April 1, 2004 6:29 AM   Subscribe

Is this an April Fool's joke, or not? The New York Times (reg. req.) appears to think that it isn't, but it's on this list of online April Fool's jokes.
posted by Prospero to Computers & Internet (27 answers total)
My guess is no (and YAY!). Google already has another April Fool's Joke, and this one seems too legit.
posted by mkultra at 6:56 AM on April 1, 2004

Unless both are jokes, and the Copernicus one is so obviously off the wall that many people will naturally assume that the gMail story is legit.

Google does appear to own, though.

April 1 is a weird day to make a product announcement, especially one with this much potential significance.
posted by emelenjr at 7:31 AM on April 1, 2004

The only part of the GMail story that seemed suspiscious was the 1GB of storage, which considering how Google's infrastructure consists of cheap PCs rather than big expensive servers, could be totally do-able. After all, how much storage do they currently have? Hundreds of Terabytes? Thousands?
posted by bshort at 7:41 AM on April 1, 2004

Real or not, what a great marketing strategy. All I have been thinking about this morning is if GMail is real or not.
posted by Quartermass at 11:11 AM on April 1, 2004

Already being debated here.

And for what it's worth, now that I've seen this lame Google April Fool's joke, I'm starting to think that Gmail will be real.
posted by pmurray63 at 11:11 AM on April 1, 2004

1 Gig of storage space is just a way of saying your storage is unlimited. Except for a few people who would likely take Google on their word and actually store huge files there, most users would use maybe 10 Mbs or so. No biggie on Google's part.

And they announced gMail yesterday, 3/31.
posted by me3dia at 11:13 AM on April 1, 2004

Hundreds of terabytes doesn't even come close to touching the storage requirements required. Assume they pick up a modest 2,000,000 users: they're going to need to pull 1.9 PETABYTES of storage out of their asses, not counting overhead for indexing. If you figure an index of your mail will need a modest 10% overhead, you're well into 2 petabytes.

So let's assume they're "overselling" the actual storage available. After all, not everybody is going to run right in there and fill up a gig of disk space, right? Okay, let's go with a more realistic example.

My mailstore at work is 565 megs (compressed!), and it covers 5 quarters. Let's say an even 450 megs for the past year. They're going to have to scare up 858 terabytes within 12 months just to cover mailstores for two million of me, let alone overhead or redundancy.

And Google's got way more than two million users.

And this will have to be expensive storage, not "cheap PCs." Google uses cheap PCs for CPU, not for storage. It's not like they can afford to have vast swaths of the valuable Google index -- or your email -- disappear when the cheapo Compaq server shits out.

If may not be a "holiday" hoax -- there've been rumblings about a Google webmail service for a while -- but there's no way they'll be able to sustain an offer 1GB of free storage to every comer. At least not for very long.
posted by majick at 11:24 AM on April 1, 2004

There's one thing I dont understand about these calculations. Its not like Yahoo and Hotmail arent already doing webmail on a broad scale. How are they doing all this storage? (Something I've always wondered)

A 10mb mailbox is only two orders of magnitude below a gigabyte. Whatever Google needs to do to get to 20K users, Yahoo has to do *now* to support 2M users. Assuming moderate growth (only so many new google webmail accounts are available at a time) why cant they do this?
posted by vacapinta at 11:47 AM on April 1, 2004

No multibillion-dollar company that's considering an IPO is going to collect thousands of email addresses as part of a hoax. And Gmail has a form to submit your email address. Even if it submitted to a page that did nothing with the info, it'd still be stupid to take on the liability as part of a gag.

So that makes it easy to judge.
posted by anildash at 11:48 AM on April 1, 2004

Why, oh why, do people keep their email? There is so very, very little of it worth keeping (and much of that worth keeping is archived in mail lists anyways).

When are you ever going to want to read that letter from Unca Bob again? When will you ever need that "Sure thing" reply to some question you asked of your manager?
posted by five fresh fish at 11:48 AM on April 1, 2004

I might delete Unca Bob's email, but "Sure thing" emails have been good proof of accountability when I've had to pinpoint where bottlenecks occur during project development. Even banal little notes can let me know a year down the line if a day was productive or not.
posted by Sangre Azul at 11:57 AM on April 1, 2004

I'm going to say it's not a hoax...unless there are very many people in on the joke.
posted by LouMac at 12:45 PM on April 1, 2004

I'm going to put the tin-foil hat on for a moment.

Should I be concerned that google wants to store my primary means of distance-communication. of all firms, they have the ability to search and retrieve everything I would potentially store with them. Will they have to build their PATRIOT II mandated backdoor into this system allowing the DOJ to search through my stuff anytime without a warrant?

I usually don't worry about that kinda stuff (I figure if the feds want me, they'll get me), but this is potentially kinda creepy.
posted by jmgorman at 12:47 PM on April 1, 2004

I might delete Unca Bob's email, but "Sure thing" emails have been good proof of accountability when I've had to pinpoint where bottlenecks occur during project development.

Well, sure, but you're not going to put that mail on Gmail. It's still a free Webmail account, so nothing important ever belongs there.

