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Google's April Fools' Day hoax that turned out to be true – what they said about Gmail 20 years ago

Google's April Fools' Day hoax that turned out to be true – what they said about Gmail 20 years ago

Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin loved pulling pranks, so much so that they began coming up with outlandish ideas every April Fool's Day shortly after founding their company about 25 years ago.

One year, Google advertised a job opening for a Copernicus research center on the moon, and another year, the company said it planned to develop a “scratch-and-sniff” feature in its search engine.

The jokes were always so exaggerated that people learned to laugh at them. That's why Page and Brin decided to reveal something that no one thought possible 20 years ago, on April Fool's Day.

The revolution brought by Gmail

That was Gmail, a free service that featured 1GB of storage space per account, an amount that seems almost small today, in the age of 1TB iPhones.

But then it seemed like an enormous amount of email capacity, enough to store about 13,500 emails before running out of space compared to only 30 and 60 emails on the leading webmail services of the time operated by Yahoo and Microsoft. This translates to 250 to 500 times more email storage space.

In addition to the quantum leap in storage, Gmail is also equipped with Google Search technology so users can quickly retrieve an item from an old email, photo, or other personal information stored on the service. It also automatically links a series of communications on the same topic so they all flow together as if they were one conversation.

“The original proposal we formulated was about the three Cs: storage, search and speed,” said Marissa Mayer, a former Google executive who helped design Gmail and other Google products, before later becoming CEO of Yahoo.

Everyone thought it was an April Fool's joke – AP article

The idea was so startling that shortly after the Associated Press published a story about Gmail late in the afternoon of April Fool's Day 2004, readers began calling and emailing to tell the news outlet that they had been scammed by its scammers: Google.

Google engineer Paul Bassette

“That was part of the magic, making a product that people didn't think was real. “It changed people's perceptions of the types of applications that were possible through a web browser,” former Google engineer Paul Bassett recalled during a recent AP interview about his efforts. To create Gmail.

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It took three years as part of a project called “Caribou” — a reference to a running joke in Dilbert's comic strip. “There was something silly about the name Caribou,” said Bassett, the 23rd employee to be hired at a company that now employs more than 180,000 people. “It made me laugh.”

When the AP went to Google's offices to see Gmail up close

Google wasn't kidding about Gmail, because an Associated Press reporter was suddenly invited from San Francisco to the company's headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., to see something that would make the trip worth it, the AP has learned.

After arriving at the company's still-thriving campus that would soon blossom into what became known as the “Googleplex,” an AP reporter was escorted into a small office, where Page sat at his computer with a sly smile.

Page, who was just 31 years old, went on to show off Gmail's elegantly designed inbox and showed how quickly it ran inside Microsoft's now-discontinued Explorer browser. He also noted that there was no delete button displayed in the main control window because it was not necessary since Gmail has a large storage space and is easily searchable. “I think people are going to really like this,” Paige predicted.

Former Google CEO Marissa Mayer

As with many things, Page was right. Gmail now has about 1.8 billion active accounts — each of which now offers 15GB of free storage, plus Google Photos and Google Drive.

Although this is 15 times more storage than Gmail originally offered, it's still not enough for many users who rarely see the need to clean up their accounts, just as Google had hoped.

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Digital storage of emails, photos, and other content is why Google, Apple, and other companies make money by selling additional storage capacity in their data centers. (In Google's case, it charges anywhere from $30 per year for 200GB of storage to $250 per year for 5TB of storage.)

“We were trying to change the way people thought.”

The existence of Gmail is also the reason why other free email services and the internal email accounts that workers use at their jobs provide much more storage space than anyone could have imagined 20 years ago.

Introducing Gmail features in 2018

“We were trying to change the way people think, because people have been operating in this model of lack of storage for so long that deletion has become a default,” Basit said.

Gmail changed the game in many other ways, and was the first building block in expanding Google's online empire beyond the dominant search engine.

After Gmail came Google Maps and Google Docs along with word processing and spreadsheet applications. Then came the acquisition of the video site YouTube, followed by the launch of the Chrome browser and the Android operating system, which powers most smartphones in the world.

And with Gmail's clearly stated intention to scan email content to better understand users' interests, Google has also left no doubt that digital monitoring to sell more ads will be part of its growing ambitions.

The time when everyone was chasing “invitation to register in Gmail” – they paid the same amount

Although it immediately caused a sensation, Gmail started out with a limited scope because Google initially only had enough computing power to support a small audience of users.

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“When we started, we only had 300 machines, and they were so old that no one wanted them,” Basit said, laughing. “We only had enough capacity for 10,000 users, which is a bit ridiculous.”

But this rarity has created an air of exclusivity around Gmail, leading to feverish demand for the elusive sign-up invitation.

At one point, invitations to open a Gmail account were selling for $250 apiece on eBay. “It's become a social currency, where people say, 'I have a Gmail invitation, do you want one?'” Bassett said.

Although signing up for Gmail became easier as more of Google's massive data centers emerged, the company didn't begin accepting everyone interested in the email service until it opened its doors as a Valentine's Day gift around the world, 2007. .

A few weeks later, on April Fool's Day 2007, Google announced a new feature called “Gmail Paper,” giving users the opportunity to have Google print their email archive on “94% organic post-consumer soy” and then send it to them. Via postal service.

Google was really joking at the time.

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