It has been a few years coming, but at long last the Google operated, web-based, free Gmail email service has lifted the crazy invitation only restriction. As from today you can simply click on a link from the Google home page and join in the fun of easily searchable email with that all important 2.8GB of online storage space thrown in.
Sergey Brin, one of the Google co-founders, has gone on record to say that Gmail is a cornerstone for the company. And rightly so, when you take into account the advertising revenue it generates by displaying context sensitive adverts alongside email messages but without ever really interfering with the user experience. Of course, the importance of Gmail goes beyond being a simple cash cow, it is at the heart of the integrated software services policy that Google has been promoting for some time now, bringing together Google Calendar and Google Talk IM for example.
But a cash cow it is, and with this latest announcement comes the news that it will become n even bigger one. It’s OK, don’t panic, there are no immediate plans to start charging for the basic service which will remain free according to Brin. However, note that I said ‘basic’ service there. Brin has made it clear that there are plans to charge for additional storage capacity, with an annual fee levied if you want to dramatically boost your online data store. Although no firm figures have been released, I am led to believe that a ballpark yearly charge of $25 for 6GB through to $500 for a 250GB is not too wide of the mark. Not least because these figures tie in quite nicely with the charging structure for the Google owned Picasa photo hosting service.
So just how many people actually use Gmail already? That’s an interesting question, and one that many people have been attempting to answer ever since the Google email revolution started. The latest figures from comScore suggest that Google is behind both Microsoft Hotmail and Yahoo, but has zipped past AOL into the third spot. This is not as brilliant as it sounds, because Hotmail is placed second on 236 million, with Yahoo in front on 249 million. Where does Gmail sit in all this? 200 million? Nope. 150 million? Nien. 100 million? Niet.
According to comScore it is just 60 million which means it has a lot of ground to cover if it is to truly compete at the top of the webmail pile. Given that Gmail launched way back on April Fool’s day 2004, one might have expected it to have done better. But then there has been that ‘invitation only’ hurdle to jump which has undoubtedly held it back in sheer user volume terms.
One thing is for sure, only a fool would bet against Google gaining ground, market position and bottom line profit…