Google to provide email hosting?

Google to provide email hosting?

Summary: Back when the beta of HotMail first came out in 1995 (long before it was a part of Microsoft), I was working for PC Week (now eWeek) writing a column called Reality Check and I remember analyzing its revolutionary ad-based model as a potential new way for businesses to cover the cost of their email systems.

TOPICS: Collaboration

Back when the beta of HotMail first came out in 1995 (long before it was a part of Microsoft), I was working for PC Week (now eWeek) writing a column called Reality Check and I remember analyzing its revolutionary ad-based model as a potential new way for businesses to cover the cost of their email systems.  I wondered whether or not businesses might go along with the idea of having HotMail handle all their email service provision if the only cost of going that route was the display of online advertising in front of employees. Google already has an identity management system.I took it a step further and wondered whether or not HotMail might even pay money to businesses for the right to run their email systems and force employees to look at ads.  Why not? Email systems are not cheap to run.  Are ads that intrusive? Some IT managers scoffed at the idea.  Others thought it was a pretty cool concept that could make sense given the potential savings (or earnings).  There is perhaps no better candidate for outsourcing than your email system.  In fact, I'm willing to bet that better than 90 percent of the businesses currently insourcing their email can't legitimately justify the practice.  Are you one of them?

This week, Google's GMail product manager Stephanie Hannon blogged that the company was piloting email provision for organizations under their own domain name (as opposed to  As a part of its pilot initiative, Google is working with San Jose City College.  At the end of her post, she offers organizations  and opportunity to apply to be a part of Google's beta testing of the service.  I immediately signed up one of my domains but I have to wait to see if I get approved for inclusion in the program or not.   Other Internet behemoths offer this service as well.  Yahoo has its free email system.  But, if you want Yahoo to host email under your company's domain name, it will for a fee as a part of its small business offerings


So, when Google suddenly starts dropping hints that it could be entering the hosted email market, the first question (naturally) is, under what business model?  Will Google charge for the privilege or, might there be an Ad Sense-based model where Google's contextual advertising delivery system basically subsdizes the cost of corporate email? I contacted Google to find out where it might be heading and so far, mum is the word.  According to company officials, its plan is to use the beta test to answer questions just like that one.  When I signed my domain up, I was asked if Google could contact me to get more insight regarding my needs (yes, by the way).   But as a regular user of GMail (I use it for email threads that I want to keep separate from my job), there are other questions that Google must be prepared to address should it go big time with its service (questions which the company says it isn't ready to answer).  Here are a few but perhaps you have some too:

  • GMail has some APIs that are available to third party develpers.  Once those APIs are essentially behind a corporate firewall (virtually as it may be), from a mashup/API perspective, that raises the possibility that all sorts of other messaging-system reliant applications (eg: CRM systems) might be built on top of GMail.  Does Google have any such applications in mind or does it know of third party developers that might be considering the opportunity?  Theoretically, with a few more task-specific API-enabled back end systems added to its portfolio, Google could make a huge thrust into the corporate market taking on the likes of Microsoft or even 
  • Going out the door, once GMail enables multiple people under one domain, the opportunity for other collaborative features (eg: group calendaring, shared project space, storage, etc.) comes up.  Think Microsoft's Groove.  Might Google ship such features once it comes out of the beta for email hosting?
  • Working with Internet users is one thing when providing a free email system. For example, even though GMail offers information on how to access an inbox with Eudora, it doesn't work very well.  But the email service -- including POP3-based access to it is free-- and the information on how to access a GMail inbox with third-party POP3 clients (Outlook, Eudora, etc.) is provided more as a courtesy.  Google really isn't on the hook to officially support integration with a bunch of third party products.  But, hosting business email systems is a whole 'nother beast.  Business will demand better support. What sort of support will Google be prepared to give the business market and how much, if anything will it cost?
  • GMail doesn't offer folders the way traditional email systems do.  Instead, it uses a lableling and archiving system that essentially performs the same role that folders perform from an organizational perspective.  In some ways, it's more powerful because a single item can be filed under multiple labels.  The POP3 email retrieval protocol has no notion of folders or other organizational principles (like labels).  But the IMAP protocol does.  Will the business version of GMail offer IMAP support and if so, will it find a way to tie it into its unique labeling system?
  • When driven by the same identity management system, behind the firewall instant messenging and VoIP services go hand in glove with e-mail.  Google already has an identity management system.  Oh, and it's already blending its GoogleTalk with its email systems.  Will that integration follow domain-independent GMail into businesses and how disruptive will that be to everyone from IBM to Cisco?

Topic: Collaboration

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  • This is a joke, right?

    "In fact, I'm willing to bet that better than 90 percent of the businesses currently insourcing their email can't legitimately justify the practice."

    Do I really need to rehash for Mr. Berlind and the rest of the ZDNet community all of the reasons why mission critical applications and systems should not be outsourced? Does "" ring a bell? What is wrong with you? Are you a shill for some SaaS vendor? I have never used that word ("shill") before just now. Mr. Berlind is either a shill or simply naive. No reason to justify keeping email in house? We just brought our email in house here, and for good reason! Why in the world would we pay another company monthly to do something that we can do ourselves for a one time fee (for software) or even for free (Linux or FreeBSD plus qmail or even Scalix).

