Thursday, April 01, 2004

Google to offer 1 gig of free e-mail storage

As reported yesterday on and covered today on TechDirt, it looks like Google is thinking about entering the free web-based e-mail market. What's the catch? Well, Google is going to offer each user 1 gig of storage as opposed to the normal 2-4 mb mailboxes currently offered by Yahoo! and Hotmail. The name of the service? Gmail, of course!

So why would Google be willing to offer this much storage for free? Google is a search company, they want you to keep all of your e-mails in your mailbox and have the ability to search them (I've talked about the technology from X1 that allows you to search all of the e-mails in your Outlook folder).

From the article (Wayne Rosing, Vice President of engineering at Google):

"The way we'd like to say it," [Rosing] said, "is that part of our mission is to organize and present all the world's information, and e-mail's part of that information that currently is not well organized. That is the rubric under which we offer this."

However, we know that Google makes its revenues for its search site now from selling advertising and if the model is the same -- give it away for free and subsidize it with advertising -- then is there going to be an advertising component to the e-mail service? You bet!

From the article:

"Google has indicated that it will use an automated system to scan for frequently used terms in creating its contextual ads, with some intervention from humans to censor or adjust certain keywords."

In other words, Google is going to reserve the right to sift through Gmail users' e-mail to specifically tailor advertising. Will users have a problem with this? It's hard to tell. The search technology and massive storage may be too much for users to resist.

TechDirt points out that Google has said little about what they plan on doing about spam, which is a major issue with free e-mail systems. In my opinion, if Gmail employed Postini-like controls over spam, they might certainly have a much easier time of convincing users to allow Google to search through their personal e-mails.

As a side note: It has been pointed out in the comments on TechDirt's site that this may be another Google April fool's joke. Google is known for pulling April fool's jokes, however it seems unlikely that this particular service is a joke -- the revenue potential is enormous and the cost of storage has certainly gotten low enough that 1 gb of free storage is a workable business model.

Update: Here is the GMail website and a Google support page for GMail. On the support page is a place to enter your e-mail address for more information. If this is a joke, it's a fairly extensive joke.

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