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A view from a beta tester – Steve Johnson, aka hrdwrjnkie

DISCLAIMER: All information provided within this article is based strictly on my own observations – no information has been provided by Google except where quoted and all this is subject to change – Gmail is still in beta!

Well, would you look at all the buzz that we are seeing regarding Gmail!

I figured as everyone seems to be interested in who, what, when, where and why of this neat little service, and there seem to be a lot of “I heard yadda yadda,” and “Well I heard yadda yadda,” flying around, I’d answer some questions regarding the service.

As a long-time member of blogger.com (resisting a shameless plug for my blogs here, thanks), I have the honor of being one of the first Gmail beta testers.

Let me start with telling you all that this is no “magic” e-mail service, and even if I hadn’t gotten an invite, I would not be one of the drooling idiots (no offense intended to the drooling idiots) that is bidding $75 or $80 on eBay for one of these.

Don’t get me wrong – the service is pretty cool. For starters, it runs in a Java applet, so the speed is just as fast as Outlook, Eudora or any other local mail client that you may run. I can actually get IE open and to Gmail faster than Eudora can download and display my messages over my 4 MB cable connection.

Gmail also features a completely different approach to mail sorting and storage.

As opposed to having a filter that puts mail from Grandma in one folder, mail from your buddies in another, etc, you can still create filters with Gmail, but the results are a little different.

Gmail uses what it calls labels.

What a label does is add a criterion to your mail to make it easier to search. All messages, when leaving your inbox, have the option of being trashed or archived. (With a full gig of space, I have archived everything (even the SPAM) from the last month now and still not run out of room. I think I’m up to like 7 %.) When a message is archived, it is thrown in the archive folder.

Imagine taking all of your papers from high school and/or college and organizing them. Quite a challenge, right? What Gmail does is archive your messages and index their subjects, body text, to/from lines and labels. Then when you want to find that message that, for example, someone from the forums sent you with that link to that awesome, hard-to-find water block, you just type OC (or whatever your label for the forum messages is) and ‘water block,’ and BAM! There’s you’re message.

Gmail also groups your messages by what they term conversations.

These are very similar to threads in a message forum. You can see in the screenshot below the different lines:

Gmail

Each one is a message which can be expanded and contracted by clicking. This makes extended e-mail exchanges that much easier to view, as you do not have to dig back through your inbox to find ‘that last message he sent.’ The downside is that I haven’t found a way to delete one message without deleting the entire ‘thread.’
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The Gigabyte of storage space is a great plus, too.

A Gig may not sound like a lot when we’re talking about HDDs, but when it comes to e-mail space, this is a lot. I have approximately 500 messages archived and am at around 7% storage. At this rate, we’re talking 7,000 messages. That’s a LOT of mail. The other side bonus of this is attachment sizes. I have sent and received 10 MB attachments and, aside from a long upload time on a slow asynchronous connection, there seems to be no Google-imposed restriction. I haven’t had the courage (or patience) to attempt sending a Linux ISO or something yet, but that’s what FTP is for!

Now, some people have raised some serious privacy issues regarding Google’s served ads. I have seen these and they are unobtrusive on the screen, as you can see for yourself below. They are generally very contextually applicable as well. Google has a policy as well of only serving ‘family-friendly’ ads. This is nice as I get enough pron advertising everywhere else on the ‘net. The quote below is straight from Google’s help pages on the ads:

About Ads & Related Information

You’ve reached this page because you chose to read more about ads and related pages delivered by Google. Ads in Gmail are placed in the same way that ads are placed alongside Google search results and, through the Google AdSense program, on content pages across the web.

Related information provides relevant information from sites in Google’s extensive index of web pages.
Gmail is a technology-based program. Advertising and related information are shown using a completely automated process. Ads are selected for relevance and served by Google computers using the same contextual advertising technology that powers our AdSense program. This technology enables Google to effectively target dynamically changing content, such as email, or news stories.

No humans will read the content of your email in order to target such advertisements or related information. Because the ads and Related Pages are matched to information that is of interest to you, we hope you’ll find them relevant and useful.

Your Privacy

Google does not and will never rent, sell or share information that personally identifies you for marketing purposes without your express permission. No email content or other personally identifiable information will be provided to advertisers.

Privacy is an issue we take very seriously. Only ads classified as Family-Safe are distributed through our content network and to your Gmail inbox. For example, Google would block certain ads from running next to an email about catastrophic news.

If you’d like to know more about how Google handles your Gmail information, please read our Gmail Privacy Policy.

Some who are privacy fiends will not like this policy, and those should stay away from Gmail and not expect a gig of storage for free without some compromises. I personally enjoy these as they give me a chance to do additional research when needed straight from my inbox, and I would much rather have text ads than some stupid “Shoot the monkey for a million dollars” flash ad on my screen.

In conclusion, I think that Google has done a great job with their new service and should be commended. They have managed to take a service that everyone can use, “Super-Size” it, add the really cool Google “extras” that we all love and use, and make it all free through very non-invasive and sometimes actually useful ads.

If you have not gotten your account yet, grab one when you get the chance. Unless you want to get first crack at a common username, I don’t think it’s worth bidding a large chunk of change on the internet for it, but it really is a neat, new concept. If Google has its way with e-mail as it has for search engines and PPC advertising, this will turn into an industry leader as soon as it goes public.

Send comments, flames, and bids for a Gmail invitation to

Steve Johnson – aka hrdwrjnkie

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