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Google Wasn't Joking with Gmail 20 Years Back on April Fool's Day


The world’s most popular email service, Gmail, was launched as an April Fool’s Joke 20 years ago by Google’s Co-Founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin. The free email service was the ultimate Google’s April Fool’s Day joke that was actually true. Gmail had the world in utter disbelief 20 years ago on April Fool’s Day since the then startup was also famous for pulling pranks. Jokes apart, the email service was for real back then, which today has changed the way communication happens digitally for millions of people across the world.

Gmail wasn’t the first member among other players in the market, yet it commands a significant proportion of it today. How? What was the spell that Google cast to make Gmail a major email service provider today? Let’s look at the genius moves Google made in the growth story of Gmail.

A User Complaint was the Idea behind Gmail
Yes, the idea of creating Gmail sprung from attempting to solve a user’s complaint. At the time, the user complained about how dissatisfied they were with having to deal with finding emails, filing messages or removing heaps of them to stay under the obligatory four megabytes required. From there, an engineer who happened to be the 23rd employee of Google took up this challenge to solve three issues: storage, speed, and search.

The 23rd Employee Created Gmail
Paul Buchheit, was that 23rd employee, who spent a significant amount of time developing webmail back in 1996. This was a task specifically the management trusted Buchheit with, who faced many trial and error outcomes in the process. Between the years 2001 and 2004, Buchhiet and his crew finally developed ground-breaking features, especially one that allowed advanced search through all the emails, and this resulted in the option to allocate 1 GB of mail space to every user. The service was enabled with speed, search and storage, which was a huge deal at the time.

Solving the Three S’s: Storage, Speed and Search
Back then, Yahoo and Hotmail were major players in the industry, which had a slow-paced interface that reloaded the entire page after every click. While Yahoo did offer users a 2MB mailbox plan, it required them to upgrade to the premium option. Hotmail was comparatively generous for offering 5MB. This made a big breakthrough for Gmail, which was launched as a free service, boasting one gigabyte of storage per account. This meant it allowed for a storage capacity of 13,500 emails before running out of space compared to just 30 to 60 by those leading webmail players back then. In short, Gmail provided 250 to 500 times more email storage space. At that time, the service was termed AJAX which operated within the browser at the same speed as desktop applications. Soon, AJAX became a familiar name in the industry.

The public’s belief was still cold feet that they didn't buy it, thinking of it as just one of those pranks Google had pulled.

Public Felt it Was too Good to be True
It took time for people to learn that it is an actual email service because they knew Google was a seasoned prankster. Even the press release of Gmail’s launch appeared to be worded in a suspicious manner.

Still, Gmail was only made available as an invitation-only beta, which increased demand and created a feeling of exclusivity.

All Ears and Eyes Were on Google’s Gmail
It caused quite a stir among the masses. The news agencies and publishing houses that published the news back then received numerous calls from readers saying that they had become a pawn in Google’s pranks. However, it is believed that it was part of Google’s charm to make a product that people won’t believe is true. In this case, it helped change people’s perceptions of the kinds of applications that were possible within a web browser.

To top it off, Gmail included Google’s search history, which allowed users to browse emails, photos and other data stored within the space quickly. Additionally, it introduced a feature that grouped multiple email communications about the same subject. It did exactly what it was initially pitched for, that is, the three-S, which stood for storage, search and speed.

Doubts Were Resolved After Seeing the Work that Went into Making Gmail Happen
To clear the doubts, one news agency, Association Press, took matters into hand and went down to the tech giant’s headquarters to investigate. There, they saw the work that went into Gmail, specifically noting how big a storage capacity it was built with and the fast search abilities it was equipped with.

Still, Gmail was only made available as an invitation-only beta, which increased demand and created a feeling of exclusivity. Again, Google utilized the scenario in its favor and worked its charm by making a smart marketing move to draw more attention to the craze.

Google’s Genius Idea of Using the Hype Situation Marketed Gmail’s Fame
Rather than giving reporters and tech media site accounts, Google chose a different method this time.

This method involved special "invitation tokens" provided by the company to its employees, encouraging them to invite friends to participate in the beta testing stage. The demand for Gmail invites surged as news of the new email service's ground-breaking capabilities and dependability spread.

The Demand was Immense
Due to the overwhelming demand, some users who were interested in obtaining a Gmail account even turned to selling their tokens on eBay. A viral marketing campaign resulted from the exclusivity and limited availability, which attracted a lot of media attention and buzz. Those who were fortunate enough to get a Gmail invitation at this time frequently boasted to friends about their access, even posting screenshots on their own blogs.

In the Age of AI Craze, Here’s How Gmail is Emphasizing on the ‘AI’ in its Term
Gmail has come a long way from offering 1GB of storage. It’s deploying artificial intelligence (AI) to facilitate task performance in a matter of a few clicks.

It has enabled an AI-powered feature, ‘help me write,’ which allows users to compose emails or an entire email draft based on simple prompts. Gmail has progressed significantly from 1GB of storage to using artificial intelligence (AI) to perform tasks at the touch of a button.

Using the AI-powered "help me write" functionality, users may compose full email drafts in response to straightforward instructions. At the moment, this feature is offered under its Workspace Labs initiative, in which users can register online and express their interest in joining it.

Next, a function called ‘smart reply’ allows users to reply to emails they receive with up to three different ideas. Users can choose their answers and transmit them with just two taps or clicks. From a vast array of varied, complex responses, Smart Reply uses cutting-edge machine learning technologies, such as deep neural networks, to select a suitable selection of possible responses.

It also features a feature known as Summary cards. How does it operate? Summaries card technology uses machine learning and heuristic algorithms to automatically search incoming emails for certain information that helps identify the sort of message and its key points. Then, this function will provide an information card with the most crucial contents at the top of the message, saving you from having to read through all that information.

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