A few weeks ago Gmail, one of the major players in the email sector, celebrated its 15th birthday.

In a typical Google move, the company’s foray outside of the search business was launched on April 1, 2004. It quickly became a sought-after service, interest being drummed up through the then-relatively novel manner of labeling Gmail as in beta release only and requiring an invitation from another user to get into the semi-exclusive club, as it were.

Gmail was a game-changer in several ways. The field was pretty much dominated by HotMail and, on the corporate front, Outlook, both from Microsoft. Most internet service providers also offered mail clients of some sort but these were relatively small-scale compared to the Microsoft services.

Google needed a hook to attract users to its Gmail product, and that hook was space. One gigabyte of space – free – doubling a year later to two gigabytes, again on April 1. This was unheard of at the time, when it was not unusual to have paid services offering just a few hundred megabytes. In fact in its advertising Google touted the claim that you’d never have to delete an email again just to reclaim space.

“Free” of course is a debatable term. Gmail users in effect pay for the service by agreeing to have their emails scanned and then receive targeted ads that may originate from such scanning.

Over the years Google has increased the Gmail free space allotment, essentially meeting a brash commitment from back in 2005 that the company would continue to give people more space forever. Today the free quota stands at 15 gigabytes. Additional space can be bought at very reasonable prices.

From the beginning Gmail used the secure transport protocol (recognized through the https structure), and security and anti-spam measures are important components of the service. In fact, over time, Gmail became widely recognized for its ability to separate junk mail from legitimate mail. By some estimates, around 50 per cent of email traffic is spam or junk mail.

In fact, so reliable is the Gmail spam filtering nowadays that many users no longer bother checking their junk mail folders. Other email providers are often challenged in this area.

Gmail is particularly effective at blocking potentially malicious attachments through an extensive scanning process, and some types of attachments, for example executable files, are simply not permitted at all.

Gmail’s growth has been nothing short of spectacular. Just three years after exiting from beta status in 2009, Google announced that its user count was in excess of 400 million users. Another three years on, the total stood at around 900 million, and by the summer of 2017 it reached 1.2 billion.

Lest you think email is a dying form of communication, consider some interesting tidbits from the annual “Internet Minute” created each year by Lori Lewis. The 2018 version of the chart shows 187 million emails being sent every minute (up from 150 million in 2016). Nothing really comes close. In second place, if you aggregate text messages and messaging services such as WhatsApp, you have a total of 56 million.

Although the adoption of Gmail in the corporate sector, particular among very large companies, has been slow, it is almost ubiquitous among startups, perhaps a reflection of the major inroads made by Google’s broader GSuite (Gmail, Google Docs) in schools.

Google says the Android version of Gmail has been downloaded in excess of one billion times, becoming the first app in the Google Play Store to surpass that total, back in 2014.

Do you remember your first email service? I was fortunate to be using email already in the early 1980s. Many teachers in B.C. owe a debt of gratitude to Simon Fraser University for making email accounts freely available to teachers, starting around 1986 with its Xchange program. In those days such communication required dial-up modems, and a sometimes forlorn hope that others in the home wouldn’t pick up an extension phone, thereby breaking the connection.

Although I no longer use my university email account, I do have four services I use: a portal.ca address going back to 1992 (Internet Portal Services was a very early Vancouver provider), my Gmail address (early adopter with a Sept. 1, 2004 startup, and I still have my original welcome email), an Outlook address, and a ProtonMail address just so I can keep up with the latest in mail security.

Belated happy 15th Gmail; 15 gigabytes of space for 15 years. Wonder if everyone will be at 30 gigabytes for the 30th anniversary?

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