Memo to Google: don't announce a brand new service with lots of weird ideas on April 1st. While everyone expects BMW to pull a fast one -- the in-car cookery control was a fine example -- and the BBC doesn't do it full stop, Google is still funky enough to be something of an unknown.
But it seems as if it's serious about GMail, a free email service supported by advertising. So far, so Hotmail: Google's unique selling points are -- for the users -- a gigabyte of storage and for the advertisers, directed messages targeted as a result of the contents of the email.
First reaction: I don't want a computer spying on my email. It feels wrong, and as our silicon toys get ever smarter the question of what, exactly, is reading our mail will get ever more spooky. Second reaction: that's what spam filters do anyway, so what's the problem? Having an email system that can cope with a gig of data -- free or not -- is a fine idea: you wouldn't believe number of problems I have getting Powerpoint or Acrobat documents from PR companies that think the best way to present twenty facts is to wrap them up in twenty megabytes. I can cope with a few adverts and -- hey -- who knows, perhaps my spam filters will mop up the ads that Google shoves in.
But if everyone does that, will Google's business model collapse? Or what if we start to add a thin layer of scanner-crippling encryption? And will Google start publishing top-ten lists of email subjects?
With Google now owning the Web, Usenet and substantial blogging assets, it makes sense that it should step in and attempt to add the world's email to its Monopoly board of data repositories. What's left for it? Instant messaging? Voice? Media streaming? Online music sales? The Bible says that not a sparrow falls, but God knows about it -- we may be heading towards a time when not a bit moves but the Google monster makes a note.