Picture this. It’s April 1st, 2004 — April Fool’s day. Google launches a press release announcing their new vertical: Gmail. In the press release the Google founders state that search is actually the number two online activity to email and that they’ll offer users a full gig of storage. It had to be one of their famous April Fools pranks, right? Wrong. Ten years ago today Google released Gmail into the wild for a small test batch of users. 8 years later Gmail became the most popular email service, surpassing Hotmail.
Initial stories (from Google themselves) stated that Gmail was born thanks to Google’s famous “20% time” project wherein employees work one day a week on any project that they choose. According to the legend, a message from an annoyed Google user who was looking for a better solution spurred the 20% project. However in a recent interview with Time, Gmail creator Paul Buchheit (employee #23) began working on the project in 2001 as an “official charge.” During the build Gmail was nicknamed Caribou after a mysterious Dilbert project.
The hook that Caribou/Gmail could offer users was a massive size capacity. Instead of constantly cleaning out messages to clear up space, Gmail could offer users the ability to keep all emails and search through messages quickly. Unlike some other services at the time Gmail would make money not as a paid service, but used small text ads to monetize users. The hook worked and In July of 2012 Gmail had 425 million monthly active users, surpassing Hotmail as the largest email service in the world.
Gmail was Google’s first foray into other verticals outside of search and led the way for much of the innovation coming from the tech giant today. Here’s to you Gmail, have a very Happy Birthday!
Images courtesy of skizzers.org & google.com