Why you should consider it: Gmail is currently in its beta testing phase. In this case, the term “beta” belies how robust the system already is. Surely there are features to be added and tweaks to be made, but the system works and very efficiently at that. After a few minutes with my account, I had no qualms switching the e-mail address on my various accounts (E-bay, PayPal, forums, etc.) to Gmail. Here are several reasons why.
Gmail – It’s more than the gig
The hype over Google’s new e-mail service has snowballed, it seems, since it was announced on April 1, 2004. Despite the dubious April Fools timing Gmail is real and accounts are slowly spreading.
Gmail is currently in its beta testing phase. In this case, the term “beta” belies how robust the system already is. Surely there are features to be added and tweaks to be made, but the system works and very efficiently at that. After a few minutes with my account, I had no qualms switching the e-mail address on my various accounts (E-bay, PayPal, forums, etc.) to Gmail. Here are several reasons why.
When Google first went public, it had no webmaster. This, in part, led to the simple search interface that millions now enjoy using. The company stuck to this root idea when it made the interface for Gmail. It’s simple, it loads quickly, it’s intuitive, and it gets the job done. Even on a dialup connection, Gmail is a pleasure to use. It soundly defeats services like Microsoft Outlook Web Access for load time. On my system, it even makes Yahoo’s loading seem like an eternity. Gmail’s interface is primarily text: there are no icons to load and only one small image.
Trading e-mails with someone all day can produce quite a list of e-mails. Why would you want to see ten e-mails on the same topic displayed separately? Google has taken a logical and significant step forward in the displaying messages compared to most other e-mail services. Instead of listing all your same-topic e-mails separately, they are grouped together with a number in parenthesis after the subject indicating the number of e-mails in the conversation. Clicking on the subject produces a threaded conversation format vaguely similar to an instant messenger conversation, as seen above. Unnecessary header text is hidden unless you want to view it.
Labels vs. Folders
How many times have you forgotten which folder you put an e-mail in using Outlook and had trouble finding it? Google has ditched the folder system entirely. Instead, users create a list of labels. Any e-mail can have multiple labels applied to it. This way, an e-mail can fit in multiple categories at once – it will always be where you expect it to be.
While the label system a great innovation, it does have a few deficiencies. First, all your labels are in a single-level alphabetically ordered list. Therefore, your “E-bay”, “Completed transaction”, and “Shipped orders” labels would be spread through your list. What I’d really like to see is a hierarchical structure for labels. For instance, I’d want the system to automatically apply the label “E-bay” if I used one of the latter two labels and to have them grouped together. There’s always room for improvement, though, and this system is far better than folders anyway.
Google gives you significant manual control over the e-mail that reaches your inbox. However, it’s very possible its true gift for blocking spam will come from its programming. Call it blind faith if you will, but I think Google’s spam filter is going to outclass most. Of course I haven’t received any spam in my account yet – I probably wouldn’t have even without a spam filter at this point. It only seems logical that a company that has managed to outmaneuver an army of website creators trying to outwit its ranking system would be able to put the screws to spam. Seeing that I am unwilling to subject my new account to a spam test, however, my theory will remain just that for now.
The ’empty’ message says it all – the trash function is almost unnecessary. With 1,000 megabytes free space and the ability to send 10-megabyte attachments, Google has created a giant among e-mail services. After that litany of functions, one would hope that users would be able to see the true utility of Gmail beyond the much-hyped gigabyte, but it is still an amazing number.
So, what’s missing?
Gmail is great, but it isn’t perfect. There’s still functionality under work. One small issue is that it does not allow a user to attach multiple files at once. This causes a lot of extra, tedious clicking.
What else is cool?
There are a couple more features worth mentioning. First, this is a screen shot of the options menu. There are several nice, simple feature in here like the use of shortcut keys, signatures, and nicknames.
Since this is a Google application, there are some very robust search features built into the program. Another useful toy is the ability to “star” messages so that they stand out among all the other messages with the same label.
Where do I sign up?
Herein lies the hitch: Google accounts are by “invitation only” presently. It stands to reason that this is perhaps the only feasible way of rolling out a new e-mail service sanely. Invitations stop spammers and other internet riffraff from scooping up all the good names in less than one minute as they would if the service went fully public right away.
The invitations work something like this. You get invited and sign up for an account. After you have used your account a certain amount, you get three invitations to use as you see fit. If the activity continues, you will likely get three more eventually. I suspect it’s something like every 30-50 e-mails, but I am unsure as to the precise formula, of course. Google claims they are distributed as they are ready to expand the testing circle, but it all seems more automatic than that. I suspect hundreds are signing up daily at an exponentially increasing rate. If you’re really desperate, check E-bay. The prices of auctioned invitations are dropping quickly.
Google’s service may still be in beta testing, but it is already very robust and very functional. It will undoubtedly improve as new functions are added, and they are actively paying attention to the feedback they get from users. It promises to be a powerful tool for organizing and preserving your digital life.
Matt “General Keebler” Russell is very aware you can see his sweet e-mail address in those screen shots. Maybe he’ll get to try out those spam filters now.