20 years ago, people thought that email was a joke

None

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Not long after founding Google more than 25 years ago, co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin developed a bizarre tradition of playing practical jokes on April Fool’s Day.
Google advertised a job for a Copernicus research center on the moon one year.
The business declared that it would launch a “scratch and sniff” function on its search engine in a subsequent year.
Some learned to laugh at the jokes as just another instance of Google mischief because they were so consistently ridiculous.
And for that reason, on April Fool’s Day, 20 years ago, Page and Brin made the decision to reveal something that nobody would have thought was possible.
It was Gmail, a free service that offers 1 gigabyte of storage per account—a meager amount in an era where iPhones can hold up to 1 terabyte of data.
However, at the time, it seemed like an absurdly large email capacity—roughly 13,500 emails before running out of space, as opposed to only 30 to 60 emails in the top webmail services offered by Microsoft and Yahoo at the time.
This corresponded to 250–500 times greater email storage capacity.
Gmail offered a huge storage capacity in addition to Google’s search capabilities, which allowed users to swiftly find a piece of information from an old email, picture, or other private data that was saved on the platform.
Additionally, it automatically connected a series of messages on the same subject, making everything seem to flow as one conversation.
“The initial proposal we formulated focused on the three “S’s” – storage, search, and speed,” stated Marissa Mayer, a former Google employee who contributed to the creation of Gmail and other company offerings before taking over as CEO of Yahoo.
The idea was so novel that, not long after The Associated Press released a story about Gmail late on April Fool’s Day 2004, readers started contacting the news organization via phone calls and emails to let them know it had been taken advantage of by Google’s pranksters.
Making a product that consumers won’t believe is real was all part of its charm.
Paul Buchheit, a former Google engineer, recalled this in a recent AP interview regarding his work on Gmail: “It kind of changed people’s perceptions about the kinds of applications that were possible within a web browser.”.
The project, “Caribou,” was a three-year endeavor that was inspired by a Dilbert comic strip running joke.
The company’s 23rd hire, Buchheit, commented, “There was something sort of absurd about the name Caribou, it just made me laugh.” Today, the company employs more than 180,000 people.
Because an AP reporter was abruptly asked to travel from San Francisco to Google’s Mountain View, California, headquarters to see something that would justify the trip, the AP knew that the company was serious about Gmail.
The AP reporter arrived at a still-developing corporate campus that would soon blossom into what became known as the “Googleplex,” and was shown to a small office where Page sat in front of a laptop computer with a mischievous smile on his face.
At the age of 31, Page went on to showcase Gmail’s svelte inbox and show off how quickly it functioned within Microsoft’s now-retired Explorer web browser.
And he noted that since Gmail had so much storage and could be searched so easily, there was no need for a delete button in the main control window.
Page said, “I think people are going to really like this.”.
Page was correct, as with a lot of things.
With Google Photos and Google Drive bundled in, each of the approximately 1 trillion active Gmail accounts currently offers 15 gigabytes of free storage.
Just as Google hoped, that’s still not enough storage for many users who hardly ever feel the need to delete their accounts, even though it’s 15 times more than Gmail originally provided.
Companies like Google, Apple, and others now profit from selling extra storage space in their data centers due to people’s digital hoarding of emails, pictures, and other content.
(Google charges $30 per year for 200 gigabytes of storage and $250 per year for 5 terabytes of storage).
The fact that Gmail exists also explains why far more storage is available than was thought possible 20 years ago through other free email services and company email accounts used by employees.
According to Buchheit, “people were working in this model of storage scarcity for so long that deleting became the default action. We were trying to shift the way people had been thinking.”.
In addition to being the first step toward expanding Google’s online empire beyond its still-dominant search engine, Gmail was revolutionary in a number of other respects.
Google Maps and Google Docs, which included word processing and spreadsheet software, followed Gmail.
Subsequently, the video website YouTube was acquired, and the Chrome browser and Android operating system—which powers the majority of smartphones globally—were released.
Using the explicit Gmail.
NEUTRAL

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A little over a quarter of a century after founding Google, co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin developed a fondness for practical jokes, to the point where they started joking around with ridiculous ideas every April Fool’s Day. Google advertised a position for a Copernicus research center on the moon one year ago. A “scratch and sniff” feature on its search engine is something the company plans to implement in the upcoming year.

People eventually learned to brush the jokes off as just another instance of Google mischief because they were so frequently absurd. And for that reason, on April Fool’s Day, 20 years ago, Page and Brin made the decision to reveal something that nobody would have thought was possible.

