10 Years On, Gmail Has Transformed the Web as We Know It

Interesting facts
Gmail Ajax

On the April 1st, Google has celebrated its 10th birthday. It is one of the most popular e-mail services in the world today. What few people realize is how it changed and revolutionized email as we know it.

Gmail started as invitation-only service, and those who were given chance to use it experienced something that was unheard of at that time – a spam-free inbox and huge storage which abolished the need to erase your emails.

Of course, webmail was nothing really new at the time, it had already existed for some time. But it was slow, cumbersome, messy, full of spam and needed to be emptied all the time. Simply put, not an enjoyable experience.

Gmail brought speed and elegance to the webmail world. The storage was so large that the need to clean it basically disappeared. In fact, there was no delete button, and no one missed it. Moreover, with search tools far better than anything before, finding old emails was much easier.

However, the biggest innovation of Gmail is called Ajax. Essentially, Ajax is a JavaScript hack that allows webpages to update without the need to reload the whole page, and without need to download any plug-in or something like that. After some years, Microsoft began to use Ajax to display real-time stock information in Internet Explorer, but it took much longer for mainstream internet to adopt the technology. Today, everyone takes it for granted.

Another major concept that Google pioneered with Gmail was advertisement targeting based on information from your emails. Gmail gives its users top-notch service for free, but keeps the rights for all the information inside it. And most people did not care, or even notice.

When Gmail went open (no invites) in 2007, its user base exploded to tens of millions users, and it hovers around half a billion today. Google has integrated Gmail into its other services, like Calendar, Documents, Disk, and made it the centre of this entire suite of services.

And that brings us to the final big innovation that Gmail brought us, which is the cloud computing. Obviously, technology that we today call cloud has been around for some time, but Gmail was the first service to achieve such a seamless integration into a browser, in a way that the service is almost indistinguishable from a program running from a hard drive. Moreover, you could run it from different computers with different browsers and even operating systems, and it would look exactly the same and work exactly the same.

Of course, concepts like web applications, cloud storage and targeted ads sound perfectly natural and common to us today. But Gmail was the pioneer that ushered this ‘common’ era.

Bonus in the video … best Gmail innovation ever! Check it out:


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Andrew J. Blanche

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