Twelve years ago on Friday, the search engine giant Google released Gmail, its free email service. Its birth is largely responsible for the near-extinction of @hotmail.com, @aol.com, and other alternative email addresses, and for good reason. It took Google's Paul Buchheit three years to develop the original Gmail, which hit the web on April 1, 2004. The email service has been continually tinkered with, added onto, and improved over the past 12 years. So, on Gmail's 12th anniversary, let's look at what Gmail looked like when it first started, what original features it has retained over the years, and what progress has been made.
The original Gmail wiped other free email services off the map for the most part, largely due to three features, which it highlighted in its 2004 press release: speed, storage, and (no surprise here, Google) search. Part of the goal of Gmail was to save users time sorting through and filing emails, and it was designed to group replies into emails so the conversation makes sense without having to dig around for previous emails. The original Gmail also offered more than 100 times the storage capacity, 1,000 megabytes, as other email services of the day. (In 2016, Gmail provides 15 gigabytes of storage for free.) Finally, Gmail incorporated Google's search technology, allowing users to comb through a massive amount of emails quickly using keywords.
The modern Gmail has several important functional improvements over its original. Gmail now sorts the Inbox into three main categories: Primary, Social, and Promotions. Having your incoming email sorted this way — with great accuracy, in this user's experience — makes it easier not to miss important emails that may otherwise drown in a deluge of promotions or social media site updates. (It also eliminates the crushing disappointment that comes when you get all excited over a new message in your inbox because you think it's from that person you like but it's actually just another LinkedIn update.)
Then there's the all-important Gchat and Google Hangouts. Gmail kicked off its first chat service, Google Talk, way back in 2006. In 2016, Gchat provides an easy-to-use internal instant messaging system, to which users are connected instantly when signed onto Gmail. Gchat, of course, incorporates Google's search technology so you can easily search through chat sessions to find a particular part of the conversation. And Google Hangouts lets you video chat with friends through the email service.
Though its birthday may be on April Fool's Day, Gmail is no joke. The service continues to provide speed, storage, and search capacity like no other, in addition to sorting a barrage of incoming emails and making it easier than ever to chat in real time. Take a moment to be thankful on Friday for the ease with which you are able to check your email and connect with your contacts (and for how sleek it looks now compared to way back in the day).