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Gmail

From Academic Kids

For the Norwegian email systems vendor, see GMail (X.400 vendor).
Gmail's beta logo

Gmail is a free webmail service, currently in beta testing, offered by Google, Inc.

For more than a year after Gmail's initial release on March 31, 2004, access to the service was restricted to those who had received an invitation token from an existing account holder.

While Gmail is not entirely open to the general public yet, most Gmail users have many invites to spare, as Google has lately been giving quite a few of these out. Gmail invites are also given away at random through Google's home page.

The service is notable for providing over 2.3 gigabytes of storage space (increased from the original limitto allow users to access the Gmail messages from almost any computer running almost any web browser, even old ones (not just IE5.5+, Mozilla, and Safari).

Missing image
Gmail_inbox.png
Gmail inbox
The main inbox view, as rendered by the Mozilla Firefox browser. Rather than showing individual emails, Gmail groups emails into threads, with the number of messages in each indicated in parentheses. In this image, one thread, shown with a white background and bolded text, has an unread message.
Contents

Features

Gmail includes a number of original features as well as improvements upon those standard to web mail services.

Missing image
Gmail_threaded.png
Thread view
A number of messages in the same email thread are shown. The user can expand and unexpand any message (quickly, using only client-side JavaScript functionality) to view the content of any number of emails simultaneously

Conversation views

Among the main innovations of Gmail is its method of categorizing e-mails, which Google calls Conversation View. In contrast to other e-mail clients, Gmail keeps track of individual "conversations" (an original message, along with all the replies to that message), and allows users to easily view all the e-mails related to a specific message. Gmail's algorithm for determining how conversations fit together is not perfect, however: Single conversations sometimes become fragmented (especially when a replier changes the e-mail's subject line) and unrelated conversations occasionally become attached together. Another drawback was that entire conversation gets deleted if you delete one single email which is a part of that conversation, but this is not true now since option 'Trash this message' is provided. Trashed messages will not be reorganized back into their original conversation even after you pull them out of Trash.

Filtering

Filters can be run on incoming mail by using an interface similar to the Search Options dialog (see searching below). Gmail allows users to filter messages by their text; their From, To, and Subject fields; and by whether or not the message has an attachment. Gmail can perform any combination of the following actions upon a message that meets a label's criteria: Archiving (i.e. removing the message from the Inbox), marking as "starred", applying a label, moving to the trash, and forwarding to another email address.

Two gigabytes of storage

Beginning on April 1st, 2005 (Gmail's first birthday), Gmail offers more than 2 gigabytes of email storage space. This figure and the original offering of 1000 megabytes are hundreds of times more than what other webmail services offered at the time of Gmail's original announcement in 2004. Google suggests that users "archive", rather than delete their messages; Gmail's 2 gigabyte of storage is sufficient to hold many years' worth of an average user's e-mails, and Gmail's search technology allows users to search their archives easily. Additionally, users can store files (up to 10 megabytes in size) as e-mail attachments.

Template:Gmail

The current rate of increase is one megabyte every 7.2 hours.

Interface

Gmail's interface relies heavily upon JavaScript, a client-side scripting language, which requests data from the Gmail servers via XMLHttpRequest, an example of the web-development technique referred to as AJAX. Since much processing takes place on the user's computer, relatively little information must be transferred between Gmail's web servers and the client, so the interface should run quickly, even over a dial-up connection.

In late February 2005, Google rolled out a "basic HTML view" Gmail interface, accessible from any HTTP 1.1-compliant web browser (previously, Gmail was only accessible via a few modern browsers in "standard view"). The HTML interface does not use JavaScript, and is much slower than the standard interface.

Spell checker

Missing image
Gmail_compose_spellcheck.png
Compose view, with spell checker The user is composing a new email, and has invoked the client-side spell checker feature. Like the spell checker in a word processor, the user is shown words which aren't recognized, and can either pick a replacement from a list or manually enter an alteration

Gmail provides an interactive spell checker. In the Gmail spell checker, one can select the spell check mode while composing a message. In the spell check mode misspelled words appear in place and can be replaced in any order. In this regard, the spell checker is different from a web-based iterative spell checker, which usually go through each spelling error one at a time, and different from a batch spell checker, which lists all misspelled words at once. It should be noted that if the bulk of the email is in a certain language, the entire email will be checked in that language, no matter what your default language. However, some ideograph based languages such as Chinese may not have spell checkers due to the way the language is constructed.

