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History of Gmail

By sivabharath vPublished 10 months ago 6 min read

The public history of Gmail dates back to 2004. Gmail, a free, advertising-supported webmail service with support for Email clients, is a product from Google. Over its history, the Gmail interface has become integrated with many other products and services from the company, with basic integration as part of Google Account and specific integration points with services such as Google+, Google Calendar, Google Drive, Google Hangouts, Google Meet, YouTube, and Google Buzz. It has also been made available as part of G Suite. The Official Gmail Blog tracks the public history of Gmail from July 2007.

Gmail was a project started by Google developer Paul Buchheit, who had already explored the idea of web-based email in the 1990s, before the launch of Hotmail, while working on a personal email software project as a college student.[2] Buchheit began his work on Gmail in August 2001.[3] At Google, Buchheit had first worked on Google Groups and when asked "to build some type of email or personalization product", he created the first version of Gmail in one day, reusing the code from Google Groups.[2] The project was known by the code name Caribou, a reference to a Dilbert comic strip about Project Caribou.[3]

At the time when Gmail was being developed, existing email services such as Yahoo! Mail and Hotmail featured extremely slow interfaces that were written in plain HTML, with almost every action by the user requiring the server to reload the entire webpage. Buchheit attempted to work around the limitations of HTML by using the highly interactive JavaScript code, an approach that ultimately came to be called AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML).[3]

Buchheit recalls that the high volume of internal email at Google created "a very big need for search".[2] Advanced search capabilities eventually led to considerations for providing a generous amount of storage space, which in turn opened up the possibility of allowing users to keep their emails forever, rather than having to delete them to stay under a storage limit. After considering alternatives such as 100 MB, the company finally settled upon 1 GB of space, compared to the 2 to 4 MB that was the standard at the time.[3]

Buchheit had been working on Gmail for about a month when he was joined by another engineer, Sanjeev Singh, with whom he would eventually found the social-networking startup FriendFeed after leaving Google in 2006. Gmail's first product manager, Brian Rakowski, learned about the project on his very first day at Google in 2002, fresh out of college. In August 2003, another new Google recruit, Kevin Fox was assigned the task of designing Gmail's interface. When the service was finally launched in April 2004, about a dozen people were working on the project.[3]

Initially the software was available only internally as an email system for Google employees.[4] According to Google, the software had been used internally for "a number of years" before it was released to the public in 2004.

For much of its development, Gmail had been a skunkworks project, kept secret even from most people within Google. “It wasn’t even guaranteed to launch–we said that it has to reach a bar before it’s something we want to get out there,” says the Gmail interface designer Kevin Fox. By early 2004, however, almost everybody at Google was using Gmail to access the company's internal email system.[3]

Gmail was announced to the public by Google on 1 April 2004, after extensive rumors of its existence during testing. Owing to the April Fool's Day release, the company's press release aroused skepticism in the technology world,[5][6] especially since Google had been known for making April Fool's jokes, such as PigeonRank. However, they explained that their real joke had been a press release saying that they would take offshoring to the extreme by putting employees in a "Google Copernicus Center" on the Moon. Jonathan Rosenberg, Google's vice-president of products, was quoted by BBC News as saying, "We are very serious about Gmail.

Even when the service was announced to the public, Google did not have the required infrastructure in place to provide millions of users a reliable service with a gigabyte of space apiece. Gmail ran on three hundred old Pentium III computers nobody else at Google wanted.[3] This was sufficient for the limited beta rollout the company planned, which involved inviting about 1,000 opinion leaders and then allowing them to invite their friends, and family members to become beta testers, with trials beginning on 21 March 2004;[11] and growing slowly from there.

Once it became clear that Gmail was real, and not an April Fools' joke, invitations became highly desired. Although the limited rollout was born of necessity, it created an aura of exclusivity which contributed to its publicity windfall. “Everyone wanted it even more. It was hailed as one of the best marketing decisions in tech history, but it was a little bit unintentional” says Georges Harik, who was responsible for most of Google's new products at the time.[3]

Active users from the Blogger community were offered the chance to participate in the beta-testing on 20 April and later, Gmail members occasionally received "invitations" which they could send to anyone. One round of invitations was sent out on 1 May and another three invitations were given to all active members on 1 June. When Gmail increased the supply of invitations, the nascent buying and selling market for Gmail invitations collapsed.[12]

During the early months of the initial beta phase, Gmail's well-publicized feature set and the exclusive nature of the accounts caused the aftermarket price of Gmail invitations to skyrocket. According to PC World magazine, Gmail invitations were selling on eBay for as much as US$150, with some accounts being sold for several thousand dollars. After a new round of invitations in early June, the price for invitations fell to between US$2–$5.[13] Websites such as Gmail Swap emerged to allow philanthropic Gmail users to donate invitations to people who wanted them.[3] On 28 June 2004, Google amended its policy to forbid the selling of registered accounts.[14][failed verification]

In January 2005, security experts discovered a critical flaw in the handling of Gmail messages that would allow hackers to easily access private emails from any Gmail user's account. This was posted with detailed information to popular technology site Slashdot at 9:23 a.m. PST on 12 January 2005. On 13 January 2005, developers at Gmail announced that they had fixed the problem and that the security flaw had been patched. Despite Gmail's status as a beta application, concerns were raised among some users who were using Gmail as their primary mail account.[15] On 1 April 2005, exactly one year after the initial release, Gmail increased the mailbox size to 2 GB, advertising it as "2 GB plus" and introduced some other new features, including formatted editing which gave users the option of sending messages in HTML or plain text.

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