Gmail

Gmail
Gmail's logo
Gmail screenshot
A screenshot of a Gmail inbox
Developer(s) Google
Initial release April 1, 2004; 7 years ago (2004-04-01)
Platform Google Closure Tools (JavaScript)
Available in Multi-lingual (54)
Type POP3, IMAP, E-mail, Webmail
License Proprietary
Website mail.google.com

Gmail is a free, advertising-supported email service provided by Google.[1] Users may access Gmail as secure webmail,[2] as well via POP3 or IMAP protocols.[3][4] Gmail was launched as an invitation-only beta release on April 1, 2004[5] and it became available to the general public on February 7, 2007, though still in beta status at that time.[6] The service was upgraded from beta status on July 7, 2009, along with the rest of the Google Apps suite.[7][8]

With an initial storage capacity offer of 1 GB per user, Gmail significantly increased the webmail standard for free storage from the 2 to 4 MB its competitors such as Hotmail offered at that time.[9] Individual Gmail messages, including attachments, may be up to 25 MB,[10] which is larger than many other mail services support. Gmail has a search-oriented interface and a "conversation view" similar to an Internet forum. Gmail is noted by web developers for its pioneering use of AJAX.[11] Gmail runs on Google GFE/2.0 on Linux.[12][13][14] As of October 2011, it had 260 million users worldwide.[15]

Google has announced that starting November 22, 2011 they will not support the Gmail for BlackBerry native application, although BlackBerry users can continue to access Gmail through the mobile web app at http://www.gmail.com in their BlackBerry web browser.[16]

Contents

Features

Storage

Gmail's log-in page (September 2011)

The Gmail service currently provides more than 7 GB of free storage per account.[17] Users can rent additional storage (shared between Picasa Web Albums, Google Docs and Gmail) from 20 GB (US$5/year) to 16 TB (US$4096/year).[18][19][20][21]

On April 1, 2005, the first anniversary of Gmail, Google announced the increase from 1 GB. Georges Harik, the product management director for Gmail, stated that Google would "keep giving people more space forever."[22]

Gmail Labs

The Gmail Labs feature, introduced on June 5, 2008, allows users to test new or experimental features of Gmail, such as bookmarking of important e-mail messages, custom keyboard shortcuts and games. Users can enable or disable Labs features selectively and provide feedback about each of them. This allows Gmail engineers to obtain user input about new features to improve them and also to assess their popularity and whether they merit developing into regular Gmail features. All Labs features are experimental and are subject to termination at any time.[23]

Spam filter

Gmail's spam filtering features a community-driven system: when any user marks an email as spam, this provides information to help the system identify similar future messages for all Gmail users.[24] Users may tune the system to allow mail marked as spam to be handled in particular ways.[25]

Gmail Mobile

Gmail Mobile is a version of Google's Gmail email service. It is a free service, developed to provide access to Gmail from mobile devices such as cell phones, or smartphones. Gmail Mobile offers many of the features as Gmail delivered effectively to smaller, mobile screens. Users have the ability to compose, read, archive, reply, forward, mark unread, add a star, add custom labels or trash email messages.[26] On September 22, 2009 Google brought Push Mail support to its Gmail service using Google Sync for iPhone and iPod Touch platforms.[27]

Screenshot of Gmail Mobile

In order to use the service a user will need a Gmail account and a mobile device that meets the following requirements:

  • It must have Internet access and a WAP enabled web browser
  • It must be XHTML compliant
  • It must have cookies enabled and the mobile network must also allow cookies to be set
  • It must allow SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) traffic.[28]

Gmail Mobile was released on December 16, 2005, and is available in more than 40 languages.[29]

Gmail on iPad

On April 3, 2010, Google announced a new two-pane layout designed specifically for the iPad. It is delivered automatically to Gmail website users who are signed in using the device's Safari browser; they may choose to revert to the traditional layout or use the native IMAP client.[30]

A new Gmail gadget for iGoogle uses interface elements from Gmail mobile, which includes the two pane layout.[31]

Google Buzz

On February 9, 2010, Google commenced their new service, Google Buzz, which integrates with Gmail allowing users to share links and media, as well as status updates.[32] Buzz was launched with an automatic opt-in, causing an uproar in the Gmail community which led Google to quickly undo its initial moves.[33]