Keyboard shortcuts

Gmail allows users to use their keyboard, rather than their mouse, to navigate its interface. This feature is not enabled by default, although instructions (http://gmail.google.com/support/bin/answer.py?ctx=gmail&hl=en&answer=6594) on how to enable it are provided.

Labels instead of folders

Gmail allows users to categorize their e-mails with "labels." Labels give users a flexible method of categorizing e-mails, since an e-mail may have any number of labels (in contrast to a system in which an e-mail may belong to only one folder). Users can display all e-mails having a particular label and can use labels as a search criterion. Gmail also allows users to set up filters which label incoming e-mail automatically.

Searching

Gmail allows users to search by a number of criteria:

  • whether the message "has" or "doesn't have" a certain phrase
  • the message's From, To and Subject fields
  • the message's location (All Mail, Inbox, Starred, Sent Mail, Spam, Trash, All & Spam & Trash, Read Mail, Unread Mail, or a label)
  • whether the message has an attachment
  • the message's date within a given range (e.g. all messages received within one week of January 1, 2004)

Gmail also allows users to construct advanced search strings. For example, the following search string would search for all e-mails from bob to alex with the subject field containing "work" or "school" but not "friend," labeled as archive, with a PDF attachment, and with a carbon copy to self, limited to the date range between May 1, 2004 and June 1, 2004, that are not starred:

from:bob to:alex subject:(work OR school -friend) label:archive has:attachment filename:pdf in:unstarred cc:self after:2004/05/01 before:2004/06/01
(Note that logical operators (e.g. OR, AND) must be in upper-case)

See also: How do I use Gmail's advanced search? (http://gmail.google.com/support/bin/answer.py?answer=7190&topic=41)

Spam filtering

Missing image
GmailSpam.png
Gmail's spambox, in Firefox, Linux.

Gmail offers a spam filtering system. Independent tests conducted in May 2004 showed this spam filter to be about 60% accurate for a wide variety of spam, significantly lower than the spam filtering accuracy of Yahoo! and Hotmail. In December 2004, however, unscientific tests suggested that Gmail's accuracy was much higher than it was in May. Messages marked as spam are automatically deleted after 30 days.

Email signing

Gmail is the first major provider to sign outgoing mails with Yahoo!'s DomainKeys signatures.

POP3 access

Although not offered with the original release, Gmail allows all users to send and receive their e-mail via POP3 (over SSL) and SMTP. Some users have experienced authentication difficulties when trying to gain access to their accounts and have blamed Google for the problem, but this is likely because the user must activate a setting within Gmail before it will allow POP access, not because Gmail has a technical problem. However, some users continue to experience authentication problems in spite of the activation of this setting.

Rich Text Formatting

A feature added to Gmail on its 1st birthday, Rich Text Formatting, allows users to change the size and font of text, change the color and highlighted color of text, and do alignment, bullet points, and numbered lists, in addition to several other features. With Rich Text Formatting enabled, messages to which you reply and forward retain all embedded formatting, whereas Plain Text editing strips out all formatting including embedded graphics.

Rich Text Formatting is currently only able to work on browsers that support WYSIWYG, such as Mozilla Firefox. Unfortunately, browsers that don't support WYSIWYG such as Apple's Safari cannot take advantage of this feature.

Username handling

Gmail usernames must be between 6 and 30 characters (inclusive) and made up of only letters, numbers, and periods (.). Experimentation has shown that Gmail ignores periods when resolving addresses. That is, the account google@gmail.com receives mail sent to goo.gle@gmail.com, g.o.o.g.l.e@gmail.com, etc. Likewise, the account goo.gle@gmail.com receives mail from google@gmail.com.. However, when signing in it is necessary to include periods.

Gmail recently blocked users from creating addresses that vary by periods only perhaps to prevent account breaches. Consider that two different people with the addresses john.doe@gmail.com and johndoe@gmail.com who will each receive all emails intended for any one of the accounts. The ability to create new such addresses is now blocked. However, it remains to be seen how Google will resolve the collisions of such addresses.

