Tuesday, December 13, 2011

What's a GMail? (Part 2)

As promised, and finally, the second half of the GMail discussion. Back here I waxed eloquent about all the reasons I found GMail to be a great product. And it is. I can recall the days when using GMail required an invitation and having access was something of a mark of status, with people who had climbed about the GMail train trying to determine who would receive their 100 coveted invitations to GMail.

Now, GMail is available to anyone. All you need is a Google account and boom! You have email, calendar, tasks and all sorts of other cool gadgets at your beck and call...for free.

So what is the downside? What gives many people the shivers when it comes to GMail? It's the ads. The ads that GMail inserts onto your screen make some very leery of GMail.

When you search for something at Google itself and Google serves up the content you are after, but it also tends to place 2-3 links at the top or in the right column of the screen which companies have paid to have displayed. That is why you sometimes see the same search results twice. If you  search for AutoZone, just to select an example, you may see two identical results for AutoZone. One appears there because it is a match for your search, but the one at the very top (often slightly shaded in rose or yellow backgrounds) is there because AutoZone paid Google to have it appear there. And which ads appear depends on what you type into the search box, where you physically reside, sometimes even what you recently browsed for and a host of other information which Google is able to learn about you.

GMail does something similar. It delivers ads based on the content of your email. Rest assured, Google does not have a room full of peeping Toms reading all of your email and deciding which ads to place before your willing eyes. This is all done automatically, with Google essentially scanning the contents of your message looking for key words and phrases, addresses, etc. and then offering ads they have been paid to place there.

That scanning of GMail is the part that bothers some and fosters the idea that someone at Google is reading your mail. In reality, I have very boring mail, and if someone really gets paid to read about my Electric utility bill or a hilarious joke from my dad, they I feel awful for them. My life is just boring enough that I would likely run out to buy To Kill A Mockingbird so they can do something interesting with their reading time.

So use GMail for all its worth. I find it an amazing platform that I use on my laptop and smartphone. I integrate my work and home calendars very easily to make my scheduling more simple. And I will cover how to do some cool GMail things ahead.

Just venture in with the knowledge that Google is learning about you from your email and presenting ads which might be tailored toward you. No one has your email on a screen other than you and the people you email frequently, but if it bothers you that an automated process is reading your mail, then GMail may not be best for you.

(If you feel that way, just remember to shut down your Facebook account, your Foursquare account, and pull down your online photos too, because we give away far more coveted information within Social Media channels voluntarily than we ever give Google's scanning algorithms.)

All that said, I will venture into some more cool GMail features and advanced settings very soon. Stay tuned!