On the heels of filing to go public, Google Inc. on Wednesday began testing a new e-mail list service as the company continues to expand beyond basic Web search.
Called Google Groups 2, the service builds on Googles archive of more than 845 million Usenet postings and adds the ability for users to create and manage their own public and private mailing lists. It also offers faster indexing of postings for search and features for joining groups and tracking hot topics, Google officials said.
The service was launched as a beta test on the Google Labs page, where Google publicly previews new offerings. But Google plans to replace the current Google Groups, which is based entirely on Usenet, with the new service, said Marissa Mayer, Googles director of consumer Web products. She declined to pinpoint when the switch-over would occur, saying it would depend on user feedback.
“Weve always envisioned taking Usenet as the base and adding new forums,” she said of Google Groups. “Were finally making that vision a reality today.”
Google acquired its Usenet archive from Deja.com in 2001.
Google Groups 2 is the second new service from Google in as many months. It launched a free e-mail service, called Gmail, in a limited beta on April 1. Both pit it even more directly against competitors such as Yahoo Inc. and Microsoft Corp.s MSN, which offer free e-mail and group mailing list services.
The revamped mailing list service mimics many of the features in Gmail. The two services even can share the same log in, though a Gmail account is not required to join Google Groups 2, Mayer said.
Also like Gmail, Google Groups 2 includes text-based ads alongside postings when viewed through the Web interface. Currently, ads from Googles AdWords program are triggered when a user conducts a search of Groups postings, but Google also plans in the next few months to add text-based ads triggered by the content of posts through its AdSense program, Mayer said.
Googles decision to include its AdSense ads in Gmail has prompted privacy concerns because the ads are triggered by an analysis of keywords in e-mail messages. But advertising is critical to Google, especially as it heads toward a public offering. About 95 percent of Googles revenues—which neared $1 billion in 2003—come from advertising, according to its S-1 filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Mayer said that the revamped Google Groups fits into the companys strategy of organizing the worlds information, and Google is putting a premium on search. In the Usenet-based service, postings could take hours to appear on mailing lists and a day to be included in the search index.
With Google Groups 2, postings appear on the site within 10 seconds and are indexed within 10 minutes, Google said. The service also differentiates postings from public and private groups, only searching postings from restricted groups when a user is a member. Mayer said.
The Groups search index is separate from Googles Web index of 4.28 billion Web pages. But Mayer said Google is considering ways to incorporate postings into Web search
“People generate information and interactions that are rich and something they want to search and organize, and thats where our fundamental interest lies,” Mayer said. “Ultimately this content can be of a lot of use to Web searchers.”
Another feature in Google Groups 2 lets users flag discussion topics by clicking on a star icon. Those topics then appear in a users “My Groups” area, along with subscribed groups. Users also can select multiple ways to view postings on the Web, including in a “conversation view” similar to Gmail that displays an entire thread.