About Gmail

I got Gmail the other day. Work brought me past Blogger for an easy CMS, and “as an active Blogger user” I was invited for a beta account. I got “fanmail at gmail”. I couldn’t get “joen” – ones name has to be atleast 6 characters.

But I did get an account… and man, Gmail is something…

There are a number of reasons, that makes Gmail different.

1. There are no ads small relevant text ads. This is of course, cause for all the controversy, which I will have some thoughts about later on. But when you’re actually reading your mail, sorting & doing, they work damn well. They melt completely into the design, yet I’m certain they work. They are relevant, to-the-point, and somehow you don’t feel bad about donating a click. Quite different from hotmail, where all users are met with details about Britney’s latest fling, or a spotlight at “where famous people went to college”.

2. The GUI is clean and simple:

gmail_screenshot

Jakob Nielsen would be proud. Blue underlined links, buttons that look like buttons, input fields that are white … all important to make Gmail usable for everyone.

3. It’s FAST. I’m not completely sure how they’ve done it—If I look at the HTML source of a Gmail page, I am met by something completely scrambled. From what little I’ve gathered, however, it seems that the UI is entirely based on Javascript. This could mean that once Gmail is loaded, all pages are loaded, and merely shown or hid on the different clicks. This means everything appears with lightning speed, that is, if you have javascript enabled. But it works very impressively.

4. There are a number of nice little features that make the overall experience nicer. Features such as email address auto-complete, global shortcuts (which may cause some problems as Mark points out), and an integrated Google search that will effectively search through all your emails.

5. 1000 mb. I have no idea how they’ve done it, but it’s all there, and it works well with their idea of “search, don’t sort”. Gmail wants you to apply one or several “labels” to your email messages rather than file them in a folder. By doing this, you’ll end up with something of a searchable database, rather than a folder hierarchy. This is a good move for Google, and 1000 mb will make you do that.

There are more reasons, you can read about them at Gmails “Getting Started” page.

The Controversy

Unless you’ve been under a rock since Gmail was announced April 1st, you’ll know that Gmail has stirred a few privacy advocates.

The concern is about the text based advertisements Google shows next to each message. Google has to scan through the text of all messages, in order to show a relevant advertisement. For instance, if your friend asks you to the movies, you may get a cinema ticket advertisement in that email. By doing this, Google is actually reading your mail, and that is the point of the controversy.

Only, Google is not reading your mail. A robot is. There is no way a person could read through billions of emails a day, so a robot HAS to do the job. This is no different than how Hotmail scans your email for viruses or spam. No different.

The concern is real, however, and it’s a good thing that there’s a discussion on the topic. But the focus is skewed. The concern should be, whether it would be possible for a human, to monitor the robot, or the data the robot goes through, and in some way read the contents of an email. Since each mail is actually read by the robot, the data IS processed in an un-encrypted process. I don’t know enough about hacking—but why shouldn’t it be possible to hack Gmail, and eaves-drop on the robots tasks?

One thing is for sure, we’ll all know what happens in the near future. Until then, beta-invitations for Gmail are being sold and swapped to the highest bidder.