One of the most hyped services on the web recently has been Gmail, a new e-mail service provided by Google, the undisputed ruler of internet searching. There has been plenty of overhyping and paranoia spreading about the service, and there seems to be confusion about what exactly the service is offering other than 1 GB (1000 MB) of storage. When I received an invitation to try the service from Dan I approached it with an open mind and caution.
Gmail takes conventional e-mail and improves on some of the flaws inherent in it. E-mail has gone mostly unchanged in functionality (other than spam blocking technology, which is still hugely flawed) in recent years. The most exciting thing about the introduction of Gmail is a new e-mail race, that should increase innovation in the field.

Conventional e-mail is usually difficult to archive, either because of web-based storage limits or because of the effort required to manually file our correspondence in whatever desktop environment we choose to use. Gmail remedies the archiving problem by allowing users to label all e-mails in user set categories (for instance, all Live Journal comments that are sent to me end up classified as LJ once I have finished with them) and by keeping conversations grouped together. Each e-mail saved on Gmail is also searchable, so that the user can find old e-mails they require info from at any time. The Gmail feature that makes this all posible is the 1 GB storage limit, which allows messages to be stored indefinitely.
Critics of Gmail have focused on the presence of ads in the web-based interface (which is already easy to bypass with a Windows program, Pop Goes The GMail) and the method of choosing those ads. Much like Google’s search engine, the mail interface chooses text-only ads most relevant to the messages you are viewing (the server where your mail is stored scans through your mail to find keywords). Privacy groups have called this a danger, but it may in fact be of great benefit for users. Anonymous, relevant ad placement not only makes ads less inconvenient by increasing the chance they may be of use to the target, but is a welcome change from the popup ads, banner ads and ads inserted directly into e-mails by many major free e-mail services. Google is quite clear in its privacy policy that no outside parties will have access to your e-mails and that Google itself will not view your messages unless there is a legal requirement for such an action.
So far I’m very impressed with Gmail. I have some minor complaints about the grouping of conversations (some e-mails were grouped in error) and the lack of built in POP3 support, but for a testing service it’s wonderfully impressive. Gmail is far superior to other free e-mail services, and should improve over time. It’ll be worth leaving Hotmail and Yahoo for, certainly.

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