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    Tuesday, April 27, 2004

    Membership has its privileges

    As a Blogger user, I was offered the chance to beta test Google's new Gmail service, which I expressed my concerns about a couple weeks ago. Reservations aside, I chose to give Gmail a try. So far I'm pleased to see they have not served up any contextual advertising based on the content of my emails. In addition, Gmail's features are different enough from traditional free email accounts to warrant a few observations here.

    First, you get 1 gigabyte of storage -- that's huge for a free service. Plus individual message capacity is capped at 10MB, which is 10 times the size limit of a Hotmail message. Second, Google doesn't want you to throw anything away. Gmail provides a Trash feature, but with 1 GB of storage, you're likely not to run out of room quickly. They've developed a new organizational strategy too. Rather than use folders, you can create labels so a particular message can be cross-referenced against more than one category like "Personal" and "Summer Vacation Plans." This provides a little more intelligence to the way you save messages.

    Third, and I think this is quite cool, Gmail traps all correspondences with the same subject line into the same email. In other words, rather than click around your Saved folder searching for your reply to a particular message, Gmail's messages keep a running tally of the back-and-forth right within one message. When you're viewing an email thread, you can choose to expand or collapse these individual sections. Plus the interface for replying and forwarding is more intuitive than traditional email services because you find yourself getting things done with fewer clicks.

    There are many other cool features of Gmail like the ability to create up to 20 different filters for incoming messages, "advanced" spam filters, keyboard shortcuts, and a new "starred" feature so you can dog-ear messages to make them easier to find.

    Aside from my concerns regarding privacy, I think Google has built some strong competition in the email market with Gmail. I'll continue to tool around with my account to see if I can find more bugs (only one so far). Is Gmail revolutionary? Not really. Is it pretty cool? You bet.