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Gmail – Beyond Email

Thursday, June 24th, 2004 · 4 Comments

I’ve been using Gmail for 10 days now and I love it. It seems that those of us who like being the first to try out new technology have, for the most part, had our chance to do just that. The eBay prices on the accounts have all dropped down to 99 cents or so, if that’s any gauge.

Though I’ve not made any official announcement to my friends and family — nor the mental leap — it seems that Gmail is gradually becoming my primary email account. It just makes sense. Here’s why:

In Pine, which I use on my Web server, I already keep all my emails — at least those I’ve sent (since any message to which I reply will be included beneath the response. In Pine, I have sent mail dating back to June 1999. I have collections of email in various other places (namely, my Mac) going back to August 1995 when I started college. I guess you could say I’m a digital pack rat. But it’s more than that.

Knowledge is power. Keeping a record of correspondences, email addresses, phone numbers, to do lists, Web sites, life events, etc. proves useful on nearly a daily basis. Whether it’s looking up how long it’s been since I last went to the dentist (December 18, 2003 — uh oh, time for a cleaning), last got an oil change, or even what was happening in my life on June 9, 2000 (coordinating the beta testing of a T1 line at my Treasure Island apartment with this guy from a sketchy company that never took off but gave me free high-speed Internet for a long time), my reasons for keeping a digital archive of my life are numerous. (Of course, this also makes me the ideal target of the Patriot Act, so I try not to break any laws… but that’s a different argument altogether.)

The problem with my digital archive is that it’s scattered. Check email for this, Yahoo Calendar for that. Then there’s all the localized data on my various computers (a different story). Centralizing and accessing digital data is key for me. Starting to sound familiar?

I feel as if I start down the Gmail path, I want to continue in that direction. In terms of text storage, Gmail offers more than I have anywhere else, though that 10mb file size limit for attachments isn’t great for storing other types of data.

When it comes down to it, most data are text-based anyway. If you boil it down to its core, Google is a way to help you find the text you’re looking for. Without text, you can’t find anything. Images and other types of rich media (SWF, QuickTime, etc.) can’t be found by a search engine without associated metadata.

So here we arrive: Gmail is a tool to organize your data with a built-in search ngine — the most powerful search engine on the planet, at that. Are you with me here?

Gmail is more than email. It is your own personal data organizer. It is your own personal search engine to your life. Think about it. With Gmail, you can send yourself notes, to do lists, phone numbers. You can jot down important information and find it whenever you need it with a simple search.

Hotmail and Yahoo are scared for a reason. There’s a reason why sending a Gmail invitation to a Hotmail or Yahoo account will end up in the junk mail folder. Who needs Hotmail anyway? And Yahoo? I will cling to their calendar and address book for now, but their notepad is now obsolete. Why should I jot notes in Yahoo when I can just Gmail myself a note, archive it, and find it later whenever I need it.

Conceptual reasons for loving Gmail aside, there’s a core usability in the tool that makes it great. This usability, for me, can be summed up in four major areas:

  1. Speed. Find a faster server than the supercomputer created by Google.
  2. Navigability. I work faster and more efficiently when I don’t have to take my hands off my keyboards. With Gmail’s keyboard shortcuts (as in Pine), I can work virtually mouseless. This is good.
  3. Reliability. I want to be able to access my data whenever I need it.
  4. Storage. A full gigabyte of digital data is a lot. And a year from now, when everyone has filled up his or her account, Google will likely increase it for free or for fee.

Bottom line: I like Gmail and I think it has great potential to change the way we think about not just email, but digital data overall.

Not everyone agrees, though, that Gmail is great, at least from an initial usability point of view. But remember that I’m looking at the bigger picture here and am less concerned with browser usability right now.

Tags: technology

4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Dave Reed // Jun 24, 2004 at 11:42 pm

    Yahoo recently increased their storage to 100MB per free account and 10MB per e-mail.

    I know Yahoo fills my minor needs. Given that my web site is on Geocities (and has been since before Yahoo bought it up), I doubt I’ll be leaving it unless Google decides to do web hosting like Geocities.

  • 2 gabe // Jun 25, 2004 at 9:37 am

    That’s almost scary to think about Google offering Web hosting… most of us “access” the Web using Google as the front door… I think that would be way too much power if the sites it indexed were hosted by its servers, too. Way too 1984. But then again, ya never know what will happen. 🙂

  • 3 Jordan // Jun 25, 2004 at 11:54 am

    Yahoo now gives me 2GB of space for my Yahoo! DSL branded package. Though, Yahoo’s privacy policy doesn’t make me too comfortable to store too much their. Google’s privacy policy appears better, but is still a little sketchy. The most problematic parts are that it can share your personal information with any of its “agents,” which is a horribly loose term. And of course, as Gabe mentioned, your information is subject to subpoena. I would rather have that information in my ownership, so that when The Man wants it from me, I can take the 5th and not give it to him.

    How much do you think the DHS is salivating over the thought of running anti-terrorism searches against the Google gmail database using the Google search engine? Mr. Ridge must be wetting his pants in delight.

    … I used to have more faith in the government, then I worked for them.

  • 4 John Doe // Jun 27, 2004 at 12:18 pm

    1) How do you know Google is the “most powerful seach engine”? I find that Yahoo has once again become a very competitive engine. And I have inside sources who tell me that eBay’s in-house engine handles more searches than Google’s.

    2) If Gmail had 10 million users today, it would need 10,000,000 x 1 GB disk space. Does it really have that much space? And how would anyone organize so many, say 50,000 x 200 GB disk drives efficiently and reliably?