Plus-addressing

Gmail also supports "plus-addressing" of emails. Messages can be sent to addresses in the form: gmail.user+extratext@gmail.com where extratext can be any string. Plus-addressing allows users to sign up for different services with different aliases and then easily filter all e-mails from those services. Plus-addressing even works when sending email from a Gmail account to itself. Additionally (in some cases) the string appended to the e-mail address may not be longer than six characters.

Gmail Notifier

Missing image
Gmail_notifier.jpg
Gmail Notifier in tray

The Gmail Notifier (http://toolbar.google.com/gmail-helper/), an official tool offered by Google, displays a small icon in the bottom right corner of the screen in Microsoft Windows (system tray area), indicating the presence of new mail in one's inbox. It also has a feature that makes Gmail the default mail client for mailto links. It does not, however, download new messages, and the program only works with Windows 2000, XP, or more current Microsoft operating systems.

Available to those who surf with Mozilla Firefox is the identically named Gmail Notifier (https://addons.update.mozilla.org/extensions/moreinfo.php?id=173&vid=504) extension, first appeared around July 8, 2004 [1] (http://weblogs.mozillazine.org/doron/archives/005936.html), which is more than one month before the official one (August 21, 2004).

Multi language support

Missing image
Gmail_inbox_in_Japanese.jpg
Gmail supports 12 languages. Here, its interface is shown in Japanese.

The Gmail interface currently supports 12 languages in addition to US English: Dutch, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish, Russian, Simplified and Traditional Chinese, and UK English.

RSS feeds

After its one-year anniversary, Gmail started placing customizable RSS feeds in some interfaces. The RSS feeds are limited to a single line at the top of the page, which can be scrolled through by the user. The option is eventually expected to appear in all accounts.

Privacy

There has been a great deal of criticism regarding Gmail's privacy policy (http://gmail.google.com/gmail/help/privacy.html). Much of the controversy involved the clause "residual copies of email may remain on our systems for some time, even after you have deleted messages from your mailbox or after the termination of your account." Many believed that this meant that Google would intentionally archive copies of deleted mail forever. Google later stated that they will "make reasonable efforts to remove deleted information from our systems as quickly as is practical."

Most of the criticism, however, was against Google's plans to add context-sensitive advertisements to e-mails by automatically scanning them. Privacy advocates raised concerns that the plan involved scanning their personal, assumed private, e-mails, and that this was a security problem. However, opponents of this view state that when your e-mail is checked to see if it is spam, it is being scanned by the same process. Because a human is not reading the message, they say, it is not a problem.

Perhaps the most severe privacy issue plaguing gmail so far is a result of their not-so-famous address error correction and the way they handle usernames. Surprisingly, this problem draws little or no criticism at all. For more information about this problem see the topic Username handling above.

Limitations

The conversation view groups related messages in a linear stack, which can be expanded and collapsed. While this does provide an innovative view of an email thread, it does not provide any way to differentiate messages that branch off from the original thread. This can occur when mail is sent to multiple recipients who respond individually.

The following features are absent from Gmail, but are offered by Gmail's main competitors, Yahoo! Mail and Hotmail, some for a price:

  • The ability to search within text message attachments.
  • The ability to import mail from external POP3 servers into the webmail account.
  • WAP access.
  • A virus checker, though a virus checker may be seen as unnecessary because Gmail does not allow users to receive or send attachments that contain executable code.

Google is hesitant to release any upcoming plans for the implementation of any of these features. The Gmail Team has said in e-mails to questions that future features will include the option to export contacts.

Development

Gmail was announced amid a flurry of rumor. Owing to April Fool's Day, however, the company's press release (http://www.google.com/press/pressrel/gmail.html) was greeted with skepticism in the technology world, especially since Google already had been known to make April Fool's Jokes (such as PigeonRank (http://www.google.com/technology/pigeonrank.html)). 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 (http://www.google.com/jobs/lunar_job.html)" on the Moon. Jonathan Rosenberg, Google's vice-president of products, was quoted by BBC News (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/3591589.stm) as saying, "We are very serious about Gmail."