Google Voice in Gmail chat

In August 2010, Google released a plugin that provides integrated telephone service within Gmail's Google Chat interface. This service initially lacked an official name, with Google referring to it as "Google Voice in Gmail chat" and also "Call Phones in Gmail",[34][35][36] but is now called Google Video and Voice Chat. The service allows people to make free calls from their Gmail account to U.S. and Canada, at least through the end of 2011.[37] Gmail account users can also call other countries on a fee basis.[38]

The service logged over 1 million calls in 24 hours on 26 August 2010.[38]

Offline Google Mail

On August 31, 2011, it was announced on the Official Gmail Blog that Offline Google Mail was launched as a Chrome web app at the Google Chrome Web Store. This HTML5-powered app is based on the Gmail web app on tablets. On April 11, 2011 Google engineer Sundar Pichai revealed that Google employees had been testing the app together with offline versions of Google Docs and Google Calendar for months and that the apps would be launched in the summer of 2011.[39]

Interface

The "Google+" Project's Preview UI
(available in the "themes" menu)

The Gmail interface differs from other Webmail systems with its focus on search and its "conversation view" of email, grouping several replies onto a single page. Gmail's user-experience designer, Kevin Fox, intended users to feel as if they were always on one page and just changing things on that page, rather than having to navigate to other places.[40]

History

The idea for Gmail was pitched by Rajen Sheth during an interview with Google,[41] and went on to be developed by Paul Buchheit several years before it was announced to the public. Initially the e-mail client was available for use only by Google employees internally. Google announced Gmail to the public on April 1, 2004.[42] IMAP support was added on October 24, 2007.[3]

Domain name history

Before its acquisition by Google, the gmail.com domain name was used by a free e-mail service offered by Garfield.com, online home of the comic strip Garfield. After moving to a different domain, that service has since been discontinued.[43]

As of June 22, 2005 (2005 -06-22), Gmail's canonical URI changed from http://gmail.google.com/gmail/ to http://mail.google.com/mail/.[44] As of November 2010, those who typed in the former URI were redirected to the latter.

Requirement for mobile phone number

When attempting to create a Gmail account from some countries, Google requires a mobile phone number that supports text messaging. In other countries this is not required for sign-up, according to Google due to service limitations.[45]

Google explains this:

If you'd like to sign up for a Gmail address, you need to have a mobile phone that has text-messaging capabilities.

If you don't have a phone, you may want to ask a friend if you can use his or her number to receive a code.

One of the reasons we're offering this new way to sign up for Gmail is to help protect our users and combat abuse. Spam and abuse protection are two things we take very seriously, and our users have been very happy with the small amount of spam they've received in Gmail. We take many measures to ensure that spammers have a difficult time sending their spam messages, getting these messages delivered, or even obtaining a Gmail address (spammers will often use many different addresses to send spam). Sending invitation codes to mobile phones is one way to address this, as the number of addresses created per phone number can be limited.[45]

In some cases, Google may allow a certain number of accounts to be created per IP address without requiring a phone number. In certain countries, one can also request a voice call with a verification code as an alternative to the text message. Voice calls are only available during certain hours and will not be listed as an option outside those hours.[citation needed]

Gmail hoaxes

Gmail Paper hoax

On April Fools' Day 2007, Google made fun of Gmail by introducing "Gmail Paper", where a user could click a button and Gmail would purportedly mail an ad-supported paper copy email archive for free.[46]

Gmail Custom Time hoax

On April Fools' Day 2008 Google introduced a fake service, "Gmail Custom Time", which would allegedly allow a user to send up to ten e-mails per year with forged timestamps. The hoax stated that by bending spacetime on the Google servers, the e-mails actually get routed through the fourth dimension of time itself before reaching their intended recipient.[47][48]

Gmail Autopilot hoax

On April Fools' Day 2009 Google introduced a service called Gmail Autopilot by CADIE.[49] According to Google, the service purported to automatically read and respond to emails for the user. It appeared to work by analyzing messages for the emotions expressed in the message and either providing advice to the user or automatically responding to the message.

