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Sunday, July 21, 2019
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Ng: Why Gmail reigns supreme

Wired Desktop

IN THE 1990s, the heyday of the dotcom days, one of the most successful startups was Hotmail.

It provided free webmail and quickly got millions of subscribers before it was bought by Microsoft. There were literally thousands of me-too copycats, but by the turn of the century, the leading providers of free webmail were Yahoo and Hotmail.

At that time, a user got only two megabytes total allocation with Hotmail. That’s not enough for one email nowadays!

Then on April 1, 2004, Google, which had made a name for its search engine, introduced Gmail. It was revolutionary in the sense that you could not just sign up. You had to get an invite, and if you were deserving, they gave you the privilege to invite friends.

I think that novel way of marketing created a buzz as people went around asking for invites, and those who got invites felt good. But the other compelling reason it made such an impact was it offered a very generous 1 gigabyte storage, which was literally a hundred times what most were offering at that time.

After that, Gmail’s popularity shot up. There was a time when almost everybody in the Philippines used Yahoo Mail, but Gmail inched up fast. It helped that Google was making most of its revenues through advertisements, while Microsoft was offering free Hotmail, but did not have the means to monetize it effectively at that time, and did not give it as much focus over selling software licenses.

By around 2010, the three were almost at par, with around 400 million users each. But in the last nine years, it seemed that only Gmail was continuing to grow. As of today, Outlook Mail (which was renamed by Microsoft) and Yahoo Mail still report about 400 million each, while Gmail is hovering at 1.5 billion active users per month.

The main thing Gmail is good at is it continues to innovate and add new features. Particularly useful is that it segregates your email into several folders like primary, social and promotions, which cuts your time to see extraneous email. It continues to do spam really well, and various studies have shown that less than one percent of the email spam ended up in the user’s inbox, while less than one percent of the legitimate email ended up in the spam folder.

Also useful is the built-in translation feature, which is very convenient when you get emails from Japan and other countries.

Of late, I like the smart compose feature, which tries to predict what you want to write and gives you hints. You can just press tab and save a lot of keystrokes. Today, on Gmail’s 15th anniversary, it is introducing a new feature that I really want: scheduled send. Now that more people don’t want their lives to be interrupted, you can schedule the time you want to send an email instead of at the time of writing.

I think I have been looking for this, especially in chat (you want to write it immediately so you won’t forget, but you don’t want also to send it at an inconvenient time to bother people), and it’s great now that it will become a standard feature.


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