Gmail also initially received a lot of criticism for a statement they made in their original terms of use, refusing to guarantee that all e-mails at Gmail would be deleted upon request by the user. Google later clarified that they were referring to backup copies of emails, and promised that all deleted mails would eventually be expunged completely from their servers. This, along with the feature that advertisements would be generated by software-based scanning of e-mails in order to better target them, gave rise to a controversy on web privacy (see BBC News Article (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/3602745.stm) and google-watch.org (http://www.google-watch.org/gmail.html); for a defence seeThe Fuss About Gmail and Privacy: Nine Reasons Why It's Bogus (http://www.oreillynet.com/pub/wlg/4707)).

Before being acquired by Google, the gmail.com domain name was used by the free email service offered by Garfield.com, online home of the comic strip Garfield. This free email service has moved to e-garfield.com (http://www.e-garfield.com/).

Beta testing phase

Google initially invited about 1,000 employees, friends, and family members to become beta testers, with trials beginning on March 21, 2004. Active users from the Blogger.com community were offered the chance to participate in the beta-testing on April 25, and later, Gmail members occasionally received "invites" which they could extend to their friends. One round of invites was sent out on May 1, and another three invitations were given to all active members on June 1; by mid-June, the number of invitations had increased, with many users receiving between three and five invites daily. On February 2, 2005, the invitation interface was changed to make it easier to give invites by simply entering an email address and at approximately 3:00 UTC on February 3, 2005, some Gmail users were awarded 50 invites, suggesting that Gmail would soon go public.

During the initial months of the Gmail beta, 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 specific accounts being sold for several thousand dollars. After a new round of invitations in early June, the price for invitations fell down to between US$2-$5. Several philanthropic Gmail users have utilized services such as the now defunct GmailSwap to donate invitations to people who want them. On June 28, Google amended its policy to forbid the selling of registered accounts. See the Official GMail Program Policy (http://www.google.com/gmail/help/program_policies.html).

Some beta-testers have put up an account of their experiences on the web; see miscoranda (http://miscoranda.com/102).

Current status

In March 2004, Google said that Gmail would probably be publicly released after six months of testing, which would have placed their launch in September 2004, but it was still in beta as of June 2005. Speculation also regarding the release date is rife after The New York Times said they had "credible sources" saying "Gmail will be released publicly by the end of the year." As of today, however, an invitation from an existing user is still required in order to make a new account, and the site still says it is in the beta development stage. The number of invitations existing account holders can send has been varied, presumably to control the usage and growth of the system. For all intents and purposes, Gmail is essentially open to the public now, since thousands of invites are publicly available at the Gmail Queue (http://www.highwayman.org/gmail), the Automatic Gmail Invite Giver-Awayer (http://gmail.snakez.org/), and FreeGmailInvites.com (http://freegmailinvites.com/). There is speculation that Google will continue to provide Gmail accounts only on an invite basis. This will help prevent spammers from registering numerous accounts for purposes of spamming, and will ensure that any account used illegally will have another valid email address to trace a user (the one to which the invite was sent).

In January 2005, security experts discovered a critical flaw in the handling of Gmail messages that would allow hackers to easily access private e-mails from any Gmail user's account. This was posted with detailed information to popular technology site Slashdot at 9:23 a.m. PST on January 12, 2005. At roughly 10:15 a.m. PST on January 13, 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, this raised concerns among some users who use Gmail as their primary mail account.

On April 1, 2005, exactly one year after the initial release, Gmail increased the mailbox size to 2 GB (advertising it as 2GB plus) and introduced some other new features, including formatted editing (giving users the option of sending messages in HTML or plain text). As of May 2005, the mailbox size is 2.2 GB, and is increasing each day at a rate which would add up to, very roughly, 1 GB per year.

On April 13, 2005, Gmail became available in several languages: British English, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish, Russian and simplified and traditional Chinese. Invites are still required for registering.

On June 7, 2005, Isnoop.net Gmail Invite Spooler (http://isnoop.net/gmail/) was deactivated by the site moderator, due to intolerance by Google. It was explained that Gmail's Product Manager would no longer tolerate the service, and was shut down midnight PDT. The service was featured in Popular Science magazine, and had given out over 1.2 million gmail accounts.

