April 2, 2004 – 9:33 pm
Have a look at this: Welcome to Gmail
Gmail is an experiment in a new kind of webmail, built on the idea that you should never have to delete mail and you should always be able to find the message you want.
Most people who heard about this in the last couple of days assumed it was an April Fools joke, and there have even been suggestions that Google timed their announcement just so there’d be an ‘is it or isn’t it?’ debate online.
However, it seems to be entirely real, and a number of people (those identified as early adopters) have been invited to beta test it.
Erik Thauvin reports that it’s really nothing special to look at (screenshot here) [turns out I fell for a fake - real screenshot here] – but a gigabyte of storage means that you’ll (probably) never have to delete your email… and rather than sort your mail, you can simply search within it.
So far, so good. However, Google have decided to subsidise the free webmail using context-sensitive text advertising. Most people don’t seem to care very much, but there is this rather unsettling feeling that you’d be signing up to allow something to read your mail.
Or maybe that happens anyway. Let’s test Echelon and see if it’s doing its job properly: terror, bomb, plot, drugs, overthrow, spy, imperialist dog, weapons.
If you don’t hear from me in the next little while, it’s because I’m busy being interrogated.
Okay, so maybe that’s an over-reaction, but there are some odd stories circulating the net about the instance of context-sensitive Google ads. Newspaper stories about people getting stabbed are accompanied by Google ads about where to get the sharpest knives – that sort of thing. Hell, I even have Google ads at the top of this very page. What does it think is contextually relevant at the moment?
Larry Page, one of the Google founders, thinks I probably worry too much, but I can’t help thinking that scanning people’s emails so that you can advertise to them warrants a little investigation – if only to reassure those of us who need reassuring.
I’m not so sure that a gigabyte of mail storage is such a good idea anyway – if for no other reason than the fact that sometime, eventually, you might want to sort it all out. Can you imagine wading your way through all that stuff to finally throw out all the spam, the dumb jokes, the one line messages from people who can’t make their appointments after all…? Perhaps limits are not always a bad thing.
On the upside, what a great way to backup or host files offsite. How’s this: attach an mp3 to an appropriately-named email and send it to your GMail address. Then give your login and password to your online buddies so they can download and listen as well. A gigabyte free hosting’s not to be sniffed at – ads or no ads.
I’m sure I won’t be the only one to think of that particular unintended application, and it leads me to wonder what steps the RIAA will take to prevent Google from contributing to the “piracy epidemic“.
Lawsuits, probably. That does seem to be the first step in any conversation about copyright when the major labels are involved – though sometimes, even they get knocked back.
Have I mentioned recently that you should read the Lessig book?