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Gaming the System

A lot of my friends have been getting GMail accounts, web-mail accounts through Google now offers with a Gigabyte of storage.

Most of the discussion on this has focused on privacy concerns: GMail scans your mail for keywords and delivers it with little Google ads. Personally, this doesn't bother me--most people have such poor security, especially with ubiquitous wireless, that automatic scanning of email doesn't seem such a big deal. I just wonder if this might be one of Google's less-successful experiments.

Most people don't have a gigabyte of email. My Outlook archive is only 650 MB, and it goes back more years than I care to think. I'm willing to bet that Google's 1GB promise is premised on the idea that the typical user will never get anywhere close to their limit. But there's a very good use of 1GB of online storage that might threaten Google's business model: backups.

For instance, every week I burn my critical files to a CD, and every two weeks I back up my data to DVD. But with a GMail account, I could zip my critical law school files--all of them--into a 50MB zip file and mail them to 'myself.' If I ever need them, there they are.

Why is this a problem for GMail? Well, it seems that Google expects this to pay for itself through the targeted advertisements people read when they check their mail. But in the example above, I'm only checking my mail when I need to access the backups. Which is almost never. Since they get paid every time I see an ad, this isn't good new for Google.

Of course, Google may have thought of this, and placed a limit on the size of files you can receive in an attachment. Or maybe they figure only a few people will feel the need to treat their Gmailbox as a GB of online storage. But it does seem like a bit of a loophole.

UPDATE: Arvin at Rebuttable Presumption thinks people might be put off of using Gmail as a backup tool by fears of security. I'm not sure this is really a deterrent for most people. I mean, for the things that I need to backup most--my law school papers--there's not a huge market out there, and frankly, if they're stolen, they're not going to make anyone enough money to recover their investment, much less make them rich.


Yup, I don't have a gig of email either. But I regularly have to slice up files that exceed Yahoo's 6MB of space allowance and 3MB maximum attatchment size. Never having to do this again is reason enough to switch (plus Yahoo's spam filtering is now failing miserably - 20+ spam messages a day are getting through.) Google will probably be OK because one of the things they've got very good at doing through the search engine is storing and accessing large quanitites of data quickly and cheaply. I saw their dog and pony show a while back and doing things cheap and effectively is a virtue they're quite keen on. Plus their users won't use the GB or at least by the time they do the costs will have dropped even further thanks to Moores law. So if ten users average 200MB Google only needs 1GB (not 10) to serve them, plus a bit extra for unexpected spikes. No idea if it'll make money, but its going to blow the competition away. Plus the interface is very very nice.
Hey Anthony. Not so much security (though that could be a concern). I'm thinking more reliability. You know how often hotmail servers are down. If my server goes down, or if I just urgently need a certain file, I don't want to take the chance that google's servers are down for maintenance. It could still be used by people who are sharing large files across the net, or people who don't care about reliability. And these people can even open up multiple accounts, as I posited in my post. So I'm curious to see google's solution.
Good point, Arvin, well-made. I never use web-mail, or Hotmail, so I didn't think about reliability...

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