While Google's announcement is likely to be appreciated by users of Apple's iPhone (which supports IMAP) and business users, what's particularly noteworthy about the news is how Keith Coleman, Gmail product manager, describes Google's intentions."One of our core philosophies at Google is we don't want our users' data ever to be held hostage," Coleman said in a phone interview. "We want them to be able to take their data and do whatever it is they want to do with it. In the case of e-mail, that means taking their contacts to various devices, accessing their e-mail from any device or any e-mail client that they choose."
Google CEO Eric Schmidt voiced similar sentiments earlier this year. Apparently, his thoughts have become corporate talking points.
Google, in other words, is serious about not holding its users' data hostage. Think about that for a moment. It's not a common sentiment in an industry that has traditionally profited from imprisoning user data. Consider how for years mobile phone companies lobbied to prevent customers from being able to move their mobile phone numbers to competing mobile service providers.
"We started down that path in 2004 soon after launch, where we gave everyone free POP access and free auto-forwarding," Coleman continued. "POP is nice because it lets you download your mail to clients. Forwarding is nice because you can forward certain important messages to your mobile phone. You can even switch away from Gmail to another e-mail service really easily, if you want to do that."
It takes a big company -- big in the sense of confidence rather than revenue -- to give customers the freedom to walk away. Application users seeking escape from vendor lock-in typically have to look to competing vendors for the tools to free their data. Google's message is you're free to go.
Of course, the fact that between July 2006 and July 2007 Google's Gmail service saw its share of unique visitors in the United States grow by 79% -- compared with 6% and 2% growth posted by Yahoo Mail and Windows Live Hotmail -- according to comScore, makes it easy to be magnanimous.
And Gmail's growth is accelerating. ComScore figures indicate that between September 2006 and September 2007, the number of unique Gmail visitors in the U.S. grew by 93%. Yahoo Mail and Windows Live Hotmail, which can boast over four times and two times more unique visitors last month than Gmail, respectively, grew only 7% and 0%.
Perhaps word has gotten out that Google takes no prisoners, so to speak.
Does Google fully live up to this aspiration across its entire product line? Not quite, but almost, as Google's Matt Cutts documented in a March blog post.
That's pretty cool.