History of Gmail
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, YouTube, and Google Buzz. It has also been made available as part of Google Apps. 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. Buchheit began his work on Gmail in August 2001. 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. The project was known by the code name Caribou, a reference to a Dilbert comic strip about Project Caribou.
Buchheit recalls that the high volume of internal email at Google created "a very big need for search". 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 frantically to stay under the storage limit. After considering alternatives such as 100 MB, the company finally settled upon 1 GB of space, a figure that was preposterous compared to the 2 to 4 MB that was the standard at the time.
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.
Initially the software was available only internally as an email system for Google employees. 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.
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, especially since Google had been known to make April Fool's jokes in the past, 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. In the end, Gmail ended up running on three hundred old Pentium III computers nobody else at Google wanted. 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; and growing slowly from there.
Extended beta phase
Once it became clear that Gmail was real, and not an April Fools' joke, invitations became a hot property. Although the limited rollout was born out of necessity, it created a certain 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.
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 "invites" which they could extend to their friends. 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 buying and selling market for Gmail invites collapsed.
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 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. Websites such as Gmail Swap emerged to allow philanthropic Gmail users to donate invitations to people who wanted them. On 28 June 2004, Google amended its policy to forbid the selling of registered accounts.
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 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. On 1 April 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 which gave users the option of sending messages in HTML or plain text.
On 7 June 2005, The Gmail Invitation Spooler was deactivated by the site owner, following a direct request from the Gmail product manager to shut it down. The service was featured in Popular Science magazine and had given out over 1.2 million Gmail accounts.
As of 22 June 2005[update], Gmail's canonical URI changed from http://gmail.google.com/gmail/ to http://mail.google.com/mail/. As of November 2015[update], those who typed in the former URI were redirected to the latter.
On 2 November 2006, Google began offering a mobile-application based version of Gmail for mobile phones capable of running Java applications. In addition, Sprint announced separately that it would make the application available from its Vision and Power Vision homepages, preloaded onto some new Sprint phones. The application gives Gmail its own custom menu system and the site displays attachments, such as photos and documents in the application.
On 28 January 2007, Google Docs & Spreadsheets was integrated with Gmail, providing the capability to open attached Microsoft Word DOC files directly from Gmail. On 24 October 2007, Google announced that IMAP was available for all accounts, including Google Apps for your Domain. On 5 June 2008, Google introduced Gmail Labs. 8 December 2008, Google added a to-do list to Gmail. When the new Tasks feature is enabled, a box shows up on top of the Gmail window. In it, users can add, reorder and delete tasks. It is also possible to assign a due date to each action and even convert e-mails into tasks. On 12 December 2008, Gmail added support for PDF viewing within the browser.
On 24 February 2009, Gmail suffered a two and a half hour outage, affecting 100 million accounts. On 7 July 2009, Gmail officially exited its beta status in a move to attract more business use of the service. On 1 September 2009, Gmail suffered another outage for several hours.
Post beta phase
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On July 4, 2005 Google announced that Gmail Deutschland would be rebranded as Google Mail. The domain gmail.com became unavailable in Germany due to trademark disputes, in which cases users must use the domain googlemail.com. From that point forward, visitors originating from an IP address determined to be in Germany would be forwarded to googlemail.com where they could obtain an email address containing the new domain.
The domains are interchangeable so users obliged to use the googlemail.com domain are unable to select addresses already chosen by gmail.com users. Inbound emails sent to either googlemail.com or gmail.com addresses will reach the user. When registering for an online service, Google Mail users must use the googlemail.com form of their email address to ensure that any administrative emails they send to the service, such as confirmation messages, are recognized.
The German naming issue is due to a trademark dispute between Google and Daniel Giersch, who owns a German company called "G-mail" which provides the service of printing out email from senders and sending the print-out via postal mail to the intended recipients. On January 30, 2007, the EU's Office for Harmonization in the Internal Market ruled in favor of Giersch.
Google spoofed "offering" the same service in the Gmail Paper April Fool's Day joke in 2007.
On April 13, 2012, Google received the right to the Gmail trademark in Germany. On that day the gmail.de domain and the Gmail trademark were transferred to Google.
In February 2007 Google filed legal action against the owners of gmail.pl, a poet group known in full as Grupa Młodych Artystów i Literatów abbreviated GMAiL (literally, "Group of Young Artists and Writers"). This lawsuit was lost but the website no longer exists.
Users who registered before the switch to Google Mail were able to keep their Gmail address, although the Gmail logo was replaced with a Google Mail logo. Users who signed up after the name change receive a googlemail.com address, although a reverse of either in the sent email will still deliver it to the same place.
In September 2009 Google began to change the branding of UK accounts back to Gmail following the resolution of the trademark dispute.
On May 3, 2010, Google announced that they would start to phase out the googlemail.com domain in the UK. Existing users will get the option to switch to gmail.com, while new users will be given a gmail.com address by default. This also required Android phone users to perform a factory reset (requiring a back-up to prevent data loss) to restore phone functionality.
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- Official Gmail Blog at blogspot.com, with the history of Gmail since July 2007
- Official Gmail for Work