Playing around with Google’s Gmail.

I’m playing around with Google’s Gmail thanks to an invitation from a random person who IMed me yesterday out of the blue before asking me why the hell I was on his buddy list. He had 6 invites or so and no one to send them to so he asked if I was interested. I said I didn’t really have a need for a Gmail account, but I was curious to check it out so he sent me one. Seems when Google first started testing this out the invitations suddenly become a hot commodity on eBay for awhile. Some invites managed to fetch upwards of $200 which is pretty good for an account that will be available for free at some point in the not too distant future. Google has been handing out the opportunity to invite even more people lately though, so the prices for Gmail invites has crashed and now you’re lucky to crack $20 on eBay if you’re trying to sell one off. I’m not all that worried about making a killing on eBay so this isn’t much of a problem for me.

I’ve never been a big fan of web based email. I’ve had one or two accounts here and there that I’ve used over the years as spam traps or throw-away addresses, but I haven’t ever used a web based email service as a primary account mainly due to the limited storage they have. With the amount of email I get every day from SEB alone I’d quickly fill up the free Hotmail accounts and the limitations of web based email are such that I’m not willing to pay extra for more space. None of the other web based email systems are all that much improved over Hotmail that I’ve felt the need to make any of them my primary address. Between my broadband provider and my websites I already have three POP email accounts which also have web based interfaces for me to use if I need to and that has covered most of my needs so far. Not to mention I can add up to 70 more email addresses based off of either of the two domain names I have registered if I really want to.

So what do I think of Gmail? It’s pretty cool. Aside from giving you a full gigabyte of storage (which still boggles the brain), it offers a couple of new ideas on presentation that are pretty nifty. The layout is pretty clean and very intuitive without a lot of the clutter that you see on sites like Hotmail. The basic functions for reading, writing, sending, replying and forwarding email are all present on the screen at any given point in time and are placed in logical locations on the screen. For example, the links to Reply or Forward an email are located at the bottom of the currently displayed message in anticipation that you will be reading to the end of the email before clicking the links. However, when you click either of these two links instead of opening a whole new screen with the original message in it Gmail drops down a window directly underneath the message you’re replying to.

Probably the coolest new idea in Gmail is the idea of email as a “conversation.” Traditionally most email clients display your email in a chronological order as it arrives. If you get into a lengthy set of replies with someone those various messages will be interspersed with all the other email you receive. As long as no one deletes the text from a previous message in the reply chain you can reference earlier messages by scrolling down the screen, but if some of that quoted text is removed the only way to reference earlier emails is to re-sort the display of your inbox by sender or subject to dig back through the previous messages you received. If what you want to reference is something you wrote then you have to go to the Sent Items folder for that. Gmail groups replies into conversations and when you read an email that is part of a reply chain all of the previous messages in the conversation, both to you and from you, are listed in the display for easy reference. You can see how it does this in the image to the right here (click for a bigger pic). The display looks like a stack of papers with a small edge of previous “sheets” sticking out at the top with the name and subject of previous messages printed on it and the most recent message on the “top” sheet. As you can see I’ve been carrying on a conversation with myself and if I forget what I may have said in a previous message I just click the edge of the sheet I want to see and Gmail expands the screen to display that sheet above the current message. That is pretty friggin’ cool!

Another nifty feature is the ability to “Label” your emails. Labels work like Folders in other clients except that you can assign more than one label to an email so if you want that email about your health benefits to be both in your “Work” folder and your “Insurance” folder you just assign both labels and you’ll be able to locate it in either spot. You can also tag messages with a “star” to give it a special status. What that status means is up to you. It could mean to follow-up or make it a to-do or just you really liked that conversation so you gave it a gold star. There’s a few other things that Gmail does a little differently that all add up to a surprisingly useful package despite the rather simple interface it presents you with. All in all it may actually change my mind about using a web based email for my primary account.

