April 1, 2004 was a momentous day of sorts for all web users – Google unveiled their free email service called Gmail (known as Google Mail in the United Kingdom and Germany). At launch, Gmail accounts came with 1GB of storage space way above what the competition was offering – Yahoo! Mail and Hotmail were providing a measly 2-4MB of storage.
Also, though it was free, you needed to get a Gmail invite from an existing user to create your account. The invites and the 1GB space created a huge demand for the free email service – at one time, these invitations were being sold for more than $100 on ebay.com.
Now after more than 4.5 years, has Gmail been able to eat into the competition’s market share? We know that Gmail usage has been growing but how does that compare with other popular services? The two popular email services at the time of Gmail launch were Yahoo! Mail and Hotmail (now called Windows Live Hotmail). How have they reacted to the Google Gmail threat?
Firstly, there are no direct data on the usage statistics of online email service provider. Because of the absence of clear numbers and figures, one needs to depend on different but related data and this leads to a lot of gray area. However, educated guesses can be made based on information on web site usage and email client statistics from various sources.
The Hitwise list of top 20 web sites in the US can provide pointers to the usage of online email services including Gmail, Yahoo! Mail, and Hotmail.
|Rank||Web site||Market share|
Web sites from the Hitwise list that can be included in this discussion are listed above along with their rankings.
mail.yahoo.com comes up on top, but also in the list are other URLs from the Yahoo! domain including www.yahoo.com, search.yahoo.com, my.yahoo.com and news.yahoo.com. It’s highly possible that people first go to the Yahoo! homepage (or my.yahoo.com) and then to their mail account.
Three Microsoft properties – mail.live.com, www.msn.com, and search.msn.com – also figure in the top 20. Interestingly Gmail and AOL are at number 11 and 14 respectively. The point I’m trying to make is that this data clearly provides us with at least the rankings – Yahoo! Mail is #1 followed by Hotmail (Windows Live Mail), Gmail and AOL. Remember this data is only from the United States.
Some time back, Techcrunch, released solid numbers for Yahoo! Mail, Live Hotmail and Gmail usage. They put Gmail in the third position – the figures of the other two were almost equal and five times higher than Gmail. However, this study is old – we know how quickly things change on the Internet – and there are two reasons why I think the numbers mentioned do not hold water: Techcrunch does not cite the source and the numbers are before Gmail was opened to the public. Gmail’s traffic went up 17% after it was opened on the 7th of February 2007 – no special invitations were required to create a Gmail account.
The Fingerprint email client usage statistics (snapshot below) was performed on a little less than 3 million email recipients which are broken into “business recipients” and “consumer recipients” (and rightly so because there are big differences).
Once again Yahoo! Mail and Hotmail come up as the two most popular services (almost equal in their share) with Gmail a distant third. Please note, people using Gmail through email clients like Outlook Express, Windows Live Mail will be added in the “Outlook” numbers.
In conclusion, one would not be wrong in placing Yahoo! Mail as the most popular email service followed closely by Hotmail (Windows Live Hotmail). Gmail usage is way behind these two biggies and might be a distant third.
Though Hotmail and Yahoo! Mail were slow to react the huge inbox offering of Gmail, they have sort of maintained their position as leaders. One needs to remember that users grow fond of a service and would not change their email address unless the service really sucks!