Gmail Motion hoax

On April Fools' Day 2011 Google introduced a service called Gmail Motion which allowed users to navigate emails, send and even dictate messages through the user's physical actions using webcams. For example, to send an email, the user would perform the action of licking a stamp, and posting it. After the user signed up, they would be directed to an "April Fools'" message.[50][51]

Code changes

Gmail's JavaScript was rewritten in the middle of 2007 and was released to users starting on October 29, 2007. The new version had a redesigned contacts section, quick contacts box and chat popups, which were added to names in the message list as well as the contact list. The contacts application is integrated into other Google services, such as Google Docs. Users granted access to the new version were given a link at the top-right corner which read "Newer Version". As of December 2007, most new registrations in English (US) along with most pre-existing accounts are given the new interface by default when supported. There remains the option to downgrade via a link labelled "Older Version".[52][53][54][55]

These coding changes mean that only users of Internet Explorer 7, Firefox 2, Google Chrome and Safari 3.0 (or more recent versions) are officially supported by Gmail and can fully use the new code. Opera 9.5 and more recent versions are not officially tested but are expected to "work with all of Gmail's features". Internet Explorer 5.5+, Netscape 7.1+, Mozilla 1.4+, Firefox 0.8, Safari 1.3 and some other browsers will give limited functionality. Other browsers may be redirected to the basic-HTML-only version of Gmail.[54][56][57][58][59]

During the week of January 18, 2008, Google released an update that changed the way Gmail loads JavaScript. This caused the failure of some third-party extensions.[60]

On December 12, 2008, Gmail added support for faster PDF viewing within the browser.[61]

Criticism

Privacy

Google automatically scans e-mails to add context-sensitive advertisements to them. Privacy advocates raised concerns that the plan involved scanning their personal, assumed private, e-mails, and that this was a security problem. Allowing e-mail content to be read, even by a computer, raises the risk that the expectation of privacy in e-mail will be reduced. Furthermore, e-mail that non-subscribers choose to send to Gmail accounts is scanned by Gmail as well, even though those senders never agreed to Gmail's terms of service or privacy policy. Google can change its privacy policy unilaterally and Google is technically able to cross-reference cookies across its information-rich product line to make dossiers on individuals. However, most e-mail systems make use of server-side content scanning in order to check for spam.[62][63][64]

In 2004 privacy advocates also regard the lack of disclosed data retention and correlation policies as problematic. Google has the ability to combine information contained in a person's e-mail messages with information from Internet searches. Google has not confirmed how long such information is kept or how it can be used. One of the concerns is that it could be of interest to law enforcement agencies. More than 30 privacy and civil liberties organizations have urged Google to suspend Gmail service until these issues are resolved.[65]

Gmail's privacy policy used to contain the clause: "residual copies of deleted messages and accounts may take up to 60 days to be deleted from our active servers and may remain in our offline backup systems". However, this statement does not appear in Gmail's current privacy policy. Less specifically, Google have stated that they will "make reasonable efforts to remove deleted information from our systems as quickly as is practical."[66][67] Google points out that Gmail adheres to most industry-wide practices.[citation needed]

Google defends its position by citing their use of email-scanning to the user's benefit. Google states that Gmail refrains from displaying ads next to potentially sensitive messages such as those that mention tragedy, catastrophe, or death.[68]

Gmail accounts of human rights activists in China were hacked in sophisticated attacks — thought to use phishing and exploit a vulnerability in Internet Explorer[69][70][71] — in late 2009. Any (web mail or other) mail system which stores and retains user's email contents is an attractive target for such attacks, but Gmail is popular with security-conscious users because of its early HTTPS secure (encrypted) connection support, and its more-recent HTTPS-only default setting.[2][72]

The launch of Google Buzz as an opt-out social network immediately drew criticism for violating user privacy because it automatically allowed Gmail users' contacts to view their other contacts.[73][74]

Technical limitations

Gmail does not allow users to send or receive executable files or archives containing executable files if it recognizes the file extension as one used for executable files or archives.[75][76]

By design, Gmail does not deliver all of a user's e-mails. When downloading mail through POP or IMAP access, Gmail fails to deliver messages that users have sent to themselves if the client has a copy of it already.[77] It also does not deliver to a user's inbox (via any access interface) those messages that users have sent to mailing lists and which they might expect to receive back via the mailing list.[78]

