by August 3, 2004 0 comments



I have been using Gmail for about a month now. Before we get into the review mode, why the craze about Gmail? It definitely is not the 1 GB of space. Many others, including rediff and yahoo (yahoo.com, not co.in; co.in accounts still have only 6 MB) offer substantial storage. It is largely the exclusivity. Gmail accounts are currently being handed out only by invitation. It is a bit like pyramid marketing. Existing users and bloggers on blogger.com (owned by Google) get a limited number of invites. And, of course, the early users get better choices on IDs (and not ones such as sumit_999917325
@#$@gmail).

The key difference in the way Gmail presents mail is the conversation mode, which is really good. Instead of filing and presenting incoming and outgoing mail in different folders, Gmail strings together mail going back and forth on the same subject, as a conversation. You can open up the entire conversation on a single click. Mail from each participant is easily identifiable because of the different colors used on the names of each participant. For example, when I am typing a message in reply, I can see the previous mail I exchanged on the same Web page. Else, referring to old messages in a Web page or even a regular e-mail client is a very difficult task while typing a new message.

Another cool feature is the Check Spelling (and correct spelling) option. You should also see how the Edit Word under
Check Spelling is implemented. It’s really cool. But, on the flip side, you cannot customize the dictionary or add words to it. Similarly, you cannot apply formatting to the text.

Another good feature is the shortcuts for common mail actions such as reply, forward, previous, compose, search and archive. The mail compose window can be moved off to an independent browser window, leaving you free to refer to the old mail while composing a new one. Another interesting bit is the address book. It seems to capture every e-mail ID that comes its way. And recently, they have built in the ability to import address books in the standard CSV format. There are also nice touches such as personal level indicators-visual cues on whether the mail was to you alone or a group of addresses.

You can search all your mail at one go, and even make filters on all incoming mail

For a brand that is synonymous with searching, the Gmail search has no earthshaking new feature. All mail is searched at one go. You can make filters out of searches that will be applied on new mail as they come in.

Even before Gmail made its debut, the Google announcement that there will be message-related ads placed alongside the mail raised a lot of furore. How do the ads come out? Well, to say the least, they are not obtrusive and loud. They are not pop ups. They are small text areas placed on the right side of incoming message. Do they get the context right? I remember reading somewhere that Google looks not just for words in the message, but also the sequence of words (as in what comes after what and before what) to arrive at the context. My sample is too small to make a judgement as of now. But, they seem to be getting it very very close. A mail with a reference to blogs had two ads, one on a low-cost blogging site and the other to a low-cost Web hosting company. A conversation on Gmail, including some of the text in this review, had links to anit spam software and e-mail security. A message from a Muslim friend to Vinod, briefly mentioning his intention to get married soon has a link to the Muslim section of Shaadi.com. Now that is getting too close for comfort!! The good thing is that the links are not only for ads.

They also include links from the Web to articles on associated topics.

Message-related ads are very accurate in determining the context of your messages

You have an option to trash mail, but you get asked whether you want to really trash mail given that you have so much of space. Spam filters are there, but I could find no mention anywhere of anti virus. It is too early to say how well the spam filters work.

Is 1 GB really needed? Long back a certain William H Gates famously asked why anyone would want more than 640 KB of RAM on a PC. I guess data (and trash) will soon grow to fill all available space.

All in all, Gmail offers most of the features offered by standard e-mail clients, and some more, all in the traditional minimalist Google interface. And, then it has played that age-old trick, it has played up people’s egos by being selective in who can join in, at least for now.

Krishna Kumar

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