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All Hail the Gmail

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This morning, Google (s GOOG) turned on a new feature in Gmail: the ability to make and receive Google Voice phone calls. Google Voice is now tightly integrated with the address book, which has many waxing eloquent and predicting the death of Skype. Being a long-time VoIP watcher, I’m not as moved by it. Sure, it’s a very welcome addition, but I would have settled for better voice mail transcription and better quality of voice calls.

Nevertheless, the new feature launch made me realize that Gmail is the most viable launch pad for new Google services. From Google Talk to Google Buzz and now to Google Voice, Gmail has a mass audience and the momentum qualities to turn a new feature into a must-have service.  There are about 173 million Gmail accounts, while Yahoo Mail (s yhoo) has 284 million and Hotmail (s msft) has 360 million.

It’s part of my long-standing belief that inherently unsocial companies like Google should be using email as a way to become more social. With nearly 175 million users, Gmail is, in fact, the ideal platform for Google to become more social and, at the same time, start stealing attention away not only from Microsoft (s MSFT), but other communication and collaboration offerings. Why? Because today’s Gmail is much more than just email.

Google Talk (IM) + Google Voice (Phone) + Free SMS + Chat + Google Calendar + Google Documents + Gmail.

Google should add the ability to send and receive Twitter direct messages and interoperate with Facebook messaging, so we could have a full-blown communications platform. You can start and end your day in this hub without losing it once. Gmail leverages three of Google’s mainstay strengths: infrastructure, search and simplicity of user experience. If Google were smart, it would take a boatload of money and invest in making Gmail the center of all its forays into social and the enterprise (which would mean making Google Voice work with the Google Apps version of Gmail).

Using this platform, Google could then start to look at other opportunities. In her post How the Email Inbox Can Become an App Platform, Liz outlined how startups such as Gist, Rapportive and Etacts are using Gmail to help turn it into a social CRM. Others such as Yelp are offering add-ons to Gmail which allow you to preview restaurant reviews just by mouse-overs.

This isn’t the first time I’ve mused about this topic. Back in 2006, I wondered if email could become a collaboration tool. As one of our readers said:

The revolution for me in communication and collaboration has been Google’s Gmail. It looks kind of awkward at first, but once you start using it as your #1 email service and relying on it that you realize it really is a step up from everything before. With chat discussions saved and searchable, conversations grouped. And once you trust the search rather than worrying about archiving, tagging, deleting and folders or other ways to desperately organize your email then you can relax finally about it. Plus the killer app for me is fantastic, fast, completely synchronized mobile access.

I’ve often talked about rethinking the inbox and reinventing it to meet today’s needs. The slow evolution of Gmail is taking us to that future. I hope we get there before I have to resort to the idea of email bankruptcy. Now I have to go make some calls from my Gmail Voice!

Related Research from GigaOM Pro: Google’s Voice Possibilities.

32 Responses to “All Hail the Gmail”

  1. Caner Onoglu

    Thanks for this nice article.
    I would be very interested having google documents, gmail and picasa web albums in an integrated single product. It would be nice having a unifed tagging system for all these. Will “google me” bring this?

    P.S: Did you notice new gmail lab feature which allows you search both in gmail emails and google documents under gmail? This is another important step for integration. I can’t see any reason for not integrating gmail and google documents further and making them one.

  2. The transformation of Gmail into some kind of personal communications portal is very good one. Definitely one that I think would be a great success. However, as of right now, one major limit is screen real estate, and not being able to fit everything onto one screen.

    If they can somehow overcome this, I look forward to not having to jump between different web pages/apps for my mail/twitter/facebook etc etc.

  3. Based on my tests of the product, I won’t jump on the “Skype-killer” bandwagon until Google’s call phones from from Gmail is seamlessly integrated with Google Voice. Grand Central was AWESOME and widely available to Canadians! We were completely hosed with Google Voice. I’m a Google camper, but I won’t be a happy one until GV works properly.

  4. As a side project I managed to have blogging facility / twitter in build into google chat.

    Its easy to publish and follow updates in real time on google chat, with all the clients available on all platforms.

    For Google to be successfull:
    – allow very few announcements
    – advertising. Free advertising days are over
    – roll out products that are fully baked.

  5. I think that Google is enhancing Gmail mostly to ensure good preparation for Chrome OS. If Google enhances Tasks now I will be even more happy with my current Google usage.

