Google Gmail - Initial Analysis
Google Gmail Announced
Google recently announced its Gmail free email offering, to include a massive 1GB of email storage, sophisticated email search facilities based on Google's search technology, plus some type of anti-spam filtering system.
The original press release, which fuelled a firestorm of "Will they, won't they?" speculation on many discussion groups by being released on April 1st, also suggests that emails will be threaded so that all emails relating to a particular series of exchanges are displayed together. Speculatively, Google may end up using a threading system like the one used in their Google Groups system, which itself was based on the platform they acquired in the takeover of Deja.com.
An exciting laundry-list of potential features, but how does Google expect to pay for such largesse?
Rather than taking the "more is more" approach favoured by Yahoo! Mail and Hotmail, with their heavy burden of ads, Google will be exploiting their Adsense contextual advertising technology to display ads near email messages, within the Gmail Web-mail interface.
In a nutshell, Adsense works like this: a "spider" (autonomous software program) reads the content of a webpage, analyses the text to extract "themes" and displays related ads from the millions of ads placed by Google's vast pool of over 100,000 advertisers.
Google tracks various factors such as the click-through rate (how many people actually click on the ads compared to those who do not click), the language and country of the user's browser, which ads get most clicks, how much each advertiser is paying for one click of their ad, and so on, and optimizes the ads that are shown to users to maximize the total amount of money made by Google.
Contextual advertising and your email
Google plans to analyse the content of emails sent to Gmail users in a similar way to the process outlined above. This means that Gmail users should expect to see text-based ads targeting the topics and themes that occur in each email. For example, if a friend sends you an email raving about her new lasagne recipe, you might be shown ads for pasta cookbooks or sauces alongside the email itself, in the margins of the webmail interface.
Google is at pains to explain that this targeting happens automatically - no human is reading your email! That said, the idea of anything (even a sophisticated computer program) reading and analysing every email you receive is enough to give many people a "Big Brother"-like shiver.
On the upside, this approach of marrying each email with a highly relevant ad should mean that Google can keep the advertising "burden" significantly lighter than anything the majors (Hotmail and Yahoo! Mail) can currently offer - no danger of being bombarded by popups and wildly flashing ads when Google's in charge of your mailbox!
While they may not be saying so explicitly, Google is offering its users a trade-off. Paraphrased, it might be stated something like this: "Trust us to get closer to your email than any company has done before. In return we'll provide you with a more powerful, more responsive and less ad-laden email service, one with 500 times the storage offered by Hotmail - free!"
More on contextual advertising
A recent announcement made in Google's Adwords newsletter (newsletter sent out to advertisers buying text ads on its service) suggests not one but two new advertising avenues: Gmail ads and newsletter ads. Put simply, the latter will consist of contextual ads added to newsletters before they are mailed out to subscribers.
It's not a huge stretch to go from this to imagining that Google might also be interested at some point in inserting relevant ads automatically into outgoing email messages. For example, it could analyse the content of an email at the moment the "Submit" button is pressed and add an advert at the foot of the email message, just like signatures are added by many email services today. This ad would be targeted to the content of the email, making the recipient (theoretically) more likely to act on it.
It is of course far too early to judge what kind of impact Gmail will have on the overall email market, nor how the system itself will perform in use. However, it's clear that the bar has been raised in the email space, and the companies with the lion's share of the market (Hotmail and Yahoo! Mail) will need to keep looking over their shoulder.
For end-users, the full Gmail launch should gradually bring about improvements in the feature-set offered by other free and for-fee email services, which will need to respond to Google in some meaningful way to avoid looking like also-rans