If Gmail turns out to be anything like Hotmail, they will have the world's largest indexed, searchable collection of spam in no time.
posted by kindall at 1:03 PM on April 1, 2004

1 GB of text based email (I'm assuming that they are going to limit the ability to store large files) will take much less than 1GB of disk to store. It is going to be sucked into a very efficient indexing sysem would be my guess.... I'd say that they'd be giving each user 100MB of disk space, max. Prolly lots less when you average it out.
posted by n9 at 1:12 PM on April 1, 2004

The press release is now dated 4/1
posted by scarabic at 1:18 PM on April 1, 2004

Even banal little notes can let me know a year down the line if a day was productive or not.

Sure, it can let you know. But you're never going to want to know. You don't really care whether April 1st, 2003, was productive. There's nothing you can do about it now.

I understand the potential of archived email. I don't believe it's ever likely to lead to actual benefit.

posted by five fresh fish at 1:23 PM on April 1, 2004

There is some mail I find myself needing to go back to, and it's NEVER the mail I think I'm going to need. It's just easier to save everything as opposed to making individual decisions with respect to long-term value. Sure, I may not need that message from Uncle Bob, but it would take more effort to decide that (and there's a good chance I'll be wrong) than it takes to save it. Hard Drives are cheap, why not take the non-desctructive route?
posted by willnot at 1:47 PM on April 1, 2004

I search over 500MB of compressed, archived messages at least three times per day, not infrequently looking for things many months old that have been long since forgotten by everyone except me but are suddenly worth a kingdom. There have been several occasions where I've wanted to locate a message from 3 to 4 years ago, but those messages are so old as to be a few gigs of archive ago. Absolutely none of these messages are the products of list servers, archived or not.

Sifting through this archive is a laborious and error-prone process, but one I can't avoid doing. Having the potency of Googles indexing, search, and relevancy prowess at hand would ease the pain enormously. Gmail is ideal for someone with a usage profile similar to mine.

vacapinta: getting Gmail to 20k users isn't the problem. As you say, webmail on that scale is widely available. But ad revenue from 20k users doesn't cover that cost; this is why Yahoo could afford to offer the same aggregate quantity of storage, but needs two orders of magnitude more users (and more obnoxious advertising).

Twenty thousand users is nothing. That's small enough to be considered a private system. Either Google plans to make Gmail available to the teeming masses -- a fair assumption, I think -- or Gmail simply doesn't matter at all. And the teeming masses, even if offered a tenth of the promised storage, will arrive by the millions, not tens of thousands, and will require orders of magnitude more infrastructure than Yahoo uses today.

So is it a hoax? Probably not. Is $2 per gig (one time? Per month? What is this value being thrown about?) really their cost for storage? No. Managed, backed-up, high-ish-availability redundant storage is a lot more than two bucks a gig, no matter how much existing bad-ass infrastructure you have to take advantage of.

Google obviously is considering ways to extract enormous value out of Gmail users and their data in order to be able to make good on a 1 gig offer. That's possible, but it would entail finding the holy grail that is largely believed to have been the fallacy behind the "dot-com bubble."
posted by majick at 1:52 PM on April 1, 2004

At least for me, e-mail is a passive archive of my entire life online. I've kept all my e-mail since 1994, and I'm grateful that I have. When "Unca Bob" passes away, you'll be glad you have a record of your communication with him. Years from now, you'll even be able to show your kids or grandkids.

Like letters and home videos, it's the kind of ephemera that seems worthless now, but becomes more valuable over time.
posted by waxpancake at 2:25 PM on April 1, 2004

At least with this I wouldn't have to worry about some personage overloading my hotmail account with some huge worthless picture file. Happened to me before.
posted by konolia at 2:42 PM on April 1, 2004

When will you ever need that "Sure thing" reply to some question you asked of your manager?
When the shit hits the fan and your manager handballs the shit to you, saying that he/she didn't authorise you to do x, you will gleefully search through any amount of archived e-mail to find that banal little message that will save your job (and, more importantly, prove to his/her bosses that he/she was lying). That's when.
posted by dg at 2:51 PM on April 1, 2004

I'd have to say I don't know about keeping my mail on a remote server. I use Outlook, and like my e-mail from my POP box, where I download and it remains on my hard drive. I make backups of what needs to be kept, but very little of it I actually keep. I usually just keep order e-mails for online sales, eBay transaction e-mails, and photos. Everything else gets trashed after reading.
posted by benjh at 6:13 PM on April 1, 2004

Many of the users where I work accrete over 1 gig of email per year. It's only 500,000 messages if you never get attachments, so even if Google manages to give away a free gig it will still fill up.

Their "keep everything" idea appeals to me because I'd like to see us save the entire human record (spam and all), but the data allocation won't be sufficient. Even if it sounds extravagant to us today.

That said, I'm really looking forward to seeing how this shakes out.
posted by amery at 8:58 PM on April 1, 2004

Doc Searls says he thought it was a hoax at first, but received a call from a Real Live Google Person telling him it wasn't.

Of course, that could be a hoax too. Heh.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:04 PM on April 1, 2004

I'd add that it's darn funny that it was announced when it was. You know they knew how much additional buzz and discussion it'd get, above and beyond what they'd have gotten anyway.

Now that's clever marketing. You'd figure Doc would have realized that, too...
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:06 PM on April 1, 2004

Definitely real.
posted by scarabic at 12:08 AM on April 2, 2004

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