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The Inside Story of Gmail On Its Tenth Anniversary 142

Posted by timothy
from the waiting-for-the-other-shoe-to-drop dept.
harrymcc (1641347) writes "Google officially — and mischievously — unveiled Gmail on April Fools' Day 2004. That makes this its tenth birthday, which I celebrated by talking to a bunch of the people who created the service for TIME.com. It's an amazing story: The service was in the works for almost three years before the announcement, and faced so much opposition from within Google that it wasn't clear it would ever reach consumers." Update: 04/01 13:37 GMT by T : We've introduced a lot of new features lately; some readers may note that with this story we are slowly rolling out one we hope you enjoy -- an audio version of each Slashdot story. If you are one of the readers in our testing pool, you'll hear the story just by clicking on it from the home page as if to read the comments; if you're driving, we hope you'll use your mobile devices responsibly.
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The Inside Story of Gmail On Its Tenth Anniversary

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  • Sort It. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MrL0G1C (867445) on Tuesday April 01, 2014 @08:54AM (#46629427) Journal

    Ten years, perhaps they'll be able to enable name/subject 'sort' soon.

    All they've done is make the UI completely unintuitive, I haven't seen any useful changes over the last ten years, just adverts and the continuous nagging and coercion to use Google-plus.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I agree. It seems to be the new trend in software and business in general. "Innovation" and "the way forward" seems to be forcing users into the choices made by designers and approved by CxOs and marketers. I see the same issue at the company where I work. I am on the management team and attend various off-site team building brainstorming sessions. I play along to keep my job but believe it is 90% BS. They are essentially teaching the CxOs to ignore reason and go with their gut instincts. To innovate and fo

      • by rex_s (2562299)
        ANY change meets resistance from userspace. You want me to start changing my password, and I can't use my name? I don't like it, Sir.
    • Re:Sort It. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Charliemopps (1157495) on Tuesday April 01, 2014 @10:53AM (#46630345)

      What's funny is the nagging only gets worse when you actually use Google+
      It's so bad I don't even log into Google+ if I can help it. I follow some people on there, and I post stuff but the pop-up nagging for me to invite everyone I know constantly is very annoying. Now they have a "Selfie" popup encouraging me to take pictures of myself and post them... wtf?

      • I'm not sure whether to interpret that selfie thing as an April Fools joke or not...if not, it's one of the most narcissistic and completely pointless things I've heard of in a long time.

        • Not a joke at all. GIANT window in the middle of the screen talking about how great "Selfies" are and I should upload some right away.

          Googles ruining their social media platform. I don't want to go anywhere near it anymore. The selfie thing was the final straw.

          • Googles ruining their social media platform. I don't want to go anywhere near it anymore. The selfie thing was the final straw.

            Shit, shelfies aren't even on their social media platform! This is Gmail we're talking about. WTF

            I'm still waiting to see if they'll ever get the hint when every time they ask me to associate a phone number with the account, I tell them to go fuck themselves.

      • by MrL0G1C (867445)

        Now they have a "Selfie" popup encouraging me to take pictures of myself and post them... wtf?

        Lol, I got that today, what better way to ID you better, perhaps it was the NSA's idea.

      • You do know today is the 1st of April, and that Google is pretty well known for releasing "Improvements" to their products. I believe it was three years ago that they announced motion tracking for Gmail, they even had a guy doing ridiculous movements to compose an e-mail.
    • by Grishnakh (216268)

      This is exactly right. Gmail was pretty innovative when it came out (most mailreaders couldn't handle conversation threading then, and tagging is much more useful than folders), but what have they done since then? Nothing really, other that slap an uglier UI on it.

      The other responder is correct: this seems to be the new trend in software. Nothing really innovative or better is done much any more, instead features are removed and things are dumbed down, and on top of that UIs have gotten much uglier.

      • by JohnFen (1641097)

        (most mailreaders couldn't handle conversation threading then, and tagging is much more useful than folders)

        Literally every mailreader I've used in the many years before gmail existed did conversation threading just as gmail does. What they didn't tend to do is enable it by default, which is just as reasonable as enabling it by default (some people don't like mail threading, so either way you go with the default you're going to force some people to change a setting.)

