Saturday, July 24, 2004

GMail: Get it if you can
Prerana Trehan

The exclusive gentlemen’s club in cyberworld has a just got itself a new address: In the fast and furious competition that often ensues between the netizens’ myriad status symbols, the email service being offered by search engine Google has emerged a clear winner. Sample this: a 26-year-old MCA graduate is as excited to have bagged a Gmail ID as to have landed his first big job with an MNC. And the race to grab that elusive ID has led to behaviour that swings between the absurd and the bizarre. Check out web operations like Gmail Swap which enable people to barter goods and services for Gmail invitations. One lady wants to barter her "slightly used husband", another person agrees to send "a video message in Sango, the tribal language of the Central African Republic", another offers "my pet dinasour, a fully grown T-Rex", while still another promises to "act out any Star Trek episode". Gmail4Troops, a campaign on the Internet, encourages people to share their Gmail invitations with troops fighting in Iraq, which prompts an Indian IIT student to wonder if Gmail is being given as a reward for killing Iraqis.

In April this year, Google announced that it was planning to launch an email service called Gmail. It promised a mind-boggling 1 GB of space as against Yahoo’s 4 to 6 MB and Hotmail’s 2 MB. Gmail’s USP was the same as Google’s: speed. In a (cyber)world where slowness has been the nemesis of many a mighty dotcom, some contend that Gmail would have been worth queuing up for for its speed alone, and never mind the extra storage space. It also boasted a peerless search function powered by the master of the game, Google. And all this for free. No wonder Yahoo!, Hotmail, Rediff, Indiatimes and other email providers had sleepless nights while netizens uncorked champagne bottles in honour of Gmail. As yet in the beta testing phase, Gmail is available only to a limited few, with no confirmation from Google on when it will be accessible to the general public.

Among those who are updated about the latest on the Net, the anxiety to be among the elite is palpable. "I am very keen to open an account with Gmail. After all, Google is a big name," says Mohit, a 24-year-old MBA student. A sentiment echoed by Deepak, a 23-year-old also pursuing a MBA course, "I would definitely like to have a Gmail ID, even though I have other email accounts. Any service that Google provides will be better than the others."

Not many, however, are aware of this email service. Its advent has polarised netizens into the few with-it ones who are staking a claim to it and the vast clueless multitudes who are content with what they have. True to its image — which elite club throws open its gates to the hoi polloi? — Gmail is free of cost but not freely available. The catch — yeah, there is always one — is that one cannot sign up for a Gmail account like one can for, say, Yahoo! or Hotmail. One would have to be invited to be an account holder. This invite would have to come from Google employees or from people who have Gmail accounts. Active users of Blogger are also among those who have an edge over others when it comes to bagging addresses. Wrangling invites is where the swaps come in. Google has since prohibited people from trading, selling or transferring email accounts for commercial purposes but does not object to those trying to barter email IDs.

So while the chosen few celebrate their entry into the exclusive club, others have no choice but to wait outside in the hope that some day it will open its hallowed portals to them, too.