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The i-Technology World Remains Giga-Baffled By Google's "Gmail"

"No humans read your e-mail" says Gmail's FAQ.

  • Read yesterday's story: Forget E-Mail, Free Google-Mail Arrives: "G-Mail" Is Born

    The world of Internet technologies like Java, .NET, XML, Web services, and Linux continues this morning to try and make sense of yesterday's choice of All Fools Day by Google to make its extraordinary announcement about launching a free e-mail service that offers so much accompanying free storage - 1 Gigabyte - that rival services would overnight seem massively restrictive in comparison, storage-wise.

    Was it a hoax? Or was it genuine? If a hoax, why hasn't Google yet said so? If genuine, same question.

    Here are some of the stranger aspects of the story.

    For a start, as yet not remarked upon elsewhere, the story was only ever searchable yesterday (and still, today) via Google's business sub-section, never its Sci/Tech subsection. That would seem to lead credence to the notion that Gmail is 100% legitimate and marks a massive warning shot across the bows of Yahoo and MSN's Hotmail.

    On the other hand, according to the Terms and Conditions listed on the Gmail Web site, Google is "currently only offering Gmail as part of a preview release and limited test. We don't have details on when Gmail will be made more widely available, as that depends in part on the results of the test." Reports began circulating that only 1000 "e-mail addicts" would be allowed to sign up for the service in beta, to iron out any wrinkles, which some commentators saw as being an indicator that perhaps it wasn't real after all.

  • Most distracting of all, of course, was yesterday's 100% certain Google-hoax, namely its April 1st announcement of GCHEESE,  standing for "Google Copernicus Hosting Environment and Experiment in Search Engineering" - an imaginary lunar outpost for which the company was mock-soliciting engineers' resumes:

    Google Copernicus Center is hiring

    Google is interviewing candidates for engineering positions at our lunar hosting and research center, opening late in the spring of 2007. This unique opportunity is available only to highly-qualified individuals who are willing to relocate for an extended period of time, are in top physical condition and are capable of surviving with limited access to such modern conveniences as soy low-fat lattes, The Sopranos and a steady supply of oxygen.

    The Google Copernicus Hosting Environment and Experiment in Search Engineering (G.C.H.E.E.S.E.) is a fully integrated research, development and technology facility at which Google will be conducting experiments in entropized information filtering, high-density high-delivery hosting (HiDeHiDeHo) and de-oxygenated cubicle dwelling. This center will provide a unique platform from which Google will leapfrog current terrestrial-based technologies and bring information access to new heights of utility.

    If Google is serious about Gmail, then it has - whether inadvertently or deliberately - reaped a massive amount of publicity as a result of the confusion. Searches of the Internet this morning already reveal over 20,000 references to "Gmail" now litter the WWW after just 24 hours, with the number growing all the time. On the Google News site itself, only the reassurances yesterday by Saudi Arabia about US oil supplies (1229 items) exceeded the number of items about Gmail (555 items).

    Indeed Google News is very unusually linking not only to stories about its own Gmail announcement but also to news stories about its rivals such as Microsoft ( e.g. "Microsoft's quest for dominance", from CNET).

    Here's what some of the more prominent media are saying this morning:

    Techfocus (Australia): "It's War"

    Computer Business Review: "Gloves Off, Google Gets into Webmail Gig"

    St Petersburg Times: "No Gag: Google's plan for e-mail draws ogles"

    Forbes.com: "Google says "Gmail" is no joke, but lunar jobs are"

    CRN.com: Google Parlays Search Strength In New Mail Offering


    The Washington Post: "Google E-Mail Ad Plans Raise Fears About Privacy"

    The most serious issue, as raised by The Washington Post, would seem to be Google's current determination to use a "contextual advertising" model to fund the service.

    Here's how Google explains itself in the Gmail FAQ:

    8. Are there ads in Gmail?

    There are no pop-ups or banner ads in Gmail. Gmail does include relevant text ads that are similar to the ads appearing on the right side of Google search results pages. The matching of ads to content is a completely automated process performed by computers using the same technology that powers the Google AdSense program. This technology already places targeted ads on thousands of sites across the web by quickly analyzing the content of pages and determining which ads are most relevant to them. No humans read your email to target the ads, and no email content or other personally identifiable information is ever provided to advertisers.

    "No humans read your e-mail" is one of those assertions that always has the exact opposite effect on privacy advocates, and justifiably so.