        Tagging was not a common feature, but it wasn't totally unheard of. Neither of those things are exampels of gmail being innovative.

        • by Grishnakh (216268)

          Offline mailreaders are not the same as webmail services. Did any other webmail services offer conversation threading when Gmail started? I don't believe so.

          Same goes for tagging. When Gmail came out, the other webmail services didn't have any of this stuff, and they didn't have any storage space either. Gmail had these features plus 1GB of space, a huge amount for the time when limits of 25MB were common.

          • by JohnFen (1641097)

            Offline mailreaders are not the same as webmail services.

            True. I suppose that I just don't see that as a meaningful distinction.

    • IMAP + real e-mail client fixes this.
    • There is a a web UI? I think gmail works great in Thunderbird via IMAP. It has full sorting and folders, everything you could ever want. The Android app is pretty good on my phone as well (although no sorting). I have never seen a web based email UI that I liked or used unless I absolutely had to.

  • I'm pretty sure they created it for Google, not for TIME.com.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Despite writing for Time.com, it looks like Harry McCracken has problems with clarity in writing. It should read something like:

      "That makes this its tenth birthday, which I celebrated for TIME.com by talking to a bunch of the people who created the service"

      Or something.

  • TL;DR (Score:4, Informative)

    by xxxJonBoyxxx (565205) on Tuesday April 01, 2014 @09:11AM (#46629529)

    Early use by a major company of Javascript consuming XML-based web services. Successfully leveraged Google's search engine. Design conflicted with the all-on-one-page "portal" paradigm of the time. Text ads instead of banner ads, and controversial because they were tied to the content of the messages. Original cluster was 300 servers.

  • by trybywrench (584843) on Tuesday April 01, 2014 @09:14AM (#46629545)
    Wasn't Gmail the first to introduce the conversational layout? I remember the first time I saw it I was blown away over how simple the idea was yet how much impact it made on UX. Also, IIRC Gmail was the first to get Ajax right in a mail client, I remember being impressed when they embedded a GTalk client right there in mail. Then I think Google Calendar followed then docs with App Engine in there somewhere too. No matter your feelings on Google the company the software that sprang from Gmail is amazing.
    • by RoboJ1M (992925)

      It was several personal firsts for me:

      1) First conversational layout for email
      2) First AJAX web application
      3) First cloud backed app
      4) 2nd single-box-search app, no filing required by the user (1st I saw was iTunes)

      • It most certainly was not the first AJAX web application, as the whole XmlHttpRequest object was originally conceived by Microsoft for the Outlook Web Access portal four whole years before Gmail launched, and Oddpost was the first public webmail system to be AJAX based.

    • by Bogtha (906264)

      If they weren't the first with conversational layout, they were the ones that popularised it.

      They didn't get Ajax right. They just based their user interface around it, which none of the other major webmail providers were doing. This made things a lot faster, which most users appreciated. In fact, their use of Ajax was pretty lousy. You couldn't even open an email in a new window because instead of using proper links and hooking into them with Ajax, they concocted fake links based on spans that could

      • by Wraithlyn (133796)

        Gmail was an early pioneer in using the URL hash to track state, so that eg, the Back button worked properly with Ajax. They deserve credit for that.

        And yes, I remember being annoyed about not being able to open links in a new window... for about 10 seconds, before discovering the "Open in new window" function they provided, which rendered that pretty moot.

    • Email services had been including the previous emails below the reply, indented, for ages. With Gmail, when non-Gmail people email you, you now have that pointlessly duplicated across the conversation view still, don't you? Although they fold it or something. I don't know; I disabled it awhile back.

    • by Mr_Silver (213637)

      Wasn't Gmail the first to introduce the conversational layout? I remember the first time I saw it I was blown away over how simple the idea was yet how much impact it made on UX.

