Gmail Has Potential as Enterprise Platform

With certain added capabilities, Google's Web mail offering could be used as a corporate mail service.

A sure sign of Googles ascendancy in the technology firmament is the swooshing sound of black helicopters circling the search services impending IPO. Conspiracy theories—once the province of Bill Gates, Steve Ballmer, Scott McNealy or Larry Ellison—now hover over Sergei Brin and Larry Pages latest experiment-cum-product, Gmail.

The issue: Gmails free Web mail service threatens to consolidate too much power over personal data in one repository—the free gigabyte of storage. What worries privacy groups and some public officials most is Googles opportunity to extend its dominance of search to e-mail, social networks and who knows what else.

"It started as an experiment to see if our search could be used on e-mail," Google co-founder Brin told me. The technology was first applied to his own e-mail, he said. Gmail effectively converts e-mail into Web pages that can be indexed and organized by Googles array of servers.

/zimages/3/28571.gifClick here to read the full interview with Brin.

Critics fear that blending Gmail and Google would tie searches to a persons identity, something recorded by Gmail but not by Googles search servers. Brin, however, sought to allay these concerns: "Theyre the same kind of servers, but theyre ... in separate clusters." He would like to be able to integrate services while protecting privacy so that, say, an Orkut social network user or a Google searcher could be notified of the arrival of new messages.

Gmail shifts the basis for organizing an in-box from metadata and hard-coded folders to interactive searches and virtual folders. You can attach multiple labels to messages and trigger rules that automatically apply those labels to similar incoming content. In addition, Brin has been talking to the Google development team about adding macro capabilities to run favorite searches.

Adding an API for macros would go a long way toward converting Gmail from a frontal attack on Yahoo and MSN mail offerings to a powerful enterprise platform. "We initially wanted to make sure we had something that was definitely better than all Web mail services," Brin said. "And perhaps, just perhaps, it will also be good enough for a lot of people to use instead of a corporate mail service."

By the time the Gmail beta period ends in three to six months, Brin and his team have promised to enable forwarding and POP3 access. However, more is required of a corporate mail service. Those capabilities must be extended to allow Gmail to provide disconnected operation and IDE for packaged applications. Even better would be a link between Gmails Conversation View, where threaded messages are collected and stacked together, and related RSS affinity groups.

In fact, Gmail would make a great container for an RSS information router. In the same way you can print a conversation in Gmail, I suggested to Brin, you could also print to RSS. "Yeah," he said, "thats a very interesting idea."

Contributing Editor Steve Gillmor is editor of eWEEK.coms Messaging and Collaboration Center. He can be reached at

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