Is GMail a Joke?

Is Google’s new plan to hand out free 1GB email accounts legit, or an incredibly elaborate April Fool’s day joke? If it’s a joke, it’s been exquisitely executed – there’s much more to this than a press release — they’ve set up a subdomain for it (gmail.google.com), a FAQ, even a signup form. On the other hand, the idea of giving out 1GB of storage free for the asking almost seems preposterous, even with cheap drive space, even with advertising support (one poster on MacSlash estimated the cost of supporting 10 million such users at $28 million in RAID platters alone). And the press release seems pretty flip in places. On the other hand, $28 million may be a drop in the bucket compared to the ad revenue they’ll earn over time (they earn around $3 billion / year in ad revenue from search engine text ad placement already). Remember that Google has built elaborate prank sites before — pigeonrank anyone?

Forbes and The Guardian are taking the story seriously. So if GMail is for real, why announce it on April Fool’s day? To get fools like me to post about it, that’s why. A game that will turn out not to be a game?

And I suppose the ad placement plan ties neatly into existing theories about Google’s plans to database the heck out of your life in order to deliver ads appropriate to your lifestyle and interests with surgical precision.

Music: David Thomas :: Pedestrian Walk

14 Replies to “Is GMail a Joke?”

  1. Hi Scot,

    First of all this is real. Doc Searls got a call from inside Google, Heise.de in Germany confirmed and re-confirmed in their discussion forum, ensight.org had a comment from somebody, … lots of stuff. And it is logical. They need to convince people that they need to switch to gmail and stop being able to use real eMail clients, doing everything online.

    And let’s presume that all of the 10.000.000 people you talk about look at only 10 eMails a day on average, then that’s 3 billion AdViews a month. They might earn a CPM of anything between $1-10 CPM, so 3 to 30 billion USD a month. And you don’t need a Gig for each person. You just offer it. Most people will not even come close. and those that do use this thing A LOT more than 10 times a day.

    Oliver

  2. I’ve been wondering this too but lean towards the real side. They’ve probably got a few hundred TB’s worth of storage going unused in all of their clusters. Many people would take a while to fill a gig, I backed-up a persons Notes archive at work and it was gig. It went back to 1992, so it would take a while to get there but some people are bigger packrats than others.

    The logistics of it though do stagger my mind, if MS isn’t willing to give you >2mb and they’ve got cash to burn then how long before reality would bring this back down to the ‘standard’ the other main portals are setting? It seems very dot-commish to me and I have a feeling you’ll have to pay 50$/month after a the initial buzz wears off for the gig offer.

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  4. The scope of the operation is huge, but as the day wears on and I think about it more, it’s started to seem less preposterous and more brilliant. They can pull it off, and pull it off in a way their competitors will have a hard time matching for some time to come. And if the numbers work out as outlined above, it’s really not much of a gamble for them.

    Michael, I was originally going to post about the XServe angle, but I do think that that’s MacSlash’s own April Fools twist (pretty dumb if so). Nothing on the Google site says anything about XServe. However Apple’s XServe RAID is certified cross-platform and I can see them striking a deal on those and hooking it up to their linux sever farms.

  5. April 1 is an odd choice, yes…

    Not that Google needs hype at this point, but consider that they plan to do an IPO shorly and want to build as much buzz as they can before then…

  6. I wonder if, aside from ad revenue and charging for pop access and forwarding, Google isn’t also planning on boxing Gmail up (a la the Google Search Appliance) and selling it as a corporate mail server. That’s already a very crowded space, but if Google’s mail search is good, it will give them a huge edge. The biggest problem with today’s corporate mail solutions is the hassle of finding the information you need — and companies are probably more than willing to pay a nice sum to help cut through the noise.

  7. You know, Michael, that’s a very good insight. Only one problem I can think of – in order to enable really fast search Google-style, it has to be web mail. But corporate users generally use a mail client, not web mail. Still, I’d be surprised if they’re not looking at it.

  8. For corporate mail, it might be possible to put an IMAP front-end on Gmail and still retain the fast search speed.

    Another possibility for the Gmail appliance might be the exploding mobile device mail market. Right now, telcos buy big honkin’ IMAP servers, but they’re not a good fit for mobile devices which are only connected during transactions (just like a web request). There’s no doubt a good bit of money to be made in that space, but as far as I know, there’s no real front runner yet.

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