      Not quite, Microsoft Outlook had conversational layout [microsoft.com] in 2003. There are probably other programs that had it even earlier than that, but Outlook was probably one of the most mainstream.

      The improvement that Google made was that the conversation included the emails you sent, not just the ones you received. Sadly, it took another 7 ye

      • by klui (457783)

        Outlook also had AJAX first. GMail was the among the first free webmail to use AJAX.

  • memories (Score:4, Interesting)

    by sootman (158191) on Tuesday April 01, 2014 @09:24AM (#46629623) Homepage Journal

    "Bidding for invites on eBay sent prices shooting up to $150 and beyond"

    Things cooled down quickly. My first sent message was to my dad, on June 27, telling him that I bought an invite on eBay for $1.50.

    Also fun to read Slashdot's original coverage of the launch. [slashdot.org]

    "It is a joke, it's going to have to go down in history as one of the biggest pranks ever pulled... both the AP and Reuters have put out wire stories which means it's going to be in hundreds of newspapers tomorrow morning."

    Good stuff, Google. Though I wish you'd learn that "sort" is as useful as "search".

  • I can't believe gmail is actually ten years old.
    Is it finally out of Beta also?
  • by Rosco P. Coltrane (209368) on Tuesday April 01, 2014 @09:25AM (#46629635)

    Back in the days, Google was still seen as a benevolent company that innovated for the sake of innovation - and not to sell your data to the highest biddest and monetize your entire life, as everybody now knows. Yet I didn't want a Gmail account.

    Why? Because at the beginning, Gmail was invite-only. And that my friends is a classic sales tactic to generate a false impression of privilege, the desire to be allowed in, and when a vendor has to rely on such tactics to drive up sales, something doesn't smell right.

    That was my first hint that Google's interest wasn't the user'.

    • by JackieBrown (987087) <dbroome@gmail.com> on Tuesday April 01, 2014 @09:44AM (#46629781)

      According to the article, that was because they didn't have the resources to support an unlimited user roll out.

      • They did that again when they created Google Wave, and it made some sense as Wave was complex and resource intensive, but they never opened it fully up. And again when they created G+ they did the same... which went a long way towards keeping it from being any real kind of success.

        It may have sense for Gmail. but they've kept to the same pattern.

    • Back in the days, Google was still seen as a benevolent company that innovated for the sake of innovation - and not to sell your data to the highest biddest and monetize your entire life, as everybody now knows.

      This might be nitpicking, but Google does not sell your data, they sell access to you based on the data. Google selling your data would be like selling a gold mine, making a quick buck but totally unsustainable. They're far better off to keep the data in house and be able to sell ads targeted based upon it.

  • I don't believe that gmail is 10 years old today. This must be a hoax!

    • Everyone knows that GMail was created last Tuesday as is. It only seems to be 10 years old to those who don't have the faith to see through the deception.

  • I hate gmail. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by scorp1us (235526) on Tuesday April 01, 2014 @09:29AM (#46629663) Journal

    I don't actually like to read my gmail. Its a horrid interface. No folders (no, I'm not going to search, TYVM) and the "folder" work around is a kludge doesn't cut it for me. Yahoo up until recently had the most powerful interface. But no SSL after login. Then they started limiting page sizes rather than continuous.

    I'm thinking Horde Mail/GroupWare on a reliable cloud provider would be the way to go. But you can't leave google behind because of the drive, docs and all that stuff.

    • I don't actually like to read my gmail. Its a horrid interface.

      You actually use Gmail via the website and not via IMAP?

       

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I'm no fan of the new Yahoo Mail interface, either, but on the plus side, they are all-HTTPS now, no longer just the login page. Plus, you can access Yahoo Mail using any old IMAP/SMTP client (also over SSL in both directions), so you can avoid the web interface altogether if you prefer.

    • by jader3rd (2222716)
      What's wrong with searching?
    • I was a longtime (going on 10 years) user of Yahoo Mail, but when they finally crammed the new interface down my throat, after the fourth time they silently dropped all my incoming emails for days at a time, I had to call it quits.