"Lockdown in Sector 4"

In 2005, some Gmail users began reporting that their accounts were being locked for 24 hours or more. Account home pages were reportedly replaced with the flippant title: "Lockdown in Sector 4!" along with a short explanation of the lockdown. Google's explanation was that the accounts in question had conducted in "unusual usage", although the users maintain their innocence. Most account lockdowns are lifted after 24-72 hours, although some users report being locked out again not long after [2] (http://www.gmailinvitation.com/archive/index.php/t-3257.html). It also may be worth noting that virtually all web mail providers will suspend an account if it is suspected of violating the provider's Terms of service.

Competition

Due to the heavy media coverage of Gmail's initial announcement and development, many existing web mail services quickly increased their storage capacity. This was seen as a move to stop existing users from switching to Gmail, and to capitalize on the newly rekindled public interest in web mail services. See Webmail for a list of these services.

See also

External links

Gmail tools

  • Gmail tools and plugins (http://www.igniq.com/robs_blog/2004/06/gmail-tools-plugins.html)
  • How to use Gmail as a second brain (http://www.digitaloceanonline.com/mt/archives/how_to_use_googles_gmail_as_your_second_brain.html) - Article on how to use Gmail for data and information storage and management.
  • Gmail Notifier (http://toolbar.google.com/gmail-helper) - Official Gmail Notifier program. Sits in system tray and checks email, shows snippets, and associates mailto: links (BETA).
  • G-Mailto (http://www.rabidsquirrel.net/G-Mailto/) - Associate mailto: email links on the web with Gmail.
  • gDrive (http://www.puremango.co.uk/cm_gdrive_109.php) a PHP script to use gmail to store large files. major benefit being that users of all operating systems can access it.
  • WebMailCompose (http://jedbrown.net/1.0/mozilla/extensions/) - Mozilla Extension to associate mailto: email links with GMail (among other webmail services.)
  • Google Mail Loader (http://www.marklyon.org/gmail/) - Helps import your existing email into Gmail.
  • gExodus (http://blog.codefront.net/archives/2004/06/23/gexodus-02-some-new-features-for-gmail-mbox-import-tool) - Another tool to import existing email into Gmail.
  • GTransfer (http://www.gtransfer.com/) - Service that transfers e-mails from other webmail services to Gmail
  • libgmail (http://libgmail.sourceforge.net/) is a Python API for writing programs that use Gmail
  • Gmail S/MIME (http://richard.jones.name/google-hacks/gmail-smime/gmail-smime.html) is a Firefox extension bringing S/MIME encryption to Gmail.
  • GmailFS (http://richard.jones.name/google-hacks/gmail-filesystem/gmail-filesystem.html) provides a mountable Linux filesystem using libgmail and FUSE
  • Gmail Drive (http://www.viksoe.dk/code/gmail.htm) provides a mountable Win32 filesystem using MS Windows
  • GmailHost (http://www.gmailhost.com/) provides an additional front-end for Gmail Drive that allows your files to be accessed online
  • GTray (http://torrez.us/gtray) - A simple Gmail notification tool.
  • Gmail Agent API (http://johnvey.com/features/gmailapi/) - Mail-notifier & address-importer.
  • GetMail (http://www.e-eeasy.com/GetMail.aspx) - Forward your Hotmail or MSN emails to your Gmail account.
  • Mail::Webmail::Gmail (http://search.cpan.org/dist/Mail-Webmail-Gmail/) - Perl module interface to Gmail.
  • GMNotifier (http://www.g2007.com/GMNotifier/) - An unofficial Gmail Notifier program written in the .NET framework
  • GMail API for Java(g4j) (http://g4j.sourceforge.net) - A Java-based API for Gmail.
  • GmailStatus (http://homepage.mac.com/carsten.guenther/GmailStatus) GMail Notifier program for Mac OS X 10.3.x
  • POP3 server for Gmail(Java) (http://gavamail.sourceforge.net/phpwiki/) - Gavamail aims to implement a POP3/IMAP server for Gmail. Currently a POP3 server has been implemented.
  • Goollery (http://www.wirzm.ch/goollery/about/about.php) - Gmail-based photo gallery, allowing one to upload pictures from a website; the pictures are automatically stored in one's gmail account.
  • GMail Wireless (http://www.gmailwireless.com) - Allows one access to one's Gmail account using a wireless WAP phone

FAQs

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