Oh, and a word on the AdSense ads that Gmail includes in your email: So far all I’ve seen of this has been a couple of ads alongside the display of my inbox and/or messages and it’s the same plain-text and unobtrusive ads that appear along side their search listings on Google. Given the rather minimalist messages I’ve used in my test messages so far more often than not there haven’t been any ads displayed at all. Compared to what is plastered all over the competition’s interfaces what Gmail is doing is a welcomed change and I really don’t understand what all the uproar over them is all about.

I have a feeling that Gmail is going to be very popular when it’s finally opened up to the public and will probably inspire a lot of imitation by the competition. Already the fact that they over a gigabyte of storage has other folks scrambling to match or better their storage offerings, but as impressive as that is that probably won’t be the big reason people make the switch. Even without that extra storage, Gmail is offering an innovative new way to think about and organize your email and that’s what will probably be the biggest draw of all. I’ll probably recommend to my family members who are currently using Hotmail to make the switch once it’s available just for the ease of use factor alone. If you want to drop me a note at my Gmail address you can do so by sending it to les.jenkins@gmail.com.

21 thoughts on “Playing around with Google’s Gmail.

  1. I did not figure you would be a person to go for the G-Mail with all your privacy concerns and such.

    Anywho, I cannot wait for it to become free. After all, it is not as if I am going to transmit confidential information through my personal free-web base account.

  2. I think Gmail would be ultimatly cool if they offered “throw away” e-mail addresses with the users Gmail account. It would save a whole lot of people a whole lot of spam headaches.

    I currently have about 25 e-mail addresses that have been “thrown away” due to being spammed. Currently, I’m forwarding them all to e-mail addresses that have comment-spammed or register-spammed me. Probably means that they are just going into a bit bucket somewhere, but hey, it makes me feel good. smile

    Anyway, Gmail isn’t going to be good for storing mail anyway. Look at what happened to MSN a short while back. They lost their server and hundreds of thousands of messages were lost and they couldn’t recover them. Not the safest place to store important e-mail messages.

    Unless they have incredable spam protection, I can see space being an issue for them. Thousands of people with many hundreds of megs of spam messages will add up for Google really quickly. There will, of course, be people who will do their best to fill up their servers too. Spammers, and hackers that will do the old name search on a domain to get valid e-mail addresses and start spamming Gmail as soon as they can get the list. I wouldn’t be surprised if it hasn’t already started.

  3. Honestly I think the privacy issue with Gmail is overblown. I seriously doubt there’s any more risk with Gmail than any of the other web based services out there.

  4. Lucky you!  I’ve been trying to get a free invite to gmail for a while.

    Not like I really want or need it considering I already have too many email addresses how it is.  It’s just the cool geek thing of the moment to have a gmail account now, so I can’t resist the urge to get one… smile

    google sure knows how to make the hype work for them!

  5. At least a couple of those features (threading and labelling) are available in the email client “The Bat!”, from http://www.ritlabs.com.  [Not a spam, I’m just a happy user].

    It’s a little odd in places, but fairly powerful.

    Mostly just wanted to point out that the threading/conversation thing wasn’t copletely unique (it’s pretty good for free webmail though).

  6. There are a lot of e-mail clients that do threading. It’s not uncommon. What is uncommon is a web-based e-mail client that does it and does it well.

  7. I admit to not having been exposed to a lot of mail clients as I tend to settle on one once I’m happy with it so I may be mistaken when I suggested that the threaded view was a new innovation. It certainly felt like it to me. grin The more I play with Gmail the more impressed I am with it. Which, for someone who has distinctly disliked web based email for a long time, is saying quite a bit.

  8. Yahoo has responded with a 100MB storage email.

    This would stop me from moving over to Gmail if and when Gmail turns public. Since I doubt I will be using even close to 100 MB.

    Any one experiencing a problem where you type the word below but it claims that I am not typing in the correct word. It has occured a number of times all on separate occasions.

  9. Are you using a proxy server Pop Tarts? That might be the issue if you are, though the one I have to go through here at work doesn’t seem to have a problem with the captcha system.