    This Gmail story promises to be one of the most widely discussed initiatives since the creation of the WWW itself. You can expect the Internet to be awash with it for a good time yet. Especially as there may be some trademarking problems ahead for Google. Just look here:

    Gmail is an experimental SQL-based vfolder email system, using MySQL as its back-end database, which allows for large volumes of mail, without risk of data loss. The vfolders (virtual folders) are implemented as SQL queries. A cache system keeps gmail fast.

    Not from the Gmail site at all, but from the part of the Debian.org site devoted to a package known in full as gmail (0.7.5-2), GNOME mail client using SQL-based vfolders.
  • More Stories By Jeremy Geelan

    Jeremy Geelan is Chairman & CEO of the 21st Century Internet Group, Inc. and an Executive Academy Member of the International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences. Formerly he was President & COO at Cloud Expo, Inc. and Conference Chair of the worldwide Cloud Expo series. He appears regularly at conferences and trade shows, speaking to technology audiences across six continents. You can follow him on twitter: @jg21.

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    Most Recent Comments
    ameoba 04/02/04 07:22:35 AM EST

    With 1GB of storage and a good search function, a lot of people are never going to delete anything they recieve. Add the spam factor and that'll fill up pretty damned quickly

    OoSync 04/02/04 07:19:59 AM EST

    This has the potential for massive abuse, but I really, really want to continue believing that Goolge is a truly ethical company. So far they've done a fine job of catering to pay customers (advertisers, et al.) and regular Joes/Janes.

    aussersterne 04/02/04 06:56:21 AM EST

    The number of users who will actually use that much storage is very small. I have a large email volume, plus SPAM, which I save (but filter into another folder with spamassassin). My email archive goes all the way back to 1997 and is still not much larger than 1GB. Even with SPAM, I think most users will take months or even years to reach a 150-200MB, much less 1GB.

    And of course, it's very likely that Google will aggressively filter SPAM in the same way that Yahoo! or the others do.

    Koooool 04/02/04 06:42:03 AM EST

    Im sure many geeks will just love the google.com domain and use it for average everyday stuff, not really ever pushing the 1GB limit. I would be alot more concerned about bandwidth on a system like this.

    Chris McCaw-Sinclair 04/02/04 06:41:25 AM EST

    I went to Register.com and did a WHOIS look up on "www.gmail.com" yesterday and then again today and I find it all very... uh, INTERESTING! Yesterday, it was registered to a run-of-the-mill guy somewhere in the U.S. The website was registered waaaaaaay back in 1995 (pre-Google) and was set to expire in mid-August of 2004. Yesterday, I would have said this whole Gmail-thing is a hoax and they simply rented this guy's website for a day to make it more realistic... but, now it says Google owns it and they've secured it through mid-August 2006. Maybe they're serious about this after all(???). What's important is this guy (I sure wish I had copied down his name and contact info). He had the URL "Gmail.com" and if he sold it Google so they can go through with the Gmail e-mail plan, they guy could be an instant millionaire by now. I sure would sock it to Google for all it's worth if they want the highly desirable URL "Gmail.com" and I owned it! lol

    vwjeff 04/02/04 06:40:36 AM EST

    My first question was why is google doing this? Then the answer came to me....money. I predict google will develop an anti-spam process by using this service as a testing ground. They could then sell this technology. With the google name behind it, people will pay attention!!!

    This is all speculation but to me it seems reasonable.

    SpamJunkie 04/02/04 06:39:06 AM EST

    I really like yahoo's mail service. The spam blocking is exceptional and the disposable email address feature a life saver. It makes me more entrenched though. It'd take a lot of coaxing to get my friends to update their email addresses, I'd probably need a year to make the transition.

    But with 1GB of space and good email searching (a weak spot with yahoo) I'd switch for sure.

    leerpm 04/02/04 06:37:57 AM EST

    It's not Microsoft that's the target, it's Yahoo. Yahoo is their biggest competitor, and they are going for Yahoo's crown jewels, their premium users who pay for the email service.

    Father Goose 04/02/04 06:34:36 AM EST

    Two subjects seem to be missing from everything I have read so far.

    1) It is every user's responsibility to maintain (monitor, edit, & delete) any information they accept and/or store, particularly if they don't own the storage medium. Otherwise they're their own worst enemy.

    2) No one is forcing anyone to accept or use Gmail. Granted Google's offer is very attractive, but I don't have to use it.

    The reality is Google has just scared the pants off the GREEDY media mongers.

    Have a pleasant day.

