anonymous tech woman

Yet another woman in technology blog. I'm actually a developer who uses a variety of Java and database technologies on a variety of platforms.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

GoogleMail or is it Gmail?

What is GoogleMail?
GoogleMail or GMail ( is a free searched-based web email service from Google. Other known free providers of web email include Yahoo!, Microsoft (Hotmail) and Lycos. Web-based email accounts allow users to view their emails from any computer in the world as long as they remember their username and password.

Who is Google?
Google was founded by Larry Page and Sergey Bin who met at Stanford University. They developed a search engine called BackRub in 1996. By 1998 they had renamed the beta product, formed a company called Google Inc, managed to get funding for their venture and receive 10,000 search queries each day on their search engine. In 2000 they developed a keyword-targeted advertising program into their search engine which introduced a revenue stream into the now fully released search engine. Google started to develop other features into the brand to increase revenue such as Ad-Words and the Google Tool bar. GMail was announced to the world on 1st April 2004.

How do you get an account?
The first 1000 GMail accounts where given to Google employees and their families. The only way to get a GMail account if you were not an employee or a member of their family was/is by invitation.

Google Inc brought in 2003, a site that hosts Blogs. A blog is another name for an online diary. On 25th April Google Inc gave each user an invitation to have a GMail account. As I had a blog I got my first account that way.

Once you have used your GMail account for about a week you receive 10 invitations to give to your people you know to get an account. They then receive 10 invitations after using their account for about a week or so can invite other people.

Initially when you start giving out invitations you are limited to 10 people, and so if you invite 7 people then you only have 3 invites left. After about 3 months of use of your GMail account you notice that you have 50 invites and if you invite another 3 people within a few days you again have 50 invites. Then after 6 months you have 100 invites. (You can also invite yourself if you have another email address which is why I have 4 accounts.)

1. A free web-based email service with large storage.
Storage is currently around 2GB for an account which means you never have to delete emails.
2. Virus scanning of email.
Most email providers do this now as email servers have been taken down worldwide previously due to viruses that target email accounts.
3. The ability to send and receive emails that are 10MB in size This feature is only really of use if you are either storing documents on your account or are sending them to another GMail user as many other email accounts cannot cope with such large emails.
4. Vacation auto responder.
This really is not much use to a personal email address as if you receive spam you are signifying to the spammer your address is active so they can send you more spam.
5. Contact Groups
This is where you can create a name, say "friends", add people who fit the description to the group, and then when you send an you can type in "friends" in the 'To:' box and all the people in that group will receive the email.
6. Chat
Anyone with a GMail account in your contacts list will automatically appear on the left hand-side with a Green, Red or Grey symbol next to it. If the sign is green it means you can chat to them. If the sign is red it will have a message such as "don't even bother" indicating the person is busy, and if the sign is grey it means the person has signed out of chat. I personally don't find chat faster than sending an email to some one with a GoogleMail account who is online.
7. Auto-save
As you write your emails (or your articles for GMail periodically saves them in your drafts folder until you send them.
8. View attachments as HTML
You can click on a Word or PDF attachment and it opens up in another browser window as a HTML document. This is supposedly faster than downloading the document but actually is really useful if you are viewing the document on a PC away from home.
9. Export google contacts
Apparently you can export your contacts list to a file so you can move them around.
10. Languages
You can access GMail in 37 different languages including different forms of English.
11. Labels
You cannot organise your email by putting into folders. Instead you can give your email labels by email address or subject. I find this fiddly to do and have only tried it once.

Issues with GMail
1. GMail is still in beta mode
GMail is in Beta release form still after more than 2 years. This to those not in the Computer Industry, means that GMail is a preview release which signifies that although the product has most of it's features it is still unstable and can have additional features added to it before it is a finished product.

2. Invitation only model abuse
As GMail only allows users to get an account by invitation and invites have been open to abuse. For example people have been inviting people they don't know personally but just because they are a user on a mailing list they are on, and there are also websites that have been set up to allow users with spare invites to donate to those that do not have them. This is not actually against the "Terms of Service" but every once in a while Google makes it difficult for some donation sites to operate, and forces them to close.

3. Ad-Words and not Deleting Emails
When you enter a search phrase into the search engine, (or, adverts or "Sponsored Links" appear on the page related to your search terms. With GMail when you open or write an email, your words are scanned by computer and on the right hand side of the screen are a listed adverts related to the words in the email. For example as I'm writing this I see lots of adverts for Wedding Invitations.

In addition GMail states that because the storage space on it's servers is so large you never have to delete an email, and they admit that deleted email remains on their systems for an indefinite period of time.

This has lead to worries about privacy. However it should be noted in general that:
a. Most email messages are not encrypted and have to be routed through intermediate computers before reaching their destination, which means others can intercept and read messages.
b. Most email providers and Internet Service Providers (ISP) perform some sort of filtering on email messages to protect their systems from virus and trojans, and to remove spam messages which means they do some form of reading of your messages.
c. All email providers store your emails on their system for some time period, and in the case of companies and organisations they may have to store your emails on their systems for years for legal reasons.
d. Network administrators and some other people in companies/organisations are allowed to read individual email messages of users to ensure they don't contain illegal content.
e. If someone really wanted to read your emails in your account they would use Social Engineering to get your password out of you. There are surveys that show that the majority of people will give out their password for such gifts as a pen.

Therefore the real message is that you should not put anything in email that you want to keep confidential, and if you are worried about the contents of your emails getting into the wrong hands then you should encrypt them.

4. Why new UK users addresses don't end up with
In October 2005, UK bases users who signed up for an account where given an email address that ended with This was due to Google losing their court battle with a UK-based financial services firm Independent International Investment Research who were already using the GMail name for their web-based mail application since 2002. This trade mark issue also affect German users in May 2005. As I now have two Gmail accounts and two GoogleMail accounts, I refer to both GMail and GoogleMail in this article.

1. Free email service with large storage which enables you to back up documents to the web so you can access them from more than one place.
2. Ability to search your emails by typing a search term into the "search mail" box.
3. You can use the same passwords and username for Google Calendar (currently you have to pretend to be a US user) and Google news.
4. You can download your email to your own computer, and send and recieve email via SMTP and POP3.
5. Spell check :)
6. Login to the website is done via HTTPS which means that there is reasonable protection from eavesdroppers.
7. An email and a reply from another person are stored in threaded conversations.(Thanks crispy)

1. The issues of being in beta after 2 years, adwords, not deleting emails and the invitation model.
2. The fact that UK users now have an email address, since email can be sent to the person using this is confusing.
3. The servers are frequently busy particularly around lunch times. However this issue is not unique to GMail servers.
4. Seeming to add everyone you have ever emailed to your contacts list. So if you send an email to this email address is included in your contacts even if you never want to hear from again.
5. Not fully integrating calendar etc into the email service and certain features not be available to UK users.
6. Can automatically put non-spam messages in the spam folder. This happens with all my email accounts from different providers.

It's free and although there are some issues and annoyances with the service I generally find it alright to use. This mainly because I don't receive lots of spam into my inboxes and have to filter them myself like with some other free web accounts. I find the search facility a good feature to use if I'm searching for a subject in one of my 2 accounts that are subscribed to mailing lists.


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