Before September 29, 2010, Gmail sorted e-mail only by conversations (threads), which can be a problem for large conversations. For example, if a user sends a query to a large group of people, all of the responses are stored in a single conversation that is impossible to break apart. There is no way to search for responses from one user without getting the entire conversation. While deletion of individual e-mails is possible, most operations, such as archiving and labeling, can be performed only on whole conversations. Conversations cannot be split up or combined.[79] As a result of complaints from some users, Google made conversation view optional starting September 29, 2010.[80]

Outages

Gmail has been unavailable on several occasions. On February 24, 2009, the Gmail service was offline for 2 hours and 30 minutes, preventing millions of users from accessing their accounts. People who rely entirely on Gmail for business purposes complained about these outages.[81][82] Another outage occurred on September 1, 2009. Later that day, a Google vice president, Ben Treynor, explained that the problem, which ultimately resulted in about 100 minutes of outage, was caused by overloaded routers, triggered by a routine configuration change which added more router load than expected. Treynor wrote, "Gmail remains more than 99.9% available to all users, and we're committed to keeping events like today's notable for their rarity."[83][84]

In 2009, Google continued to experience outages across its network, leaving users without access to their email, calendars, and virtual files.[85]

Key outage dates include:[85]

  • February 27/28, 2011: Gmail outage[86]
  • September 24, 2009: Gmail outage
  • September 1, 2009: Gmail outage
  • May 14, 2009: Google network outage
  • March 9, 2009: Gmail outage
  • August 7, 2008: Gmail and Google Apps outage

Twenty-four hour lockdowns

If an algorithm detects what Google calls "abnormal usage that may indicate that your account has been compromised", the account can be automatically locked down for between one minute and 24 hours, depending on the type of activity detected. Listed reasons for a lock-down include:[87]

  • "Receiving, deleting, or downloading large amounts of mail via POP or IMAP in a short period of time. If you're getting the error message, 'Lockdown in Sector 4,' you should be able to access Gmail again after waiting 24 hours."[87]
  • "Sending a large number of undeliverable messages (messages that bounce back)."[87]
  • "Using file-sharing or file-storage software, browser extensions, or third party software that automatically logs in to your account."[87]
  • "Leaving multiple instances of Gmail open."[87]
  • "Browser-related issues. Please note that if you find your browser continually reloading while attempting to access your Inbox, it's probably a browser issue, and it may be necessary to clear your browser's cache and cookies."[87]

On behalf of

Prior to July 2009, any email sent through the Gmail interface included the Gmail.com address as the "sender", even if it was sent with a custom email address as "from". For example, an email sent with an external "from" address using Gmail could be displayed to a receiving e-mail client user as From user@gmail.com on behalf of user@OtherDomainEmailAddress.com (the display used by versions of Microsoft Outlook). By exposing the Gmail address, Google claimed that this would "help prevent mail from being marked as spam".[88] A number of Gmail users complained that this implementation was both a privacy concern and a professionalism problem.[89]

On July 30, 2009, Gmail announced an update to resolve this issue.[90] The updated custom 'From:' feature allows users to send messages from Gmail using a custom SMTP server, instead of Gmail's.[91] However, the issue is still present for users whose custom email address is a second Gmail account, rather than an account on a separate domain.[92]

Reception

Awards

Gmail was ranked second in PC World's "100 Best Products of 2005", behind Mozilla Firefox. Gmail also won 'Honorable Mention' in the Bottom Line Design Awards 2005.[93][94] In September 2006, Forbes magazine declared Gmail as the best webmail.[95] In November 2006, Gmail received PC World's 4 star rating.[96]

Gmail has drawn many favorable reviews from users for generous space quotas and unique organization.[97]

Trademark disputes

Germany

The former Google Mail logo
The present Google Mail logo

On July 4, 2005 Google announced that Gmail Deutschland would be rebranded as Google Mail. The domain gmail.com is unavailable in Germany due to trademark disputes, in which cases users must use the domain googlemail.com.[98] From that point forward, visitors originating from an IP address determined to be in Germany would be forwarded to googlemail.com where they could obtain an e-mail address containing the new domain.[99] Any German user who wants a gmail.com address must sign up for an account through a proxy. German users who were already registered were allowed to keep their old addresses.[citation needed]

