Gmail celebrates its 10th birthday today as one of the most popular free, Web-based email services out there. Yahoo Mail is still trying to up its cool factor, Outlook is fringe (despite gobbling up Hotmail), and poor AOL is still chugging along for those who can’t quite say goodbye to the dial-up era.
When it first emerged, Gmail offered 1GB of storage, subtle text ads instead of animated gif mania along the sides, and the chance to be accepted into the then-super exclusive Gmail club. For its first two years, only those who were invited by other beta users could sign up.
Once the honeymoon phase was over, though, Gmail, like any free Internet service, made some changes, upgrades, and missteps that enraged the Gmail masses: from outages to new layouts.
The most recent and arguably the biggest issue with Gmail is the same as it is with anything else online: that the NSA could be reading your emails. Google announced that it is stepping up encryption on Gmail, though that only truly pertains to Gmail-to-Gmail messages and you can assume that the NSA can still snoop.
It doesn’t take an NSA-level spying controversy to annoy Gmail users, though. People have gotten vocal about much less. Take a trip down memory lane to see the updates and overhauls that have irked the Gmail community over the years.
Composing an email should be a good bit easier than composing a symphony. But Google hit a discordant note with consumers when it reduced the compose window to a tiny box at the bottom right of the screen by default. Google provides a number of compose window size options, but you might have to download a Chrome extension to go back to the good old days of a completely separate compose window.
Gmail tries to make things easier by learning from you – and saving your contacts. However, if you mistyped an email address, it remains in your contacts and if you emailed customer service a dozen times to check on a package, Google thinks it’s your best buddy and adds the address to your Most Contacted list. Googler Kevin Fox recently tweeted his culpability in this, saying that when he worked on Gmail in 2004, Contacts wasn’t a priority and the group got to it last.
The Mystery of the Deleting Emails
Inbox zero is a goal of many but in January, it wasn’t a choice for some Gmail users. A bug in the service’s iOS app erased emails indiscriminately in some users’ accounts.
“Close that tab” is a familiar exhortation to those who insist on reading the more annoying posts on the Internet. It was also a customer directive after Google last year redesigned Gmail to separate and categorize messages via tabbed browsing. It irritated users (again), but like reading posts that can inflame anger, tabs are optional.
There are many ways that strangers can reach you, but your email address is generally reserved for those with whom you have an existing relationship. However, a recent Google+ update gave everyone with Google+ the ability to email other Gmail users – on an opt-out basis. For more, check out How to Stop Google+ Users From Emailing You on Gmail.
The NSA isn’t the only one reading your mail. Google is, too. Or at last its robots are. To serve up relevant ads on the right-hand side of your inbox, Gmail has an algorithm that scans the content of your emails. The practice has had its share of detractors over the years, most recently via a lawsuit that accused Google of violating wiretap laws by scanning Gmail messages. A judge, however, recently rejected a bid to combine several lawsuits into one, large class-action suit, effectively killing the case.
Can You Hear Me Now?
At Google I/O 2013, Google unveiled a standalone version of Hangouts that combined text, photos, and live video across Android, iOS, and the PC. On Gmail, the update allowed users to ditch Gchat for the new Hangouts. At the time, however, switching from Gchat to Hangouts within Gmail and via the Chrome extension killed full-featured support for Google Voice, and only supported inbound calls. For several months, users could not make outbound calls, but Google finally rolled out a fix in July.