I guess you can call me Charlie, because I’ve found one of Willy Wonka’s Golden Tickets – a GMail invite, that is. I set up my account about 10 days ago and have been playing with it ever since. I’m fairly impressed, but I expected to be. Google does not produce garbage. For the benefit of those who do not have a GMail account but are curious about the service, I’ll do a mini-review here.
I Feel Pretty…
First off, the interface is nice – minimalist, clean and effective, just like the main Google page. The first thing one notices about the GMail interface is that instead of presenting a list of eMails, GMail groups entire eMail threads together under one subject line – that is to say, you only see the subject line in your Inbox one time, instead of seeing it one times for every message sent with that subject line. In my opinion, this alone is sufficiently compelling to justify a move to GMail from whatever web mail you might be using now. If the benefit of threaded eMail is not clear to you, let me put it this way: you’ll never again feel dread when a client or colleague asks you "Did you get my last eMail about that that?".
Got Ads, Shown Live If You Want Them
Next you have the targeted advertising. This is upsetting a number of people for some reason, but I love it, especially because a lot of my eMail consists of consulting with colleagues on programming and tool matters. It never hurts to have a fast link to relevant items at hand. Notice the ads along the right-hand side of the page in Figure 2; not only are they context-appropriate to the current eMail message, they are unobtrusive enough to keep me happy, all tucked away off to the side like that.
Bells & Whistles
One of the better features is the keyboard shortcuts. I defy anyone to think of anything they might want to do with an eMail message that cannot be done with GMail’s keyboard shortcuts. Compose message, Search, Reply, Forward, Archive, Next Message, Previous Message – iit’s all in there. Having these keyboard shortcuts will go a long way for some people – we all know that some users have a hard time using the mouse. Including these shortcuts takes GMail one step closer to being a "real" eMail application than other web mails services currently are.
Go, Speed Racer, Go!
For the those who complain of the lag inherent in doing anything over the web, let me tell you – GMail is pretty snappy. I have cable internet, so my connection is snappy in general, but the web mail offered by Hotmail and Yahoo! have always seemed sluggish to me.
My, What a Big Inbox You Have!
Now, on to storage. It is no secret that GMail has allocated an unprecedented 1GB of storage to each GMail user, the idea being that one should never have to delete an eMail. In truth, Google does not want us to delete eMail because it wants to analyze the spam we get, so it can offer filtering services in the future (it is worth nothing that Microsoft and other industry notables are working on the spam problem as well. Whoever comes up with a good solution first will have a huge foothold in a lucrative market – who DOESN’T want to filter out spam?), but whatever the motivation is, it is nice to not have to worry about butting up against some dinky size limitation.
This Is Not A Conspiracy
The paranoid among you can rest easy – GMail does indeed allow you to delete eMails, even if you don’t need to – you can send an eMail to the Trash, then select the ‘Delete Forever’ action, and *poof* the message is gone. It is interesting to note that there is no keyboard shortcut for ‘Delete Message’.
And the Winner Is…
…the users! There are a ton of free web mail providers out there – we’ve all got more than we need. That said, the threading, the 1GB of storage, the easy-to-use interface and even easier-to-use keyboard shortcuts make the switch to GMail make sense. If ever there were a better mousetrap, this is it. Also, by using GMail you are helping Google to fight spam. And who wouldn’t want to fight spam?