  10. I think the uproar about the ads, at least to me, is not that a person receives them while browsing his mail. A person with a gmail account has obviously signed up and accepted the fact that their email is going to be cataloged and ads based on that are going to be displayed. My issue is that the sender of the email from an outside account has not agreed to make his email content available for this proceedure. For the more paranoid view of what could become of this information please see G-Mail is too creepy.

  11. So what you are saying is that you think Google and the other web spiders are also creepy? My understanding of what Google is doing with your e-mail in Gmail is simply spidering it like the do web pages. No one is reading the e-mails, just indexing them for ease when searching.

    I personally don’t feel any concerns at all about it. If you think about it, any web-based e-mail as the potential of having this happen. Or worse, someone could be reading them. The e-mail isn’t being stored on your computer; it’s being stored on servers outside of your home. Yahoo, MSN, Hotmail, AOL mail… They all have the potential for abuse.

    Since I’m not doing anything nefarious, I don’t feel any concerns at all over a search spider scanning my messages.

    Of course, this is just me. Apparently, Californians are terrified by the whole concept. Or at least their state representatives…

  12. I have to admit, it certainly places Google in am opportune position for data harvesting.  Even if no ‘personally’ identifiable information is maintained, the cross referencing and social grouping information alone could be a marketing boom.  Especially now, as marketers search for more impactive ways to get their product across through ad-blockers, spam-blockers and the advent of the PVR.

  13. Something pretty funny about that “Gmail is too creepy” website… They are running Google Ad-sense ads, and are using a Yahoo e-amil account.

    I looked over the privacy policy for Gmail. I can’t really see anything in there that sounds all that scary. I suspect that if someone looked at Yahoo’s privacy policy for their free e-mail, it would look about the same.

    As to others sending messages to Gmail users? Anytime you send an e-mail, there is a risk of it being intercepted by a hacker, being used for nefarious uses by the user it was sent to, being harvested by a virus, etc… Using the Internet is a risk. It’s one I don’t mind taking… smile

  14. The ad-sense you see on the page is a parody, look closer at the page. I also stated before the link that it is a paranoid point of view.

    I agree with your point that all web based email is in fact subject to the same issues.
    My concern is that G-Mail makes it a point to have you sign away your rights to privacy. I personally am not comfortable with storing my mail on a server somewhere and having it indexed. What makes matters worse, although Google claims to not have actual humans reading the mail, it does store this information for an indefinate period. This database is not covered under the normal Electronic Communicatons Privacy Act and can be siezed by the government with an ordinary subpoena. Couple this with the cookie Google stores about your searches and that is a potential recipe for disaster.

    That’s fine if you agree to the terms. I however do not and I also have the right NOT to have my email indexed and stored in a database. With the promise of free email with a gig of storage there are bound to be people I am forced to communicate with that have these accounts. Not to mention the copycat services that are sure to follow.

    If a hacker recieves my email and reads it he is in violation of the law.

    If the person I am sending it to violates my trust and uses the information contained in it for reasons not intented there is nothing I can do short of not communicating with this person in the future.

    If I send an email to a G-Mail user I am subject to the same terms they agreed to. This is an automatic inclusion to having my email indexed and stored for an indefinate amount of time.

    Your statement of not doing anything nefarious concerns me. Extreme example follows: I am not doing anything nefarious so why should I care that the local authorities will have the right to randomly search my house whenever they feel like.

    Here is the EFF’s view of the subject.

    Here is a link to what Google can do to make the system more private.

  15. That’s fine if you agree to the terms. I however do not and I also have the right NOT to have my email indexed and stored in a database. With the promise of free email with a gig of storage there are bound to be people I am forced to communicate with that have these accounts. Not to mention the copycat services that are sure to follow.

    Dude, have ya looked at Yahoo’s privacy policy for thier e-mail service? You think Gmail’s is scary! Sheesh!

    If a hacker recieves my email and reads it he is in violation of the law.

