Review of Gmail, Google Groups 2 (beta)
I have been using Gmail (http://gmail.com/) for a few weeks now, and I am becoming addicted to it. If you are reading this review you probably know that Gmail (the new webmail service of Google with 1 Gbyte mailboxes) is in beta test and available on an invitation-only basis. Please don’t ask me: only once I got two tokens to invite other users, and I used them already. Probably I will get more tokens when they decide to invite more users, but I have a long waiting list of people who wish to try Gmail.
Gmail is a pleasure to use. It is much faster than most other webmail services, but this probably depends also on the still limited number of users and it will be interesting to see how it scales up to millions of users. The interface is intuitive, and at some points you don’t miss folders anymore. Instead, you “star” really important messages and do Google searches in your mail to find specific messages. Once you learn the keyboard shortcuts you actually save a lot of time.
The Google text ads (the same that you see on many websites these days) are not annoying at all and at times are actually useful (you are probably interested in the subject matter of your mail, and the match is good). Of course to produce these ads some program has to scan your email for keywords, but this does not bother me. On the contrary, I don’t understand the fuss they are making about privacy: nobody is forced to use Gmail, and somebody has to pay for good services. As a consumer, I think consumer rights groups are pushing it too far: please don’t protect me from things I don’t want to be protected from, and try to understand that at least some consumers are adults who can make informed choices without baby-sitters.
Another face of the privacy arguments is: you have chosen using Gmail, but those who send email to you haven’t, and Google reads what they have sent. This makes more sense but still not enough: if I have something really sensitive and confidential to say, I would not use Gmail or use it with PGP. If I have to say something really sensitive and confidential to a Gmail user, I would first ask her for another mailbox or her public PGP key. It is common sense using practical and convenient tools (like Gmail), and adding security layers only when it makes sense.
For sure there are things to be improved: in the spam filter there are far too many false positives (messages wrongly classified as spam and placed in the spam folder). You can correct mistakes but sometimes the system keeps doing the same mistakes - there should be many more control options such as always accept mail from a specific user or domain (many messages from Yahoogroups are rejected as spam). There is no way to edit html messages and even forwarding html messages does not work well. There are no filters to forward specific mail to another address. Knowing Google I am sure all these things will be ironed out soon (of course if consumer advocates don’t manage to kill the system first), and at that time Gmail will be a superb email solution.
I use email a lot and not always in front of a big screen on a permanent high bandwidth link. Often I download mail on my palm and read/reply offline. In these cases POP or IMAP access to the mailbox is the best solution, I hope to get it soon as the folks at Google are known to be working on it.
Only a couple of hours ago I found out that the new version of Google Groups (Google Groups 2 - http://groups-beta.google.com/ - still very much in beta) includes a Google version of Yahoo Groups integrated with an improved version of the existing Google Groups (the Google interface to Usenet Groups). By logging on the new system with your Google account you can save your favorite Usenet Groups as “My Groups” and create your own discussion groups. Try out Google Groups 2 beta at the address above but do not expect a complete and solid system, it is still very much in beta. At the same time I am sure that this system will develop into a very good solution for web discussion groups.