The domains are interchangeable so users obliged to use the googlemail.com domain are unable to select addresses already chosen by gmail.com users.[99] Inbound e-mails sent to either googlemail.com or gmail.com addresses will reach the user. When registering for an online service, Google Mail users must use the googlemail.com form of their email address to ensure that any administrative emails they send to the service, such as confirmation messages, are recognized.[99]

The German naming issue is due to a trademark dispute between Google and Daniel Giersch, who owns a German company called "G-mail" which provides the service of printing out e-mail from senders and sending the print-out via postal mail to the intended recipients. On January 30, 2007, the EU's Office for Harmonization in the Internal Market ruled in favor of Giersch.[100]

Google spoofed "offering" the same service in the Gmail Paper April Fool's Day joke in 2007.[101]

Poland

In February 2007 Google filed legal action against the owners of gmail.pl, a poet group known in full as Grupa Młodych Artystów i Literatów abbreviated GMAiL (literally, "Group of Young Artists and Writers").[102] This lawsuit was lost and the website today remains the writers' website.[citation needed]

Russian Federation

A Russian paid mail redirect service called gmail.ru owns the "Gmail" trademark in the Russian Federation.[103]

The gmail.ru domain name dates from January 27, 2003.[104]

United Kingdom

On October 19, 2005, Google voluntarily converted the United Kingdom version of Gmail to Google Mail because of a dispute with the UK company Independent International Investment Research.[105][106]

Users who registered before the switch to Google Mail were able to keep their Gmail address, although the Gmail logo was replaced with a Google Mail logo. Users who signed up after the name change receive a googlemail.com address, although a reverse of either in the sent email will still deliver it to the same place.

In September 2009 Google began to change the branding of UK accounts back to Gmail following the resolution of the trademark dispute.[107]

On May 3, 2010, Google announced that they would start to phase out the googlemail.com domain in the UK. Existing users will get the option to switch to gmail.com, while new users will be given a gmail.com address by default.[108] This also required Android phone users to perform a factory reset (with ensuing data loss) to restore phone functionality.[109]

Competition

After Gmail's initial development and launch, many existing web mail services quickly increased their storage capacity.[110]

For example, Hotmail increased space for some users from 2 MB to 25 MB, with 250 MB after 30 days, and 2 GB for Hotmail Plus accounts. Yahoo! Mail went from 4 MB to 100 MB and 2 GB for Yahoo! Mail Plus accounts. Yahoo! Mail storage then increased to 250 MB and in late April 2005 to 1 GB. Yahoo! Mail announced that it would be providing "unlimited" storage to all its users in March 2007 and began providing it in May 2007.[111] Gawab.com was the first email provider who offered free 2 GB space for email account.[citation needed]

These were all seen as moves to stop existing users from switching to Gmail and to capitalize on the newly rekindled public interest in web mail services. The desire to catch up was especially noted in the case of MSN's Hotmail, which upgraded its e-mail storage from 250 MB to the new Windows Live Hotmail which includes 5 GB of storage that grows with you (expands if necessary). In November 2006, MSN Hotmail upgraded all free accounts to 1 GB of storage.[112]

In June 2005, AOL started providing all AIM screen names with their own e-mail accounts with 2 GB of storage.[113]

Google may terminate a Gmail account after nine months of inactivity.[114] Other webmail services have different, often shorter, times for marking an account as inactive. Yahoo! Mail deactivates dormant accounts after four months.[115][116]

As well as increasing storage limits following the launch of Gmail, Yahoo! Mail and Hotmail also enhanced their e-mail interfaces. During 2005 Yahoo! Mail and Hotmail matched Gmail's attachment size of 10 MB. Following the footsteps of Gmail, Yahoo! launched the Yahoo! Mail Beta service and Microsoft launched Windows Live Hotmail, both incorporating Ajax interfaces. Google increased the maximum attachment size to 20 MB in May 2007[117] and to 25 MB in June 2009.[118]

See also

Third party software

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