Google's Gmail just turned 9 years old and, to celebrate its birthday, Google has put together a timeline to highlight its evolution and some of Gmail's biggest advances since the service started on April 1, 2004.
At its launch, Gmail offered users 1GB of mail storage, which was about 20 times the storage of other services at that time, as well as the ability to see your messages in a "thread," according to an April 10 post by Zohair Hyder, a Google software engineer, on the Official Gmail Blog. Gmail was also the first Webmail service to be built using AJAX, he said.
In 2005, Gmail users were bumped up to 2GB of mail storage, and in April 2006, the calendar feature was launched as part of Gmail. Chat was added in February 2006, and by May 2006 Gmail was available for use in 40 languages, including Hebrew and Arabic, wrote Hyder. In October 2007, IMAP capabilities were added to allow users to get and send their Gmail from anywhere using any IMAP-enabled device.
In September 2008, a "forgotten attachment detector" was incorporated to help users remember to include their attachments, while video chat capabilities were added in November 2008. Offline Gmail access was offered starting in January 2009, and an iOS app for iPhones and iPads in November 2011, wrote Hyder.
By April 2012, Gmail users received 10GB of free mail storage, while by November 2012 Gmail was available for users in 57 languages. In March 2013, users got a major redesign for how they could compose their emails, including long-awaited capabilities to be able to compose multiple messages at the same time.
"So much of that evolution is a result of your feedback," wrote Hyder in his post. "In fact, Gmail was inspired by one user's feedback that she was tired of struggling to find emails buried deep in her inbox. So we built a new email that leveraged the power of Google Search. You told us you were tired of spam, so we set to tackling that, and today your feedback makes it possible for Gmail to filter out well over 99% of incoming spam. You also said that you needed tools to deal with information overload, so we introduced Priority Inbox to help you manage your email (and we're still exploring new ways to it even easier)."
That process is still continuing today, wrote Hyder, as the service continues to evolve and add new features and services.
"Simply put, whether you've been a Gmail user for 9 years or 9 months, your input helps us continue to keep Gmail current and useful," he wrote. "Thanks for taking this journey with us, and onward to year ten!"
Gmail's innovations have even inspired competitors to improve their own offerings, which Microsoft did in February with the official rollout of its updated Outlook.com email service that will replace Hotmail.com. With the new and refreshed Outlook.com service and its updated and friendlier user features, Microsoft hopes to continue to lure users over from Gmail and other services.
Among the key new features of Outlook.com are a fresher and intuitive experience on modern browsers and devices, tighter integration with social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter, and smarter and more powerful inboxes to handle the email needs of users, including SkyDrive for sharing virtually anything in a single email. It was the first major refresh of the 16-year-old Hotmail product.
For Microsoft, taking on Gmail could still be an uphill climb. Gmail claims to have more than 425 million active user accounts worldwide and has already been offering many of the same kinds of features that Outlook.com is just incorporating, such as the ability to send very large attachments up to 10GB in size.