  6. I like the idea of Gmail and Google’s apps becoming more social, and making the connections between people that much easier, but I also agree that it’s not a Skype killer. Firstly, Google Voice doesn’t work outside the US, right? So, the rest of the world will be happily skyping one another without a second glance at Google Voice.

    Secondly, “googleing” already has a meaning, and it isn’t to speak with someone. So, they’ll need to do some creative verbing to make skyping a friend a thing of the past.

    Joking aside, I wonder about the voice part of an email inbox. Google’s done a great job at integrating so many things so well, and it’s email and chat features (not to mention calendar, tasks, Latitude, maps…) bring many of the most anti-social functions of social media under control. But I’m not sure I’d want to be able to be rung whenever I open my inbox. Email’s great for checking, pondering a reply, and sending when you’re ready. (This is exactly why Wave never worked for me: I never wanted others to see how I craft a reply—clumsily typing, deleting and retyping as the more verbally confident get on with filling my screen with indecipherable, digital scrawl). If I want to be called, I switch on Skype, or my phone, or Skype on my phone.

    I’m happily introverted, and my favourite forms of communication have at least an element of asynchronicity anyway; but do other folk want phone calls in their inbox? I’m truly curious.

  7. I tested this feature this morning as well and found it easy to find phone numbers by typing in the names of contacts.

    However I don’t think I will be using much since I am just used to Skype.

    You raise a great point though Om. Gmail is a great launch point for many products. I never thought about 173 million gmail accounts (not all unique individuals of course) but just like how Apple has so many iTunes accounts, if Google can get a large percentage of Gmail users to sign up to Google Checkout it could really help the Android App store and also give PayPal decent competition, especially on the micro-payments front.

  8. Om,
    Couldnt agree more with your assessment of Gmail being a hub and adding Twitter to it. Its amazing how Yahoo and Google are looking and creating newer tools in an effort to (mentally) get away from old school email rather than bringing more social and Twitter capabilities to their products. I would use a Gmail + Twitter interface a 1000 times more than a standalone client like a TweetDeck.

  9. I’m a huge Google fan, and I definitely agree with most things you’ve said in this article, but I’m shocked that it took this new launch to make you realize that Gmail is Google’s most viable launch pad for new services. Isn’t it obvious that Google views Gmail as the center of their user community?

    They used Wave to bring new features to Gmail (drag and drop attachments, etc.)… they used Buzz to bring in status updates… and now they’ve used Voice to bring in phone calls. I think it was evident as soon as they brought Gmail out of beta that it would be the focus of their Web services suite.

    I’m really excited for all of the coming updates to the Google platform!

      • Really cool. Thanks for the references.

        I don’t really agree that Google should be incorporating Facebook and Twitter. These are competitors… we, as users, should be able to link the systems through standardized technology such as RSS or OpenID, but it would be an awkward business decision for Google to directly integrate these systems.

        I do agree that an ultimate Gmail would allow us to communicate with every social network through a single interface. Isn’t that what SSO/OpenID is meant to provide with Google Apps?

  10. Google has a real opportunity available to transform the inbox when it develops/releases Google Me. I have thought for a while that the key to the future is to create sites that are immersive in nature, keeping us locked into their world for all purposes we require. This is happening with Facebook and Google, but both are missing a few features that would make them the only site we need.
    I have a feeling in a few years, Google Me will be a place not only to consume and share content, but also a place where we can create and easily edit new content, centred around the Inbox.

  11. Nice article, Om. I think this “gmail as hub” is a very good idea. On my site I note that I think this effort is more to ensure Google is fully embedded in our mobile lives. Still do. However, after reading this, I think the hub notion is powerful, and a serious blow to Microsoft’s long-term stranglehold on the PC-corporate collaboration scene.

    Now can you do us a favor and figure out just how few of those 360 million hotmail accounts are actually active.

  12. Well said, Om.

    I never realized how much I would miss Gmail until I ran over my storage quota and am being forced to wait 20 hours (and counting) until someone at Google manually flips a switch to make my email stop bouncing.

  13. Gopal Srinivasan


    For synchronous communication like voice, how reliable do you believe a browser based app is? Don’t you think it needs to be a dedicated client for any kind of serious use. Browsers are pretty reliable today but it’s not uncommon for them to crash when you are doing something else with them and that’s not good enough for making voice calls. I would think that extending the features of the Google Talk client is necessary for this to become a serious alternative to something like Skype.