      I mean, for fuck's sake, if your email provider can't even deliver email properly, what the hell is the point? And I KNOW I was getting emails over these periods since I had notification emails coming in daily otherwise.

    • by Ly4 (2353328)

      and the "folder" work around is a kludge doesn't cut it for me.

      Labels. It's not a work-around, it's a deliberate design decision, and a good one. You can emulate folders with labels - simply don't attach more than one label to a given email.

  • by xxxJonBoyxxx (565205) on Tuesday April 01, 2014 @09:42AM (#46629763)

    >> some readers may note that with this story we are slowly rolling out one we hope you enjoy -- an audio version of each Slashdot story.

    Er...no thanks. There's a reason video tanked on this site too - your readership is too damn busy to wait for the talky-talk. So, we skim (and type) like crazy, and value text-heavy sites like Slashdot and Reddit. (OK, 15 seconds - time up - back to work!)

  • Auto play audio? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Enry (630) <enryNO@SPAMwayga.net> on Tuesday April 01, 2014 @09:48AM (#46629823) Journal

    Screw you. If this is an April Fools joke, go back to OMG PWNIES. If you're rolling this out for good, seeya.

    • I'm reading this at work, where my computer is already muted. Joke's on Slashdot.
    • by Gravis Zero (934156) on Tuesday April 01, 2014 @10:39AM (#46630239)

      just a joke, bro. if you listen to it, you would notice that it's actually a person reading the article as if they were a basic text-to-speech program. they could have made it better by excitedly yelling, "OH MY GOD, PONIES!" in the middle and then "oh uhh, the summary, right..." and finish reading the summary like the text-to-speech program.

      • by antdude (79039)

        But do they have to do it on all stories? I wished there was a HTML5 media player blocker like FlashBlocker.

      • by JohnFen (1641097)

        I'm guessing joke, too. However, given all the nonsense we're seeing in the beta, this seems entirely plausible as a serious thing. Poe's law may be at work here.

    • by Wolfrider (856)

      --I'm with you 99%. Autoplay audio on /. is hella annoying.

      / ponies!

  • Or did it actually go into production?
    • Assuming you are actually asking: It is no longer in beta, nor has it been for a long time. Though you can add the "Beta" tag to the Google logo at the top via plugins, if that makes you feel better. I know I did.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    was to block the email I forward from my domain MX – again. I guess they thought it was such a good prank they delivered it early.

    WTF Google? How many times do we have to go through this?

    If you want to advertise to me, you're going to have to accept the approx 3% of the spam that gets through my up-to-date spamassassin, DNSBL, and procmail. You let tons of spam sent directly to my gmail account come in, usually, but not always filtered to my spam folder; so why is the small amount of spam that gets f

  • by cfulton (543949) on Tuesday April 01, 2014 @10:10AM (#46629979)
    I DON'T want my computer to read to me every time I open you page. I can read it myself. I want to read it myself. If I wanted it to be read to me I would go to CNN.
  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) on Tuesday April 01, 2014 @10:17AM (#46630043) Journal
    Admins, this is the line I have drawn in sand. I have put up with all kinds of crap. I did not complain too much about Beta. But once more time you put up an auto playing audio, you will be banished. All the 2^7 days read continuously or 31 achievements will be discarded and the account abandoned if it is done again.
    • by guises (2423402) on Tuesday April 01, 2014 @11:15AM (#46630547)
      Okay, this is ridiculous. I know that complaining is just one of the things that we do here, but it's April first and they announce a ridiculous new "feature" about reading stories out loud which turns out to be in morse code. I'd say that you all aren't getting the joke, but that would imply that you aren't hearing it, which would mean that you have no reason to complain in the first place.

      What is with you folks? The rule has always been: if you don't like Slashdot on April first, don't come.
      • You're getting morse code? I'm getting a robotic voice reading the stories. I'm hoping this is their April Fool's joke because if this is a serious new feature then it's idiotic.

