On the 1st of April 2004, Google unveiled its free email service to the world – Gmail. From the very onset, there were many special things about the Gmail service. All free email accounts came with 1GB storage space which was a hundred times more than what was provided at that time on popular email services, primarily Hotmail and Yahoo! Mail.
Gmail was announced on April Fool’s day and everyone thought the 1GB offer was nerdy joke from Google. The service also promised to be free of distracting flash and image banner ads – Gmail ads were relevant text advertisements. And this created a big uproar on the web because many considered the “reading” of email content by Gmail a breach of privacy; which was utter nonsense, as I detail on Gmail privacy article.
However, the most interesting aspect of the service launch was the requirement of Gmail invites without which one could not create an email account. These special invitations could only be had from existing Gmail account holders or Google employees – I suppose all Google employees got a Gmail account when the service was launched. So if you needed to create a Gmail account, you had to contact a Gmail user and request for an invite. The invites were typically sent over email and one needed to follow the link send in the message to get a Gmail address.
As Google rightly guessed, a free email account with 1GB storage space would have everyone clamouring for one. In the initial days, Google allowed the existing account holders to send out only a limited number of invitations and this created further interest in the free email service. At one time, Gmail invitations were so prized that they were sold on online auction sites such as ebay.com for more than $100 apiece.
Why did Google launch Gmail via invites?
There are many theories as to why Google chose to launch Gmail via invites. The web marketers hailed it as a great way to generate a lot of interest in the service while keeping things relatively hidden. Data analysts considered the invitations the best method to collect a lot of “meaningful” email addresses – remember invites were sent via email. There were also some wild speculations of Google trying “rake it in” by selling invites on auction sites.
Anyway, I readily accept Google’s explanation for the requirement of invitations for Gmail. The company wanted to test and monitor the free email service with a gradual increase in user base. Opening Gmail to everyone at the very start would have most likely caused a server crash and, thus, a big embarrassment to Google.
Gmail now open – free of invitation
By early 2007, Gmail account holders could send out 100 invitations each day and Google decided to lift the “via special invitation only” tag from Gmail – Gmail was now open to all. You no longer need an invite to create a Gmail account. Simply go to the service homepage or read the step by step instructions with helpful screenshots on this web site.
At the time of writing, Gmail continues to carry the beta label which means the service is still not fully developed – and I am not sure why it’s so because it works great!
Gmail invites still available
For reasons best known to Google (gathering email addresses theory, above? -cheeky smile), Gmail invites are still available. If you log in to your account (you can create one without an invitation, as mentioned above), you can see a 100 invitations ready to be sent. This number is, presumably, replenished each day. Simply enter your friend’s email address and ask them to join you on the world’s coolest email service.