Gmail revolutionized email 20 years ago. People thought it was Google’s April Fool’s Day joke


Gmail revolutionized email 20 years ago

San Francisco, April 1: Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin loved playing pranks, so much so that they started coming up with the strangest idea every April Fools’ Day shortly after starting their company a quarter-century ago. had started.

A year later, Google posted job vacancies for the Copernicus Research Center on the Moon.

Another year, the company said it planned to introduce a “scratch and sniff” feature on its search engine.

The jokes were so consistently popular that people learned to laugh at them as another example of a Google prank. And that’s why Page and Brin decided to unveil something no one would believe on April Fool’s Day 20 years ago.

This was Gmail, a free service that claimed 1 gigabyte of storage per account, an amount that seems almost paltry in the age of one-terabyte iPhones. But this seemed like an absurd amount of email capacity at the time, enough to store about 13,500 emails before running out of space, compared to only 30 to 60 emails at the then-leading webmail services operated by Yahoo and Microsoft. This resulted in 250 to 500 times more email storage space.

In addition to the huge bump in storage, Gmail is also equipped with Google’s search technology so users can quickly find information from old emails, photos or other personal information stored on the service.

It automatically threads together a series of communications about the same topic so that everything flows together as if it were a single conversation.

Former Google executive Marissa Mayer, who helped design Gmail and the company’s other products before later becoming Yahoo’s CEO, said, “The original pitch we made was about the three S’s” — storage. , search and speed.

It was such a mind-boggling concept that soon after the Associated Press published a story about Gmail on April Fools’ Afternoon 2004, readers began calling and emailing the news agency to inform them that they were being fooled by Google. Was deceived by the clowns of.

“That was part of the charm, making a product that people wouldn’t believe was real. “It changed people’s perceptions about the applications that were possible within a Web browser,” former Google engineer Paul Buchheit recalled during a recent AP interview about his efforts to create Gmail.

It took three years to work as part of a project called “Cariboo” – a reference to a running gag in the Dilbert comic strip. “There was something absurd about the name Caribou, it made me laugh,” said Buchite, the 23rd employee hired at the company, which now employs more than 180,000 people.

The AP knew Google wasn’t kidding about Gmail because an AP reporter was suddenly asked to come from San Francisco to the company’s headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., to see something that might make the trip worthwhile.

After arriving at the still-growing corporate complex, which soon became known as the “Googleplex”, the AP reporter was led into a small office, where Page sat in front of his laptop computer with a wry smile. Had taken.

Page, who was only 31 at the time, proceeded to show off Gmail’s sleekly designed inbox and demonstrated how fast it worked within Microsoft’s now-retired Explorer web browser. And he pointed out that there was no delete button in the main control window because it wouldn’t be necessary, since Gmail has so much storage and could be easily searched. Page predicted, “I think people will really like it.”

Like many other things, Page was right. Gmail now has an estimated 1.8 billion active accounts – each now offering 15 gigabytes of free storage bundled with Google Photos and Google Drive.

Even though this is 15 times more storage than Gmail initially offered, it’s still not enough for many users, who rarely see the need to purge their accounts, as Google had hoped.

Digital hoarding of emails, photos, and other content has led Google, Apple and other companies to now make money by selling excess storage capacity in their data centers. (In Google’s case, it charges from US$30 annually for 200 gigabytes of storage to US$250 annually for 5 terabytes of storage). It’s because of the existence of Gmail that other free email services and internal email accounts that employees use in their jobs offer far more storage than they did 20 years ago.

“We were trying to change the way people think because people had been operating in this model of storage scarcity for so long that deleting had become a default action,” Buchheit said.

Gmail was a game changer in many other ways, while it became the first building block in the expansion of Google’s Internet empire beyond its still-dominant search engine.

Gmail was followed by Google Maps and Google Docs with word processing and spreadsheet applications. Then came the acquisition of video site YouTube, followed by the introduction of the Chrome browser and the Android operating system that powers most of the world’s smartphones.

With Gmail’s apparent intention to scan the content of emails to better understand users’ interests, Google left no doubt that digital surveillance would be part of its growing ambitions in the quest to sell more advertising.

Although it generated immediate buzz, Gmail began with limited scope as Google initially had only enough computing capacity to support a small audience of users.

“When we launched, we only had 300 machines and they were really old machines that no one else wanted,” Buchhet said, laughing. “We only had enough capacity for 10,000 users, which is a bit absurd.”

But that lack created an air of exclusivity around Gmail that led to intense demand for elusive invitations to sign up. At one point, each invitation to open a Gmail account was selling for US$250 on eBay. “It became somewhat of a social currency where people would go, ‘Hey, I got a Gmail invite, do you want one?’” Buchheit said.

Although it became easier to sign up for Gmail as Google’s network of massive data centers came online, the company didn’t begin accepting everyone into the email service until it introduced Gmail to the world in 2007. Didn’t open the floodgates as a Valentine’s Day gift.

A few weeks later on April Fools’ Day in 2007, Google would announce a new feature called “Gmail Paper”, which would give users the chance to print their email collection on what Google described as “94% post-consumer organic soybean spit” and then print it. Will receive. They were sent through the postal service. Google was really joking that time.

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