gmail-related sites, and seen a funny Gmail cartoon. Even my editor, stodgy character that he is, asked if I could finagle an account for him. [Private note to editor: Remember that raise we talked about in 1997?]

But to give you a feel for the buzz Gmail is creating, I want you to see the cartoon first off.

Dig This: Gmail as babe magnet? If you're wondering why I'm enjoying my Gmail account, you probably haven't seen The Joy of Tech yet. It'll clear things up immediately.

Why All the Fuss?

Gmail has all the blessings of a good news story: There's the privacy controversy, plenty of glitter around the 1GB of storage, and the fact that it's new and not available to the general pubic. Even if you know someone with Gmail, you're not guaranteed an in: Not every account has the magic "Invite a friend to join Gmail!" link.

Then there's Yahoo's reactive announcement offering a gigabyte of storage, and unlimited storage (whatever that might be) to users paying an annual fee. You can get the details in "Yahoo Boosts E-Mail Storage."

On top of that, Gmail's PR machine is going full throttle. For instance, some accounts (mine included) showed 10000000MB of storage--that's 1 terabyte--for a short time. Gmail calls it a bug. I think it's a brilliant way to get press.

Talking about publicity, I had my two days of fame when my newsletters were linked on Google's News site. My mom just couldn't get over that.

Another Competitor

BTW, I tried Spymac, which I mentioned in a previous column. This free Web-based e-mail service also offers 1GB of storage. The site's infused with a Mac look, with cute doodads and adorable toggle switch icons. If you can put up with the kitschy look, you might be interested: Spymac offers 250MB of storage for images, 100MB of Web space, and other freebies.

Dig This: Got a deadline? Need a break and just want to space out? Try watching "Recursive" for a while. Wondering how it's done? The creator was kind enough to provide instructions.

Trades, Sales, and Pleas

It's amazing what the value of a Gmail account can be if you don't have one. The going rate for one on EBay is averaging about $40, with some topping out at $120. There must be six pages of ads. (And even before you ask: No.)

We give you the lowdown on this in "Gmail Hits the Auction Block." But don't just take our word for it: Go to EBay and see for yourself. I even found one that sold for $63.

You say you don't want to pay for a Gmail account? Okay, sure. How about bartering something? In the past week, I've seen the following offers: five days of dinner and lodging in New Haven, Connecticut; an hour-long drum solo (no, thanks); and a platter of Texas BBQ ribs. There must be hundreds of offers at Gmail Swap. Some are dreadful (a jar of Australian Vegemite) and others appealing (five bottles of Chilean wine). Wired has an amusing piece about the site that you might want to read, "My Left Arm for a Gmail Account."

Before you head over to Gmail Swap looking for an account, the site's disclaimer makes for good reading: "Some people have been known to take goods in swaps, and then not follow through with Gmail invitations. Please be cautious."

BTW, there's a plethora of sites to help you learn more about Gmail, including two forums (GmailForums and WebmasterWorld.com Google Gmail) and two blogs (Topix.net Weblog and Gmail Gems).

Even PC World Editor in Chief Harry McCracken had something to say about Gmail in his Techlog.

Here's one disappointment: It's going to be really difficult to use Gmail for transferring large files to your buddies as e-mail attachments. For one thing, incoming and outgoing messages are currently limited to 10MB attachments. According to Shawn A, a Gmail beta tester in Toronto, Gmail doesn't allow attachments with executables or compressed files with embedded executables.

"Limiting file size and blocking compressed files," says Shawn, "are excellent ways of stopping abuse and piracy; you can't send large files and you can't break up large files into multiple compressed chunks."

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