It was Gmail, a free service that offers 1 gigabyte of storage per account—a meager amount in an era where iPhones can hold up to 1 terabyte of data. In contrast to the 30 to 60 emails that could be stored in the top webmail services at the time, which were operated by Yahoo and Microsoft, it seemed absurd to have such a large email capacity back then—roughly 13,500 emails. This translated to 250–500 times greater email storage capacity.

In addition to offering users exponentially more storage, Gmail also included Google’s search engine, enabling users to quickly find a piece of information from an old email, picture, or other personally identifiable data saved on the platform. Additionally, it automatically connected a series of messages on the same subject, making everything seem to flow as one conversation.

“The initial proposal we developed focused on the three “S’s”: storage, search, and speed,” stated Marissa Mayer, a former Google employee who assisted in creating Gmail and other company products before taking over as CEO of Yahoo.

Soon after The Associated Press published a story about Gmail late on April Fool’s Day 2004, readers started emailing and calling the news organization to let them know it had been tricked by Google’s pranksters because it was such a novel concept.

“Creating a product that people won’t believe is real was part of the charm. Paul Buchheit, a former Google engineer, recollected in a recent AP interview about his work on Gmail that “it kind of changed people’s perceptions about the kinds of applications that were possible within a web browser.”.

The project, “Caribou,” was a three-year endeavor that was inspired by a Dilbert comic strip running joke. Buchheit, the 23rd worker hired by a company that currently employs more than 180,000 people, said, “There was something sort of absurd about the name Caribou, it just made me laugh.”.

The reason the AP was aware that Google wasn’t making light of Gmail was because the company had unexpectedly invited one of its reporters to visit its Mountain View, California, headquarters from San Francisco in order to witness something that would justify the trip.

The AP reporter arrived at a still-developing corporate campus that would soon blossom into what became known as the “Googleplex,” and was shown to a small office where Page sat in front of a laptop computer with a mischievous smile.

At the age of 31, Page went on to showcase Gmail’s svelte inbox and show off how quickly it functioned within Microsoft’s now-retired Explorer web browser. He also pointed out that since Gmail had so much storage and could be searched so easily, there was no need for a delete button in the main control window. “I anticipate that this will be highly appreciated by the public,” Page said.

Page was correct, as he often is. An estimated 11.8 billion Gmail accounts are currently active, and each one comes with 15 gigabytes of free storage along with Google Drive and Photos. As Google had hoped, even with 15 times the storage space compared to Gmail’s initial offering, many users find that it is still insufficient and rarely feel the need to delete their accounts.

Companies like Google, Apple, and others now profit from selling extra storage space in their data centers due to people’s digital hoarding of emails, pictures, and other content. (For example, Google charges $30 per year for 200 gigabytes of storage and $250 per year for 5 terabytes of storage). Thanks to Gmail, employees can now access far more storage than they could have imagined two decades ago, as can other free email services and corporate email accounts.

People had been operating under the assumption of storage scarcity for so long that deleting had become the norm, according to Buchheit, that “we were trying to shift the way people had been thinking.”.

Apart from being the first piece of infrastructure in Google’s internet empire, beyond its still dominant search engine, Gmail was revolutionary in many other respects.

Google Maps and Google Docs, which include word processing and spreadsheet software, followed Gmail. Subsequently, the video website YouTube was acquired, and the Chrome browser and Android operating system—which powers the majority of smartphones worldwide—were released. Google also made it clear that digital surveillance in the hopes of selling more ads would be a part of its growing goals when it publicly declared that Gmail would scan email content to gain a better understanding of users’ interests.

Due to Google’s initial lack of processing power, Gmail had a small user base at first, despite creating a lot of buzz right away.

“There were only 300 machines when we launched, and they were really old machines that no one else wanted,” laughed Buchheit. That’s a little ridiculous—we could have accommodated 10,000 users. “.

However, this limited availability gave Gmail a sense of exclusivity, which fueled a frenzied demand for elusive invitations to sign up. Invitations to create a Gmail account used to sell for $250 each on eBay. “People would say, ‘Hey, I got a Gmail invite, you want one?'” Buchheit remarked. “It became a bit like a social currency.”.

Even though more of Google’s vast network of data centers went online, making it easier and easier to sign up for Gmail, the company didn’t start accepting users until it opened the gates as a Valentine’s Day gift to the world in 2007.

scroll to top