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20 Years Of Gmail: How Google's April Fools' Day Joke Became A Digital Game-Changer

Google's April Fool's Day pranks are legendary, but in 2004, they unveiled Gmail, a groundbreaking email service offering 1GB of storage per account. Initially met with disbelief, Gmail's launch marked a shift in email services.

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Google's co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin
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Google's April Fool's Day antics have long been the stuff of legend. Co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin made it a tradition to roll out outrageous ideas every April 1st, keeping the tech world entertained and guessing. From fake job postings for a lunar research centre to promises of a 'scratch and sniff' search engine feature, Google's pranks were legendary.

But in 2004, on April Fool's Day, Google decided to unveil something truly groundbreaking: Gmail. It was a free email service offering a whopping 1 gigabyte of storage per account – a seemingly ludicrous amount at the time. To put it into perspective, it was 250 to 500 times more storage than other leading webmail services like Yahoo and Microsoft.

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Marissa Mayer, a former Google executive who helped design Gmail, explained that the original pitch focused on the three S's: storage, search, and speed. Gmail not only offered ample storage but also integrated Google's powerful search technology, allowing users to easily retrieve information from their emails.

The announcement initially sparked disbelief. Readers inundated news agencies, convinced it was another Google prank. But behind the laughter was a three-year project codenamed 'Caribou,' a nod to the Dilbert comic strip. Paul Buchheit, a key engineer on the Gmail team, reminisced about the absurdity of the project's name and the challenges they faced.

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Paul%20Buchheit
Paul Buchheit
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The unveiling took place at Google's Mountain View headquarters, where Larry Page showcased Gmail's sleek interface and lightning-fast performance. With confidence, he demonstrated its seamless integration with web browsers and emphasised its limitless storage, obviating the need for a delete button.

The exclusivity of Gmail's launch fuelled demand. With only enough capacity for 10,000 users initially, invitations became a prized possession, with some fetching $250 on eBay.

Since its launch, Gmail has become a staple of the internet, boasting an estimated 1.8 billion active users. Over the years, Google has expanded Gmail's storage capacity to 15 gigabytes per account, bundled with additional features like Google Photos and Google Drive.

Gmail revolutionised the way people interact with email and paved the way for Google's expansion into other services like Google Maps, Google Docs, YouTube, and the Android operating system. However, Gmail's introduction also raised concerns about privacy, as Google scans email content to deliver targeted advertisements.

It wasn't until 2007 that Google opened Gmail to the public, marking a significant milestone in the service's evolution. However, Google didn't entirely abandon its April Fool's Day antics, as evidenced by the announcement of 'Gmail Paper,' a feature offering to print users' email archives on 'organic soybean sputum' and mail them via the Postal Service.

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