Happy Birthday Gmail!

Gmail turned nine this month.  So what? I hear a few people saying. Actually, there is more to this than just a mere milestone.

Do you recall that when the service was launched it was pooh-poohed by vast tracts of the media because of its ads feature and therefore inherent privacy risks as it could effectively ‘read’ email messages?  A lot of commentators back then judged that, ‘nobody would sign up for such a service’.

How naive were we even only a few years ago…  We now simply take it for granted that if we are on social sites like Linkedin or Facebook we expect to be served ‘appropriate’ adverts, and this is really so common that only a few paranoid individuals still take umbrage to the practice.   But don’t get me going on the whole field of privacy as I have very strong views about it.

So, despite initial misgivings, what started on April Fool’s Day in 2004 (yes, really!), has now become an essential communication tool for around 400 million users globally and, apparently, ahead of Hotmail and Yahoo.  I say ‘apparently’ as it’s really tough to get any kind of user data from Google and if someone can provide me with more recent information I’d be very grateful indeed.

But above all Gmail has continued to evolve, integrating services like Drive, Calendar and much more, while its competitors are at best playing a game of catching up.  If you look at Gmail’s users suggestions group you’ll see it brimming with new ideas to improve productivity and efficiency.  There is a lot of loyalty among Gmail users, something which providers of similar services are desperate to replicate.  And this is doubly puzzling as Google has never really been at the top of the league in terms of listening to its users, indeed I defy anyone to talk to someone at Google (outside of its groups) in the event of an issue with any of its services – it’s simply impossible.  So is this some kind of misguided loyalty?  Actually no, it’s more a testament to the fact that on the whole this company pushes innovative products that so many people really, really want, so on the rare occasion that something goes wrong they can cash some of that good commercial karma that they have accrued, thus getting away with a little complacency.  So, happy birthday Gmail

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