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Friday, April 09, 2004

Gee! Mail

By now you know it was no April Fool's joke. You know it has privacy advocates worried. You know there seems to be a trademark issue. But have you thought about how Google's GMail, and an archive and search strategy in general, will force businesses to kiss their email (non)retention policies goodbye, or at least recognize the fact they may not be very effective?

See, here's the thing. The efficiency of storing and Google searching all of one's email has got to be beyond compare. (I don't know much about the Google Appliance — does it only work on intranets and Web sites, or could you conceivably search a whole network?) From the standpoint of user/employee convenience and productivity, this is pure poetry:

Gmail simplifies this process by placing your messages in 'All Mail' when you use the archive function.

'All Mail' is the holding place for all of the messages you've sent or received, but not deleted. When you delete a message, it's gone forever. With Gmail, you have enough storage space to last for years without deleting a single message. Just archive everything and all your messages will be searchable and easily accessible.

From the standpoint of businesses seeking to keep smoking email guns from coming back to haunt them, it should be a loud wake up call. But wait, you say. GMail won't replace carefully crafted corporate email systems, policies, and IT routines that periodically purge. It's going to be a public, Web based service like Yahoo! Mail or Hotmail, right? People will use it to hit on each other and send pictures. What's the big deal?

Well, we're talking a gigabyte — years worth — of storage space, coupled with everyone's favorite search technology. It's going to be really, really tempting for savvy users to start forwarding their work mail to their Gmail account: a.k.a. their ad hoc, kick ass knowledge management tool. (Efficiency, productivity.) Soon enough, those accounts will be just one more thing for lawyers to add to their electronic discovery checklists.

The lessons for smart businesses before Gmail even launches thus are several:

  • Invest sufficiently in your own electronic infrastructure so employees won't feel the need to Gmail their work stuff. (Given the quality of Google's search, I wonder whether it's even possible to invest that sufficiently.)
  • See if your email policy anticipates this sort of situation. If it doesn't, update it. (It won't stop it from happening of course, and you can't just fire everyone, can you?)
  • "Don't be evil." (Still, companies and employees don't have to be "evil" to get themselves in litigatory trouble with email. They just have to be wrong, or careless, or, y'know, humanly fallible. And there's no Fifth Amendment protection for potential civil liability, I'm afraid.)

In other words, Gmail is about to make things more transparent. Did you remember to change your underwear?

For my part, I've also learned a few things before Gmail even launches:

  • It pays to hang on to your old, déclassé MSN email address, long after the computer that gave it to you has rusted on the scrap heap. Kind and beneficent Googlodytes might take it upon themselves to move you to a tonier neighborhood.
  • Good fun lies ahead in seeding Gmails with vocabulary calculated to give the recipient some, er, unexpected ads and related pages. The email Googlewhack — mail with no ads or related pages — no doubt will make the rounds as well.
  • It pains me to report that apparently, without my realizing it, I have become too stodgy and boring to be "," though Google to its credit did its level best to talk me into it.
  • Firefox is one nifty browser.
  • I have no spam. Hooray!

No Spam

More links, related and un-:
The Weblog speculates interestingly about Gmail under the hood.
Here's the story from Professor Lessig's appearance yesterday on The Screen Savers.
It's Masters Friday at Augusta National (and as far as I know Sandra Day O'Connor still is not a member).
The Baseball Crank takes a look at stock blogging and SEC regs.

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