Happy birthday, Gmail! It’s been an awesome 10 years!

April 1, 2014
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Google is known for making a big deal out of April 1st, with this year’s gags including a unique Youtube video basically crediting Google for everything viral on the popular video site, a Pokemon Challenge and an emoji translator for Chrome.

Of course, the biggest and most exciting April Fools Day unveiling happened on April 1st of 2004. What was so significant about that day? Google actually revealed a real product and not just a prank, one that has been going strong ever since: Gmail.

Due to the timing of the announcement, many folks originally thought that the invite-only (until 2007) Gmail service was nothing more than a gag, especially considering the company’s ambitious plans to provide a full gigabyte of storage — 500 times as much as Hotmail offered. In addition to the massive amount of space, Gmail also featured an attractive and speedy UI, great spam filters and so much more. Needless to say, it quickly put its rivals like Yahoo Mail and Hotmail to shame.

Of course, what made Gmail’s arrival so significant isn’t that it was simply better than its then-competition. The real importance of Gmail is that its arrival marked some very big changes in the way we thought about both email and online services in general.

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Gmail paved the way for modern web apps and cloud services

Let’s face it, Hotmail and Yahoo Mail didn’t exactly provide an optimum user experience during the early days of the web. The interfaces were awful, the speed of performance was laughable and really these services felt like B-grade alternatives to using actual PC programs like Outlook in order to fetch your email. With Gmail, this all changed.

Thanks to the use of Ajax (based on JavaScript), Gmail was able to update webpages without reloading or requiring any additional plug-ins, lending for a zippy experience that felt more like a traditional PC application than just a web service.

In this way Gmail proved that the web was more than capable of replacing traditional software, instead of merely complementing it. It also further showcased the power of cloud-based services. Sure, it might not have been the first cloud-based service by an means, but it was arguably the most impressive up to this point.

Advertising using email keywords

This next change might be a point of contention for some, and that’s the ability for Google’s servers to ‘read’ emails, searching for keywords in order to better serve ads. Before Gmail, this practice was unheard of, though it’s a standard practice for pretty much every email and web-service provider these days.

Happy birthday, Gmail!

Both in terms of advertising and user-experience, there’s no denying that Gmail has had a lasting impact on the web and the use of its email service has certainly become a major part of my professional and personal life — something I’m sure many other folks can relate to.

So happy birthday, Gmail. We look forward to another 10 years of bleeding-edge email service!

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