    Meerkat 04/02/04 06:25:45 AM EST

    If anyone believes that webmail or any mail besides encrypted emails is secure you are seriously kidding you're self. If you are worried about security, simply don't get an online email account.

    maboo 04/02/04 06:07:00 AM EST

    As opposed to who's privacy policy? Yahoo? Hotmail? Online privacy policies are largely unenforceable so they're meaningless in the first place. TrustE certified? Yea, right... that company is like the fox guarding the henhouse. There is NO privacy policy anywhere on the net that has much legal ground unless it pertains to kids under the age of 12.

    Privateer 04/02/04 06:06:24 AM EST

    i wouldn't touch this service with a 10-foot pole given google's lack of a serious privacy policy. i didn't notice any statement regarding privacy in the announcement. but the privacy policy for the whole site includes, "Google may decide to change this Privacy Policy from time to time." also, do you know what google *really* does with those cookies?

    talk about a profiler's goldmine. don't tell me any of you believe google (a for-profit company) wouldn't scan every last email for "marketing" reasons?

    OneBigReservation 04/02/04 06:04:52 AM EST

    I do not know exactly how the system will work, but there is enormous potential for abuse. Actually, just personal storage of large amounts of data is probably the least of the concerns. One could imagine a warez or porn distribution system based on small requests to a controlling site that then uses mail fowarding to deliver the content (thus pushing the bulk of the storage and bandwidth costs onto gmail).

    biglig2 04/02/04 06:03:44 AM EST

    Reasoning: It's too damn good an idea to waste on a joke.

    Is there anyone here who wouldn't switch to being [email protected]? A clean interface, non-intrusive adds, nigh unlimited storage, from a brand you trust.

    Their ad system would read my mail? That's fine by me. Free webmail accounts are hardly secure now, are they? Encrypt if you need privacy.

    If it's still there tomorrow we'll know.

    lurker 04/02/04 06:02:56 AM EST

    After thinking about this all yesterday, I have come to the conclusion that Google is introducing Gmail (i.e. it is not a joke). However, I am also convinced that the timing and style of the announcement was specifically designed to maximize discussion. Very clever!

    rht67 04/02/04 05:28:44 AM EST

    The Gmail site says, about spam:

    What about spam?

    Google is committed to keeping unwanted messages out of your inbox. Gmail includes a sophisticated spam filter that we're continuing to improve. The Report Spam link in Gmail is a way for users to help with this effort. It removes spam from the inbox and sends valuable data to the Gmail team working on spam blocking.

    SpamBuff 04/02/04 05:26:58 AM EST

    Their spam system may be easy. Think of how many times Nigerian scam emails have been sent, to how many millions of people. No actual mailing list or legit promotion has that level of repetition. the sheer *volume* of nearly identical spam becomes the easiest way to flag it as spam.

    jdifool 04/02/04 05:25:46 AM EST

    Giving away 1Gb is the perfect way to attract warez, and affiliated nasty stuff.

    almaon 04/02/04 05:24:02 AM EST

    My concern is that such a wealth of storage is going to be abused by pirates.

    Those of you who are familar with AOL back in the early days found their large capacity email to be a haven for piracy. Large file attachments that once initially uploaded, could be forwarded and shared with hundreds of people in seconds, once recieved, it could be forwarded again to yet even more people. All without the delay of re-uploading, nor even having to download the complete file.

    I hope that Google has something up their sleave to preemptively nullify this problem before it starts. I used to make entertainment software for PC's and eventually had to disolve the S-Corp due to dwindling sales lost to piracy. The above mentioned method the result of...

    Possible solutions would be to limit the size of attachments. Possible disallow forwarding attachments greater than 50MB. Dunno, just hope this is just paranoia talking and not an omen commanded by my Rice Krispies.

    It's Real 04/02/04 05:22:32 AM EST

    Yes, Gmail is real:

    http://msnbc.msn.com/id/4641298/

    Google spokesman David Krane, reached Wednesday night, admitted that the "color and personality" of the press release -- which is dated "April 1 UTC" and includes phrases such as "millions of M&Ms later, Gmail was born" -- "was indeed in the spirit of April 1" but said that Gmail was a serious product.

    "We are beginning to test a free e-mail service," Krane told MSNBC.com.

    slider451 04/02/04 05:19:20 AM EST

    Gmail has caused a lot of raised eyebrows. If it's fake, it fooled me good. I gave them my e-mail address yesterday hoping it was true