Thursday, November 17, 2011

What's a GMail?

A blog reader recently said to me, "I like your blog because I am learning quite a bit. You write a lot about GMail. I don't even know if I have a GMail, so I better go get one right away."

My lightbulb popped on...I often write about topics by jumping in mid-stream and assuming you have been privy to the thoughts in my head all along. So here I answer the question: "What's a GMail?"

GMail is a Internet-based email program, and in my opinion, one of the best. It is free, and allows you to send or receive email anywhere you have an Internet connection. It follows the SaaS model, or Software as a Service. Don't let that vocabulary startle you; SaaS essentially means there is nothing to install onto your computer. You find a computer, laptop, smart phone, iPad, etc and login.  That's it; end of story. No more CDs, disks and things to install onto your computer.

(Just think how brilliant you are know what SaaS is. Impress your friends this weekend by talking about how GMail is a SaaS service. So are Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.  They are all SaaS applications. No software to install; you just login.  That's SaaS.)

So remember, GMail is not something you buy off a shelf at the store. It is a service you login to from anywhere you have an Internet connection.

So, what makes GMail so special?

It is all searchable. If you have a message you want to look up, you do not necessarily have to spend have your day hunting through dozens of folders in search of where you placed that one elusive message. (It's probably with that lone sock you lost in last week's wash.)  Instead, just search for the message. Type any word in the message in the search box at the top of GMail and GMail automatically returns all messages with that word.

So if you are trying to find the message from Aunt Kathy with the funny story and photo about her trip to Orlando, just type Kathy Orlando in the search box and you will probably have it.

You get a lot of storage. Typically you do not have to delete any messages from your GMail. You can leave them in there forever and typically not run out of space (more on this in a future post.)

You get a conversation view of messages. Huh? What does that mean? GMail does something novel with your messages: GMail groups all replies together into one message that it calls a conversation. So if you send out a message to 10 people asking for help planning your dad's birthday party, all 10 replies will be grouped into the same conversation instead of coming back as individual messages.  This helps me organize my messages into conversations instead of each message being on its own.

Some folks do not like the conversation view of messages, and you might not either. It can be turned off.

And some folks have some some serious concerns about GMail, how it works, and some of the privacy (or lack thereof) afforded to people who use it. So stay tuned; I will cover some of the GMail turn-offs in my next post.