    Now, let's look at the premise: assuming I would outsource my email, why would I outsource it to Google, of all companies? Google is a company that makes some of its living by data mining their users' email. So I should stick my company's email on there as well? Google is a company that never gets anything out of beta. Do I want my email to be running on a beta quality system? Google is a company that loves to log EVERYTHING and then keep those logs FOREVER, just wanting for the Feds to show up with a subpoena. Does my company need that kind of headache? Will Google even bother telling me if our emails are subpoenaed? Will Google follow my company's policies regarding destruction of sensitive data, or will it all be backed up somewhere? What about HIPAA, and information in that email?

    More to the point, what does Google even know about outsourcing? No one outsources anything to them. They don't even have a real customer support center! So what, if my email is down, I'm supposed to go to Yahoo! Mail and email "" and pray the problem gets resolved.

    Mr. Berlind, you have gone way too far this time, as far as I'm concerned. I was a PC Week reader in 1995, and I remember your articles then. You were a lot closer to the tech and a lot further away from the suits, and knew what you were talking about. I suggest you get your nose back to the grindstone for a bit of time and learn how IT really works, recharge yourself or something. Posts like this turn your credibility to zero.

    Justin James
    • Only makes sense for small businesses

      I would say that 90% of businesses with more than 50 e-mail accounts should do it in-house.

      Once your company reaches the point that you have dedicated IT people, a decent internet connection, firewalls, etc... it just makes sense to do it yourself.
      • And even the small ones...

        Small companies could also be better off, given the critical nature of email, the fact that smaller companies tend to be more agile - and an interception/hack/breakdown of any kind of their email would be more disruptive to that, than to a company that is bureaucracy-laden, redundant, etc. If I'm a small startup, one of my worst fears is that I'm doing something killer and then the big behemoth finds a way to steal it before I carve out my niche. Following that train of thought, it would be even more critical for the small guys to keep it in-house.
        • But wait!! Cars are critical too, small businesses should design and

          build their own cars too.

          Man you are stupid.
      • I would say at 1000, you can afford to do it, but still

        if email is not your core business, why dick around with it? It is just a distraction for management. And, everytime you server or internet connection goes down, your emails bounce and you get a lot of people calling you and telling you your email does not work. That does NOT happen with Google.
        • So what is the #??

          I've been looking all over to find out what the % of businesses that outsource vs inhouse (by size grouping) and can;t find it anywhere. Does anyone have those numbers?
    • Once again CNet shows the way!

      Won't you be surprised when CNet Networks moves its email hosting to Google.

      That's coming, right David?

      • CNet is a news organization, that would make a lot of sense.

        Then they can focus on writing stories and doing research.

        Sure they can test email servers for stories, but hosting their own makes little sense.
        • Well, it's an organization anyway

          CNet Networks is a marketing company. It posts "news" to draw eyeballs for its advertisers.
    • How stooopid are you?? A small business can make their email more

      secure and reliable than Google? A University should spend big bucks for email when there are free alternatives? And, even a large business. Should they spend management time dealing with email when it can be done more reliably and securly by people that make it their business?
  • GMail is barely out of beta, and they just figured out "one click delete"

    Does GMail have full calendar capability? No.
    Is Gmail a proven technology? No
    Does Gmail offer a rich user experience? No
    Can Gmail scale? TBD
    Will GMail crash a lot like TBD
    Do you trust Google (or any 3rd party) with your data? I don't.
    • And, is Gmail better than Hotmail? YES.

      It is more reliable, faster, and more intuitive.

      Oh, and they don't let the feds look at your emails without a warrant like Microsoft does.

      And, Microsoft has been working on this how long?

      Well, we did not expect anything Intelligent from the Dan Quayle of Journalists.
      • Another cheap shot by DB

        >"Well, we did not expect anything Intelligent from the Dan Quayle of Journalists"

        What does this article have to do with the former Vice President, that you feel the need to take a cheap shot at him here? But, since you have, let me offer the following in his defense...

        Quayle was "set up" by the Liberal media. He was asked to "judge" a spelling competition, and given a deck of "cue cards" which (according to the rules of the competition) contained the definitive spellings for each word. In addition to the infamous "potatoe", the deck of cue cards contained at least ten other spelling errors. Anyone might have made the same mistake.

        Every politician says stupid (and offensive) things on occasion. Whether or not the public remembers them, depends on whether or not the media reports and/or makes much ado over them.

        For example, former Vice President Gore made all of the following statements:

        "If we don't succeed, we run the risk of failure."

        "Democrats understand the importance of bondage between a mother and child."

        "Welcome to President Clinton, Mrs. Clinton, and my fellow astronauts."

