Google jumps on the bandwagon…a little late

A while back, I wrote about Bloomba and how Alison Overholt of Fast Company raved over its powerful search features. At the time, I dismissed the search features, my mind still lingering in the world of distinct folders and locations to store e-mail messages, files, etc. However, after reading around other places (I’ve looked for links but could find none), it seems that searching is the wave of the future. As systems and applications seek to be more and more user-friendly, they are turning to more abstract, search-based designs. In a sense, I guess they’re becoming more like the human brain (granted, I know very little about how the human brain works).

So, in steps one of our most beloved Web applications: Google, the little search engine that could. Now not-so-little, this search engine has become a giant in all respects and is finally joining the game of Web-based e-mail – and they’re bringing along their search features to boot.

Google came along fairly late in the search engine game but managed to outstrip all the other search engines in popularity. How? Because they did it better than everyone else. The other search engines took note and started aggregating Google search results. Yahoo!, the most popular search engine around before the emergence of Google, even started using Google.

However, Yahoo! announced in February of this year that they would no longer use Google in favor of Yahoo!’s “new algorithmic search technology.” This move marks the beginning of a potential war between what are now seen as rival search giants.

But Google will not be daunted. On April 1 (all jokes about fools aside), Google announced the launch of its new Web-based e-mail service: Gmail.

Though still in its infantile beta stages, Gmail is without a doubt the true “Google of e-mail,” to use Overholt’s phrase. It will incorporate the two most important aspects of a user’s Internet experience: e-mail and searching. Gmail also touts an unprecendented 1 GB (that’s 1,000 MB for those who still think in terms of Yahoo!’s 4 MB of Web-mail space) of e-mail storage space, claiming that users will never need to delete their messages again. Instead, users will simply allow their messages to archive and fall back out of their minds into the massive history of their mail box until they need the message again. Thus, the vast number of messages that may accumulate in a user’s mail box is mind-boggling, so finding an old message may seem entirely absurd without a system of folders. However, Gmail does not intend for its users to use folders. Instead, users of Gmail will use search-based functionality.

Think of it. A world without folders. Everything is just lying around out in the open, seemingly and utterly disorganized. It makes my brain hurt. Yet, with one simple request, the relevant items are returned to you, and all is well. That’s what Gmail will do, and that’s apparently the direction in which many other applications are moving – including rumors I’ve heard of WinFS (Windows Future Storage) in Microsoft’s “Longhorn” (scheduled for release in the distant late 2006).

As for me, I cannot imagine a world without folders or organization, so I wonder whether Gmail will offer a bit of the “ol-skool way” for those of us who like organization and meaningful relationships (of files to folders). Another important factor for Google to tackle with 1 GB of storage space is the sheer volume of spam messages we all receive on a daily basis. I get up to 200+ messages a day of spam. Others receive even more. How will Gmail filter spam without filtering out valid e-mail messages? I definitely don’t want Gmail archiving my spam messages, even if it’ll be months and years before they start putting a dent in my storage space.

Finally, one topic of concern over the use of Gmail is its privacy policy and the way it targets users with advertisements. Gmail will not feature any banner ads or pop-up ads, but it will make use of the popular text ads found on the Google search site. These text ads are targeted based on a user’s search. Likewise, the text ads in Gmail will be targeted based on the content of your e-mail messages. Sounds scary, doesn’t it? However, reading the policy consoles me. Gmail’s terms of use state: “Google will display ads and other information adjacent to and related to the content of your email [. . .] No human will read the content of your email in order to target such advertisements or other information without your consent, and no email content or other personally identifiable information will be provided to advertisers.” That’s their policy. They won’t read or share your e-mail messages; only the application checks your messages in order to target you with ads. However, there are some valid reasons for not accepting their terms, such as the fact that you must agree that they may change their terms at any time in the future without notice. Others have pointed out the disastrous repercussions of such a clause. Still, as I expressed to others about Orkut, I will restate about Gmail: if you don’t like the terms, then don’t accept them. It’s that simple. Google has the right to define their terms how they see fit.

Only time will tell how well Gmail does, but, if the past may be viewed as a proving ground (and it’s usually an accurate one), then I predict that Gmail will quickly become a major competitor for both Yahoo! Mail and Microsoft’s Hotmail. Gmail has the space, the search, and the name of Google to make it a daunting competitor.

Related Links: * Gmail * eWeek: Search Engine Google to Offer Free E-Mail

Afterthoughts: After posting this, I found several other thoughts on Gmail’s terms and privacy policy. Via Aaron Wormus I found a good blog on the issue by Tim O’Reilly of none other than O’Reilly & Associates It seems that Tim agrees with Aaron and I agree with them both over the privacy issue.

And here are some thoughts from Jeremy Zawodny concerning the hype of it all.