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Friday, January 20, 2006

Why Gmail?

In line with my 'Why Firefox?' article, I'm doing another one about Gmail. Why Gmail? Because it's great, that's why! :-)

I've been a Microsoft Outlook fan ever since Outlook came out in 1997. It was buggy as all hell though, and Outlook 98, released as a new version, was really a patch for Outlook 97. Thank the Lords! A year of pain was over. Since then, Outlook has just been getting better and better, and has been my email program of choice. I used Hotmail infrequently, mainly because it allows only 2 Mb of space instead of the 'unlimited' space of my own computer's ability to store email in Outlook.

And then along came Gmail.

Get invited to 'the club'

The only way to access Gmail was - and still is - to be invited to use it by someone who already has an account. I resisted for a long time, mainly because it seemed like such a 'geeky' and elitist thing to be part of. All the uber geeks were getting into it and handing out their invitations only to their friends. It then became a brief trend to sell invitations to non-elitists, but that was shortlived when most people started giving away invitations on their websites, and that trend has continued to this day.

I think it was close to a year ago when I succumbed to the craze myself, and asked someone on a website for an invitation. I signed up and started playing around with this new way of using email.

Labels

For a start, Gmail has done away with folders. No more folders for storing your emails by 'category' (eg. with the folder names). Instead, they've created 'labels', which is another form of tagging. You can label an email with as many labels as you want. There's a list of labels, similar to your old folder list, but labels work by helping you search for items.

If you get an email from a friend about a business you're working on, then you might label it with your friend's name, as well as the name of the business. This is all you do to it. You can then access it in future by just clicking on either of the label names you've applied to that email, and it will show up under each of them.

Archiving

Basically, Gmail is just one big Inbox that's sorted by labelling. Or not. You can just leave them in your Inbox, or you can label emails and then Archive them, which 'removes' them from the Inbox. I say 'remove' because Gmail works on the displaying of labelled emails, rather than actually moving emails around anywhere. The Inbox will display unlabelled email and those labelled emails that you haven't Archived. Archiving is mainly a means of keeping it all organised, by assigning the display of items to the labels that they've been marked with. You won't see any labelled emails until you click on the name of the label in the label list, and then you'll see all those emails that have been labelled with that name. Multiple labels will allow the same email to show under each of the relevent labels.

Space available

Hotmail has 2 Mb for free. They go up to 250 Mb if you pay them for it. Gmail has, at the time of writing this article, 2686 Mb. Free. This is over 1300 times the space available on Hotmail, unless you're paying for your Hotmail, in which case it's over 10 times the amount of space available. But still for free.

The good thing is that every second Google are increasing the space available for storage. As I'm typing this I can see that the available storage space is currently at 2686.129359 Mb... no, it's 2686.129413 Mb... no, now it's 2686.129451 Mb... well, you get the picture, I'm sure.

Searching

Up the top of your Gmail page is a search field, similar to the Google search field that you're all used to. This is an extremely quick search tool that you can use to find a particular email or range of emails. If you've got hundreds of Mb's of emails, or even thousands of Mb's (considering you can have 2686 Mb at the moment) then this search tool becomes extremely handy.

If you can't find a particular email within the labels, then you can search for anything to do with that email, and Gmail will find it for you or list all those emails you have which contains whatever you were searching for. And it's fast. Smokin' fast!

Advertising and data privacy

In order to provide you with so much storage space and so many features - for free - Google has placed their advertising on the right hand side of the window. This has caused many people a lot of concern, relating to their fears that the content of their emails may be used against them. If the advertising programs can pick up the content and place content-related advertisements on the page, then the potential is there for advertising firms to make use of the actual email content via 'data mining'. Eg. "Barry Jones, at this particular IP address, received this particular email about buying furniture on eBay. So if we send him spam on purchasing furniture, he'll probably buy some!"

You know what? There's too many people writing too many emails for anyone to worry about looking at your email. Content-related advertising works on keyword detection, rather than someone trawling through your Inbox and reading your personal email. The keyword of 'furniture' is detected by the advertising program and it automatically displays furniture-related advertising for you to see.

But really, how often do you take any notice of the advertising on the side of the Google search pages? It's exactly the same thing with Gmail. It's a very small price to pay for something that actually costs you nothing. And after a while you don't even see the advertisements.

A lot of people worry about their privacy in relation to advertising, and about the potential for abuse. I agree that the potential is there, but that same potential is there in everything. There is a greater chance that your credit card details will be stolen from your bank than there is of your privacy being violated by advertising executives.

In the movie Minority Report, starring Tom Cruise, he took someone's jacket and walked through a shopping centre. The video advertising on the walls detected the presence of the jacket and video advertisements marketed themselves to him, calling him by the name of the jacket's owner, suggesting products similar to those that the owner had previously purchased.

This is the way of the future, I believe. Computer programs will be detecting your online presence, and will display advertising to you that's based on your online record of purchasing. This will be of benefit to most people, as it's based on their interests and purchasing habits, saving them time by not having to search for things themselves. The people behind the programs and advertising companies will not care about you personally. What you write about or do on the internet is of little interest to them. Your personal privacy is safe. Your desire for personal anonymity is safe. Your online habits aren't. Your online purchases aren't. And if you don't like it, that's fine. But it means you're resistent to change that will ultimately be of benefit to your shopping habits. :-)

Other features
  • POP Accounts - Gmail also allows you to continue using Outlook if you so choose, along with any other email programs that you use to access POP accounts. You can download Gmails and reply via Gmail with any POP email programs.

  • Filters - You can set up filters that automatically apply labels for you and archive them. They'll bypass your Inbox and show up as unread in your Label list. The filters are customisable according to your needs.

  • Conversations - Gmail allows you to see 'conversations' on one page, by keeping together all those emails - received and sent - that have the same subject heading, allowing you to see who said what, etc.

  • Gmail Notifier - you can get a browser plugin that notifies you as soon as you get new Gmail.
There are many other features as well, which enhance the functionality of using email. Basically Google decided to revolutionise the use of email, and Gmail is the result.

Because it's so good, with many necessary and useful features not found anywhere else, I use it now instead of Outlook. It's my email 'program' of choice, and I recommend it becomes yours too.

If you want a Gmail account of your own, contact me for an invitation. I have 100 invites available to hand out.

Posted on 1/20/2006 09:51:00 AM Backlinks


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(C) Alan Howard 1998 - 2006