        "Mars is essentially in the same orbit... Mars is somewhat the same distance from the Sun, which is very important. We have seen pictures where there are canals, we believe, & water. If there is water, that means there is oxygen. If oxygen, that means we can breathe." Vice President Al Gore, 8/11/94

        "The Holocaust was an obscene period in our nation's history. I mean in this century's history. But we all lived in this century. I didn't live in this century." -- Vice President Al Gore, 9/15/95

        "I believe we are on an irreversible trend toward more freedom and democracy - but that could change." Vice President Al Gore, 5/22/98

        "One word sums up probably the responsibility of any vice president, and that one word is 'to be prepared'." Vice President Al Gore, 12/6/93

        "Verbosity leads to unclear, inarticulate things." --- Vice President Al Gore, 11/30/96

        "I have made good judgments in the Past. I have made good judgments in the future." Vice President Al Gore

        "The future will be better tomorrow." Vice President Al Gore

        "We're going to have the best-educated American people in the world." Vice President Al Gore, 9/21/97

        "People that are really very weird can get into sensitive positions and have a tremendous impact on history."

        "I stand by all the misstatements that I've made." Vice President Al Gore to Sam Donaldson, 8/17/93

        "We have a firm commitment to NATO, we are a part of NATO. We have a firm commitment to Europe. We are a part of Europe."

        "Public speaking is very easy." Vice President Al Gore to reporters in 10/95

        "I am not part of the problem. I am a Democrat."

        "A low voter turnout is an indication of fewer people going to the polls."

        "When I have been asked who caused the riots and the killing in L.A., my answer has been direct & simple: Who is to blame for the riots? The rioters are to blame. Who is to blame for the killings? The killers are to blame.

        "Illegitimacy is something we should talk about in terms of not having it." Vice President Al Gore, 5/20/96

        "We are ready for any unforeseen event that may or may not occur." Vice President Al Gore, 9/22/97

        "For NASA, space is still a high priority." Vice President Al Gore, 9/5/93

        "Quite frankly, teachers are the only profession that teach our children." Vice President Al Gore, 9/18/95

        "The American people would not want to know of any misquotes that Al Gore may or may not make."

        "We're all capable of mistakes, but I do not care to enlighten you on the mistakes we may or may not have made."

        "It isn't pollution that's harming the environment. It's the impurities in our air and water that are doing it."

        "[It's] time for the human race to enter the solar system."


        "As many of you know, I was very instrumental in the founding of the Internet" --- Al Gore to Katie Couric 3/99

        So, perhaps you should (more accurately) refer to the author as "the Algore of Journalists".
    • Hmmm...

      I disagree with you in your 3rd statement. Can you explain why Gmail doesn't offer a rich user experience? For me it's the best web-based e-mail client. IMHO, of course.

      Also they didn't figure out "one click delete" just now, is it that difficult to program for skilled engineers like those in Google? This was introduced just to keep up with the "Don't be evil" motto. Users complained "Why can't I delete my messages? Why do they want to keep them?".

      BTW, I also don't trust much Google.
      • Well, at least Google won't let the feds read your email without a fight.

        Considering Google has only been at this for a short time and it is head and shoulders better than Hotmail or Yahoo, this is truely amazing.
      • Trust

        I don?t trust google a whole lot when it comes to my data... But I trust it a hell of a lot more than I do Microsoft or Yahoo!

        But hey, thats just me. Sure, google keeps data - but at least they?ve made a fuss about the government wanting it for no god damn reason. If it weren?t for google, nobody?d even know that the government wanted to see our searches.

        So I thank google.

        Oh and I love Gmail. Its the best online-email service I?ve ever used - and I?ve had them all at one point or another, Yahoo!, Hotmail, Lycos, Netscape, AOL, even the lil service my net provider has. And they all suck big time compared to Gmail.
    • And, another thing, the idea was, with 1G free, you didn't need to delete.

      It was by design not to have a delete button handy. But, they figured out that we still get a lot of email that makes no sense to archive, that we wouldn't want showing up in searches forever, hence making the delete button easier to get to.
    • Hotmail is 12 years old and they still have annoying ads.

      Does GMail have full calendar capability? You need a calendar to remind you to send email?

      Is Gmail a proven technology? I've used it a year and it has always worked. That's proof.

      Does Gmail offer a rich user experience? You said no? Are you nuts? No popups, no flash ads, quick loads. Best experience in free webbased email I've ever had (Had Hotmail 96?-00, Yahoo from 01-present (keep for junk-site registration). Labels work great (although tricky for the slow-witted/stuck in the old ways type) and the use of Groups will crossover to a business apt perfectly.

      Your last 3: Probably, probably not, maybe.

      Don't get all worked up. Google rolls things out slooooow. We'll see SMB hosted Gmail around June 07.
  • Unreliable, unprofessional product

    How many times does GMail fail on weekly basis? And when it does, all they do is put up a cutesy message. Google is far from a professional operational organization. What they do well is sell ads, not keep reliable services running. It will be a long time before I'd trust them with my email hosting.

    Plus, they've destroyed their whole trust relationship (the do no evil thing) with this latest foray with China.
    • So, what about the "professional" offerings?

      Maybe you'd rather trust MS, who will supply your private information to the authorities without hesitation.

      MS set the example bad example to Google by negotiating MSN censorship with China. But I guess when they do these things, they're being professional.