Through a series of implausible connections – and without trying to tap any analyst favors, I managed to snag one of the coveted Gmail accounts that people are apparently willing to go to great lengths to obtain. And with all the hype, my initial experience was decidedly underwhelming. True, a gig of email space is nice to have, particularly when passing around photos and the like, but apart from that it seemed, well, a lot like the other webmail applications such as Hotmail or Yahoo Mail.
But after using it a bit more, differences began to emerge. The interface, for one, is highly responsive and dynamic. The type of response all web applications should shoot for. Clicking an email gives a near instantaneous response time – search, as should be expected from the firm whos name has entered the lexicon as synonymous with search, is likewise. Even over dialup the response is excellent. How much of this is due to the design versus how much is due to the fact that there are not monumental loads on the server given the limited beta remains to be seen.
It also offers shortcut keys – which work cross-browser, notably – for create an email, open an email, etc. Great for power users.
Google is also attempting to put forth the notion of email as a conversation rather than a message. Its tough to describe, but rather than arrange incoming emails in linear fashion, message by message, theyre grouped in conversations. So an email to contact, their reply, and my reply to their reply are all grouped together. Its a bit different user experience, but over time one that I think will be appreciated.
As for the most controversial feature – the scanning of your email for ad purposes – Ive barely even noticed it. So far its amounted to things like pulling Boulder, CO out of a friends email signature and presenting me with Boulder real estate ads – which I am by now thoroughly trained to ignore. I would be more concerned, but for no good reasons I tend to trust Google. Ill be watching it closely for signs of evil – as no doubt organizations like the EFF and The Privacy Place (disclaimer: Im on the advisory board) will be – but for now, Im not too worried.
All in all, an interesting experience and my new free email provider of choice. On the wishlist – mobile email access, and POP box options, even if just to export.