Monday, May 10, 2004

Gmail mini-review and an offer

Micro-review: It's definitely a beta product and there are some big things missing, but it has potential to be very cool.

As I posted recent, I'm pretty excited about being able to test Gmail, Google's free webmail client. Since my friends and family have other addresses for me, I changed my preferences at eBay and Parent Center to send news and alerts to my Gmail account so that I could start getting some messages.

Because I haven't had direct human interaction via Gmail, I haven't been able to take advantage of Gmail's "conversation" interface -- which rolls up messages in a threaded discussion into individual tabs -- the screenshots look nice on the help page (see item #2 on Gmail's Learn More page).

From what little I have done, I see definite room for improvement. What is there works well, but there are some significant features missing.

Before I can start using gmail on a more regular basis, I'll need more addresses in my gmail contact list. Gmail doesn't make this easy. I can export addresses from my Yahoo address book or from other email programs, but there is no facility for importing addresses into Gmail so I'm stuck. (A email from Gmail support says that address importing is in development now.)

Gmail does save addresses from messages composed within Gmail. It'd be nice to do this for incoming mail too, Yahoo has a "Add to Address Book" link next to the "From" line. Google should do at least this, but it'd be even better to have a "save addresses" link which would identify everything that looks like an email address in the body text or in any header.

Another significant issue is that Gmail's spam filter identified all the messages I received from ParentCenter as spam! I have subsequently clicked on each and suggested to Gmail that they aren't spam and I assume that Gmail's spam filter adapts with user input. The next message I receive from ParentCenter will tell me how well this works. (Update: It didn't work well. Email from Gmail support says that if I add the sender to my list of contacts, it won't be flagged as spam. But, as I mentioned above, it's not trivial to add a sender to my contacts.)

The next annoyance is that I must click "Show External Images" every time I open a message with graphics. While having this as an option is a nice security feature, it'd be nice for Gmail to remember which messages I've already approved. Better yet would be an option such as "Always show external images from this sender". Since the main email I receive on this address now is HTML formatted newsletters and alerts, this is quite noticeable.

One final word on all of these gripes - gmail is still a beta product. I'm willing to bet that most of these missing features will eventually be implemented. Google's history has shown that they tend just do things the Right Way. Even more than that, they'll probably do something more. Gmail has shown innovative new ways of handling things like replies to replies to replies (show clickable tabs for each reply).

The Offer: Sound interesting? Want to try Gmail yourself? A new link has appeared on Gmail: Invite a friend to join Gmail. It looks like I can invite two people at this time. If you'd like to try Gmail, send email to my gmail account explaining why you should receive one of my two invitations. I don't want bribes, I want good reasons such as:

  • "I'll be a great beta tester for Google."
  • "I helped you solve a major problem on some project when we worked together."
  • "I'm your wife and I'm going to deliver your baby in a few days."
  • "If I sign up early with Gmail, I might be able to get"
I'm the sole judge of this. If my wife truly wants an account early, that'll probably bear some weight, but the second invitation will still be up for grabs.