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Google to offer e-mail for free

Source: Siliconvalley.com

 

In the first major expansion beyond its core business, Internet search leader Google said Wednesday it will soon offer a free, Web-based e-mail service.

``Gmail,'' as it's called, will compete with e-mail offerings from Yahoo, Microsoft and others and move Mountain View-based Google closer to being a Web portal offering a wide variety of services.

Co-founder Larry Page, Google's president of products, stressed Gmail's search function, which will allow users to instantly find e-mail messages with the same type of technology that powers the company's Web site searches.

``Being able to search e-mail quickly and easily is an important thing,'' said Page, who has used the service for his personal e-mail for months.

Google will begin testing Gmail among a small group of users this week, Page said. The service will be available to the general public ``in the coming weeks,'' a spokesman said.

Gmail will come with one gigabyte of storage, enough to store 500,000 pages of e-mail and hundreds of times larger than what other free e-mail services provide.

The most controversial aspect of the service will likely be the small text ads that Google will automatically place in every e-mail message. Powered by the company's AdSense program, the ads will be contextual, meaning they will relate to keywords in the e-mail.

An e-mail message about the movie ``Finding Nemo,'' for example, might elicit ads from Disney Studios or Amazon.com, which sells the DVD version of the movie.

The technology requires that Google computers scan and index the content of each e-mail message, which could alienate people concerned about privacy.

``Maybe people will say, `Hey, stay out of my e-mail,' '' said Gary Stein, analyst for Jupiter Research. ``But it might also mean that two people are trading messages about mountain bike riding, and they get useful ads related to that.''

Google spokesman David Krane said ``machines, not humans,'' will scan e-mail messages for ad placement, and the company is not worried about privacy breaches.

``We don't see it as a problem,'' Krane said.

Money maker

The e-mail service extends Google's ability to make money off advertisers without relying on loud or intrusive banner ads that are common on other parts of the Web.

It also moves Google -- widely expected to become a public company this year -- into a big and growing business. Nearly 150 million people in the United States have Web-based e-mail accounts through the three biggest providers -- Yahoo, Microsoft's Hotmail and AOL.

``This is a good way for us to make money and it's also un-intrusive,'' Page said. ``The clicks that this generates will be good eventually for advertisers.''

Stein said an e-mail service -- long-rumored in technology circles -- was a logical move for Google, which may be feeling pressure to expand its offerings beyond Web search. Apart from a social networking service that it recently started testing called Orkut, Google is viewed primarily as a search engine.

``The feeling, the sense, the common thinking is that they have to do more than search,'' Stein said. ``The peril is they lose their uniqueness and become more like a portal. Google is sort of a unique thing in the world.''

Page eschewed the comparison to a Web portal, saying that a searchable e-mail product is a natural extension of the company's longstanding mission to ``organize the world's information.''

``This product fits pretty squarely into that mission,'' Page said. ``It's very similar (to a search engine) in that it's a large, hosted business that requires a lot of servers.''

Gmail's services

As with its Web search, Google tried to build a product that is fast, simple and easy to use.

``There's been a lot of pains taken to make it work quickly,'' Page said.

A demonstration shown to the Mercury News appeared similar to a stripped-down version of other Web mail programs, with spam, sent-mail and other folders in the left-hand column.

But Google has added a search box -- for either e-mail or the Web -- to the top of the screen. And the service will automatically thread together related messages so users can more easily follow their e-mail conversations. Text ads hug the right side of each message page, similar to the ad placement in search results on the Google Web site.

Gmail will also provide spam-filtering and a basic address book that automatically fills itself with e-mail addresses from messages.

Page said the service will work with Mozilla and Internet Explorer Web browsers on Windows, Macintosh and Linux machines. 

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APR. 01,  ISSUE #009
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