Where are Hotmail and Y!Mail 2.0?

February 25, 2006

About 2 years ago Google launched GMail Beta and changed the rules of webmail.

The most notable change was the availability of 1GB of storage and the notion that email not be deleted (which I subscribe to). Also notable was the advent of AJAX features for enhanced web-based applications.

Two years later, what is the response from the webmail leaders – Yahoo! and Hotmail?

Well, they didnt take much time to adopt the easiest change – increased storage – but the long road to a full-featured AJAX client has been unbelievably long!

How can Gmail eat these email juggernaut’s lunch for TWO YEARS with no response yet in terms of available products?

What is even more bothersome is how did Yahoo! purchase the underdog trailblazer of enhanced webmail interfaces – Oddpost – and NOT HAVE A PRODUCT YET? Even worse – WHY did Yahoo! have Oddpost stop taking new email accounts in the interrim? Rather than boosting Yahoo! Mail into the GMail club in 6 months, all that really happened is that Yahoo! has taken one of the best webmail services (Oddpost) out of play for two years!

We have nonpublic betas of Hotmail and Y! Mail’s new interfaces, which look really cool, some even say better than GMail (which I dont think is much of a stretch, because while technically cool, GMail’s interface isnt terribly well done). Despite the fact that I used to work at Yahoo! and have contacts there, I havent been able to get into the Yahoo! Mail Beta. I have, however, managed to finagle a Windows Live Mail beta, and I think its a GMail killer – basically a decent AJAX port of Outlook.

I have my own theory about the delays from M$ and Y! – the crazy growth rate and extension of Hotmail and Yahoo! Over the last 11 years have left both services with an hobbled infrastructure with an insurmountable amount of legacy code which can no longer be reworked in a reasonable period of time.

I remember when I worked at Yahoo! 4 years ago, Yahoo! Mail was already at a standstill internally as far as being able to add features to extend other Yahoo! properties – like, 12 or 18 months behind. Such features were added on an ’emergency’ basis, which basically meant the feature needed to have a VP or substantial price tag attached from a cobrand deal or somesuch to even get on the todo list.

From the outside, the mail group seemed about a dozen engineers short, but upon closer inspection it seemed more like they were buried with an unscalable legacy which was demanding to be scaled daily, and head count wasnt going to solve that. It was a classic mythical man month issue.
So they obtain Oddpost, which has the wizardry for Yahoo! Mail 2.0, but their work on the front-end has probably been done for over a year. Whats happening now is just an interminable period of changeover.

In fact, I wouldnt be surprised personally if the Yahoo! Mail team is thinking to itself “Hey, any of us could rework an AJAX interface at this point – why did we aquire Oddpost when all the work to be done was with legacy?”

This is where new companies bang on the heavyweights. With no legacy Google search and GMail took existing web products and made them better. There is simply no reason why Yahoo! and MSN could not trump Google Search or GMail except legacy. They have the experience, resources, and money. Its just that they have this legacy, which needs to continue working, to continue scaling, while it morphs into something else – and that is a launch killer.

Personally, I have not switched over to Gmail for several reasons – first of all, they currently have no personal domain options, nor the complementary hosting services which are essential to having a domain. Second, they have no Calendar, although I suspect one is imminent. Third, they have no premium service that I would want for my primary mail – I want real support in an emergency. Finally, it seems all webmail has a backdoor security problem when the right people simply ask for data.

This is why I am so frustrated with Y! and M$’s vaporware products. Both betas have very strong calendar apps, and Y! at least has always had the excellent domain, hosting services, calendaring, and premium service features I consider essential to my primary email application.
From previewing Windows Live Mail personally, I can say it’s way more appealing then GMail. From knowing Yahoo! Mail has *always* been better than GMail *except* for the lack of the AJAX interface, so I think their product will be a slam-dunk.

The only question is WHEN?


Web 2.0 Email and Calendaring Conundrum

February 6, 2006

There are a great deal of Web 2.0/Ajaxified email services and calendaring applications popping up, but nothing that seems to fit the bill – what is the goal for the ultimate email/calendaring suite?

IMHO, its Windows Live Mail Beta. Although not launched yet, WLMb is as close as it comes, although it has flaws. A virtual AJAX clone of Outlook, it covers all the core features and performs very well. It also have a very clean interface. Email, calendar, tasks, notes, its all there, and so far, it seems to work.

However, WLMb has some significant flaws. First, its not owned by Google, so if you use Google for web search, hits in your WLMb box will never come up in Google searches.

Second, you can’t use your own domain – even if you pay (AFAICT). This means you are stuck with a hotmail.com email address, which isn’t very sexy and sometimes simply not practical.

Third, you cannot import your current .pst. This would be a very expensive and complex support offering, but I feel someone has to give it a shot.

  1. Email and Calendar integration. This is one reason I find it so hard to tear away from Outlook. I cant just have a Gmail and a 30boxes calendar – they need to be *integrated*. Yahoo! does this well in its current incarnation but while they have a ajax email client in beta, there’s no improvements on the horizon for the calendar.
  2. Calendar notifications. A calendar absolutely needs to be able to send realtime appointment notifications to a mobile phone and preferably a system tray notifier. Any calendaring system which cannot handle alerts is worthless IMHO. Its surprising how many ajax web calendar projects have propped up without it. And no wonder – its a more difficult system to maintain and scale then the calendar itself because scheduling and timezone issues. Regardless, its indispensible.
  3. Google-owned. Ideally Google needs to be the host of the service, as integration of your search engine with web, email, and calendar has just proven too convenient. The fact that Google has no calendar sibling to Gmail at this point amazes me.
  4. Free and paid services. Yahoo! has a key feature in that not only will they let you have your own domain address, but they can also offer you a very competitive hosting package for web with it. This is a terribly important pay service for an email provider. Gmail may eventually let you use your own domain name for Gmail, but your domain would be webless.
  5. Importation of massive Outlook files. Gmail tries to sell you on the idea that your email archive is a valuable archive database – I think we can all agree thats true. Unfortunately, most of us already have 90% of that archive sitting in a massive .pst folder. There are some significant technical hurdles in getting all that data uploaded and imported to Gmail, but its a worthwhile feature I would pay for.
  6. Data security and accessability (a pay service). This would be a business-level feature. First, a third-party security firm would need to be employed for continuous security monitoring of the system. This firm should also be regualrly monitoring the backup system to insure your account data is duplicated off-site. Finally, there can be no constraints on your data access. Want to download an entire ZIP files of ALL your data? You can do it, no hassle or support calls needed. Perhaps even a pay service which FedEx’s you a DVDROM. A guaranteed exit strategy.
  7. Offshore owned and hosted. As we have recently seen, internet data is anyone’s for the asking as Yahoo! and others coughed up whatever NSA wanted without a peep. Its sad, but if Americans want privacy, we will have to take our data where privacy is a feature of the govenment. Caymans. Bermuda. Whatever.