Gmail, the number one web based email platform, used by billions of users, globally, has evolved in leaps and bounds over the years, from the html mail it used to be, to the advanced functions which it has incorporated in recent times. Today Gmail is a free, advertising-supported webmail, POP3, and IMAP service provided by Google that billions of users use every minute on this planet, making Google the most used website with the Number 1 Alexa ranking.

Gmail was initially conceptualized by Paul Buchheit where the webmail was available only internally as an email client for Google employees. The project initially was known by the code name Caribou, honoring the popular Dilbert comic strip’s Project Caribou. When Gmail was first publicized on 1st April, 2004, its USP was to provide a 1GB storage space for its free email service when all its competitors provided even less than 10mb for each account. The additional space provided in Gmail ensured users won’t ever have to delete emails from their account, which ensured the runaway success and a gradual shift of users from Yahoo, AOL and other popular webmail services.

Just attracting the customers wasn’t enough, and Google started strategizing on how to ensure that the customers spend most of the time using the webmail. Evidently the email service wasn’t enough, and thus Gmail integrated the chat service on February 2006, withing its webmail, with simple AJAX coding. This straightaway catapulted the time spent everyday by Gmail users on the site. Together with Google’s Search engine and Gmail, Google became destined to be one of the major technology companies ever with an astounding growth, thanks to its innovative offerings.

Today, you can click the back button in your browser to return to the previous page in Gmail, bookmark URLs from different Gmail accounts, and view documents (Google Docs) in your mail, something that was unimaginable a few years ago. Now we can mail huge files in mail too. Also, the messages are pre-fetched when Gmail loads so you don’t have to wait too much until a message is displayed. The Gmail Labs feature, introduced on June 2008, allows users to test new or experimental features of Gmail, such as bookmarking of important e-mail messages, custom keyboard-shortcuts and games. On December 2008, Gmail added support for SMS Messaging. On January 2009, Gmail added support for offline access. On July 2009, Gmail brought Tasks out of Labs testing and made it an official feature. On September 2009, Google brought Push Mail support to its Gmail service using Google Sync for iPhone and iPod Touch platforms. On February 2010, Google integrated Google Buzz in Gmail allowing users to share links, media and status updates as in Twitter. On April 2010, Google announced a new two-pane layout designed specifically for the iPad and also for other PDA users. In the last couple of weeks, Google has been adding tiny improvements to Gmail, 2 recent ones being the Google Maps previews and a new more user friendly chat window. These are only few of the features that spring to the mind when one talks of the Gmail offerings in recent times.

Yesterday, 19th June, 2010, it relaunched the new Gmail contact cards, which show up when you move the mouse over a contact in Gmail. They still contain an image of the contact, their email, and links for quick emailing, chat, and video chat (together with several other options), but those buttons have moved from the top to the bottom of the card, and the card has lost the light-blue border, making it look more like a business card.

Come to think of it, Google’s core competency is not its search engine or its Gmail service, but rather its ability to regularl delight its users with new innovative offerings. So Google, whats next on your agenda, from your end on Gmail? Any ideas guys?

By Kar

Dr. Kar works in the interface of digital transformation and data science. Professionally a professor in one of the top B-Schools of Asia and an alumni of XLRI, he has extensive experience in teaching, training, consultancy and research in reputed institutes. He is a regular contributor of Business Fundas and a frequent author in research platforms. He is widely cited as a researcher. Note: The articles authored in this blog are his personal views and does not reflect that of his affiliations.