    True, but do you really think they will be arrested for it? I suppose if they do something stupid (which criminals typically do), then ya, but otherwise…

    If the person I am sending it to violates my trust and uses the information contained in it for reasons not intented there is nothing I can do short of not communicating with this person in the future.

    I see this quite a bit with other blog sites that don’t protect the e-mail addresses they ask for. I do the same thing and forward the spam I get from them to the bit bucket.

    If I send an email to a G-Mail user I am subject to the same terms they agreed to. This is an automatic inclusion to having my email indexed and stored for an indefinate amount of time.

    I wouldn’t stop with just Gmail, I would think you would want to include, Yahoo mail, Hotmail, MSN, AOL, and any other service that keeps e-mail on a server. Which really covers your ISP, your webhost, other people’s ISP’s and webhosts, etc…

    Your statement of not doing anything nefarious concerns me. Extreme example follows: I am not doing anything nefarious so why should I care that the local authorities will have the right to randomly search my house whenever they feel like.

    Ok, that may have been a bad statement. However, in this great time we live in now with the PATRIOT ACT and the RIAA and such, how much privacy do you really think we have? Do you really think e-mail is private? Don’t even think about sending private messages from work, you do realize that your company has the legal right to read each and every e-mail that is sent through their servers, right? Then there is IM’s, oh ya, they are private. Yep, right up to the point of getting a few stock traders into quite a bit of hot water and starting a whole new fad of “encrypted” IM services…

    You do realize that logs are kept of just about everything we do on the Internet, right? ISP’s keeps logs of your surfing, e-mail, ftp transactions, etc…

    Here is the EFF’s view of the subject.

    Here is a link to what Google can do to make the system more private.

    I don’t really think all that much of the EFF, personally. After reading a story about a guy pretty high up in their organization causing all kinds of stick on an airplane for wearing a t-shirt that said: “Suspected Terrorist”. I just can’t think of them as a group of people out to try to protect our freedoms. Sorry, but that’s the way I feel. It’s a pitty Doctorow is involved with them, because he seems rather straight compared to some of the others there.

    I guess my point here is, if you are concerned about your privacy, I would suggest getting off of the Internet as soon as possible. Not to mention posting comments to blogs. (You do realize that this and other blogs are being spidered by Google and other search engines all the time, right?)

  16. P.S., you probably poked around on my website, right? If so, I’m guessing you were the one who popped in from somewhere near Chicago using “ameritech.net” with Mozilla 1.6 with Windows XP? That just comes out of ExpressionEngine’s referrer logs. I could probably get more info from the weblogs. smile

  17. Email is practically immortal no matter what service you use.  All of it is stored on servers somewhere, and most servers are backed up – it’s the genetic compulsion of administrators everywhere.  What’s different about Gmail as I understand it is the sorting and sifting of things you talk about in the mail.  If they have been sufficiently scrupulous about keeping it impersonal, no big deal.  If not, then we have a problem.  How to tell?

    Databases are the new reality we live with.  It is probably not possible to live in society, own a car, shop at Wal Mart, etc. without being profiled in a hundred different ways in as many databases.  Makes me admire “Blank Regg” from Max Headroom.

  18. I already mentioned back in the entry where I talked about the Gmail announcement that it was probably too late for me to worry about privacy issues at this point because you can find references to my earlist days on the Internet in the newsgroup archives now known as Google Groups. Some of those entries span all the way back to when I was still running a BBS system and was importing USENET newsgroups and email into my BBS.

    I doubt I’ll use Gmail as my primary email address, but it’s certainly a nice alternate and I think the folks at “Gmail is too creepy” are a bit overly paranoid. Most of the claims they make about Google are pretty much true of all the web-based email providers. Considering that aspects of the Patriot Act II are being snuck through Congress by being broken up and attached to other bills I’m less concerned over Gmail than I am the Feds at this point. Whether Google is friendly with the Feds or not is irrevelant when the Feds can ask for the info from any one who provides you with a service while prohibiting those companys/individuals from divulging the fact that they’re being required to provide the info.

    Friendly or not will make little difference in the near future.

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