        • by jc42 (318812)

          I'm getting a robotic voice reading the stories. I'm hoping this is their April Fool's joke because if this is a serious new feature then it's idiotic.

          Well, I wouldn't call it idiotic. It could be the start of a useful feature for the visually impaired. What seems to be missing is a way to disable it. I've poked around a bit, and didn't find any controls. It has the usual sound level widget, which works for the current window, but when I refresh or open a new discussion window/tab, the sound is back up where it was.

          Anyone know how to turn it off?

          • by Anonymous Coward
            To turn it off, add the url pattern slashdot.org/.*\.mp3\? to your ad blocker.

            I can go at the end of the from-the-fuck-you-slashdot-idiots-dept.conf config file.

          • by steveg (55825)

            Flashblock.

            You still get the flash icon on the page, but you have to click on it before it will actually execute. It does this on all web pages, not just Slashdot.

            Second best (after Adblock Plus) of all the Firefox extensions I install.

            • by steveg (55825)

              My bad. Flashblock doesn't help. No luck blocking it with the ad blocker either....

  • by Eggplant62 (120514) on Tuesday April 01, 2014 @10:27AM (#46630137)

    Is there a facility to adjust this? I listen to doctors dictating notes all day long so I'm used to very quick speech rates. I find the rate at which the TTS engine is dropping output is driving me nuts.

    • by mrmagos (783752)
      Yep, completely adjustable. You can even change the voice. It's kind of complicated to describe, but I found a helpful video [youtube.com] that walks you through the process.
      • by jc42 (318812)
        Heh. It's been a couple of years since I've had a RickRoll. Thanks for the memory!
  • i would say that 85% of the NEW COOL %Framework%! features are garbage. Please have an option to turn that audio OFF.

    Gmail also has similar problems (Why does the "hangouts" thing freeze Gmail for several seconds during loading??)

    • by dysmal (3361085)
      Better yet, how about letting us opt in to the audio crap? Because oh man most of us LOVE listening to music while working and then having a browser tab start talking! BTW... Buck Feta!
    • Please have an option to turn that audio OFF.

      I added a filter to my Proxomitron proxy to strip out the "autoplay" tag from the audio element on /. pages. (Am considering stripping out the audio element all together.) Regardless of whether this is an April Fools day joke or not, the person who decided to use the "autoplay" tag should be taken out back and beaten into unconsciousness.

  • How am I supposed to hold both the bong and the iPod at the same time? I've had to stow the MP-5 in the gun rack and it's still difficult to drive.

    FFS.

  • was when he took a breath right in the middle of reading it
  • by Alioth (221270) <no@spam> on Tuesday April 01, 2014 @11:39AM (#46630757) Journal

    Websites should be seen AND NOT HEARD.

    I've got no problem with there being an audio version of the story. However, I do have a problem with it being an AUTOPLAYING audio version of the story. Due to autoplaying audio and video (one an ad a while back on Slashdot which would periodically make the sound of a slamming door!), the audio is permanently muted on my work workstation.

    I hope the autoplaying sound was just an April fool's joke. If not it's incredibly badly thought out, given the number of people who read Slashdot where they don't want suddenly a bunch of sound coming out their computer.

  • At the time my go-to Yahoo account was getting swamped with about 300 spam emails a day and I was looking for a low-hanging solution (didn't want to get in bed with Microsoft, though). And, I never had a real personal email plan. If I could start all over again, I'd have 3 accounts:

    1.) Garbage account when I have to provide an email address and don't care to see anything but an ephemoral conversation.
    2.) Public correspondence for long-term email relationships e.g. billing accounts and on-line purchases.

  • The audio thing is neat but please don't have it play automatically.
  • Auto play by default is bad, mkay. Makes me want to pull my hair out.

    This should not happen, by default. Put it in a config option for those who want it, but don't make it default. Using it while driving or anything else is a terrible idea. You still have to navigate to the page and touch the right story.

    Meanwhile, Pipedot has workng UTF-8. Which feature is more useful in expanding your audience? I'll take UTF-8 myself.

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