Gmail is the webmail service of du jour for many people, and it’s hard to imagine when it wasn’t an indispensable part of the workday. But when Google launched the service on April 1, 2004, many people thought it was a hoax.
Google’s goofball reputation may have tapered off a bit in recent years, but it is still deeply embedded in the company’s DNA. Take, for example, the “shelfies” you might have seen today. Its original press release for Gmail was loaded with silly language that had many believing it was yet another elaborate bit of fakery. A few choice samples from the release:
- Search is Number Two Online Activity – Email is Number One; “Heck, Yeah,” Say Google Founders
- The inspiration for Gmail came from a Google user complaining about the poor quality of existing email services, recalled Larry Page, Google co-founder and president, Products. “She kvetched about spending all her time filing messages or trying to find them…”
- “If a Google user has a problem with email, well, so do we,” said Google co-founder and president of technology, Sergey Brin. “And while developing Gmail was a bit more complicated than we anticipated, we’re pleased to be able to offer it to the user who asked for it.”
- Gmail makes using email faster and more efficient by eliminating the need to file messages into folders, and by automatically organizing individual emails into meaningful “conversations” that show messages in the context of all the replies sent in response to them. And it turns annoying spam e-mail messages into the equivalent of canned meat.
At the time, web publications were dutifully skeptical, as were their readers. “[Google] could just be pulling the wool over our eyes,” wrote WebProNews. Readers at techy nerd hangout Slashdot were similarly incredulous. “Assuming this is a joke for a moment.. I’m not so sure Google would have wanted this much publicity,” said one reader. “Is it a bad sign when the really good ideas are hoaxes?” asked another.
Obviously, Gmail was a good idea, and thankfully turned out to be a real product. Otherwise, we might have all been stuck with Hotmail or something. It does, however, speak to the difficulty of navigating real news on April 1st. For example: BlackBerry betting its BBM business on stickers, which, strangely, isn’t a joke at all.