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Google Looks To Boost Gmail With ‘Interventions’

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As Microsoft berates Google’s Gmail, Google is getting more aggressive with a new tool to bring in non-Gmail users

Google and Microsoft have just completed another salvo in their ongoing web-based email war.

Microsoft at a recent conference aired a video denigrating Gmail as a snooping application. One week later, Google is offering to stage “email interventions” for users who need rescuing from Microsoft Live Hotmail and other older webmail apps.

Gmail Man

Microsoft on 20 July played a humourous video of the “Gmail Man” at its Microsoft Global Exchange sales conference for 12,000 attendees, according to ZDNet.

The unflattering clip, billed as the “opposite experience” of Microsoft’s new Office 365 cloud computing suite, seizes on hysteria that dates back to 2005 by depicting Gmail as a messaging front for one big user data snooping operation.

That activity is exactly what Microsoft went after with “Gmail Man”, a mock mailman covered in the Gmail messaging logos who snoops users’ messages. The video shows Gmail Man searching for keywords like “burning” and “sensation,” in a female office worker’s Gmail account.

One more memorable line from the video’s jingle is: “His ads are unsolicited based on what you type, makes you want to ditch Gmail and go Office 365.”

Gmail launched to beta on 1 April, 2004, and the company was soon accused of using the service as another excuse to deliver users ads based on their messages.

Google was cautious about rolling ads out on Gmail even though it always had the capability to do so. Now more ads than ever run in Gmail, using algorithms to match up marketing messages using keywords in users’ messaging content.

Email interventions

Former Googler Cedric Beust commented about the Microsoft marketing message on his blog:

“It was a fascinating angle in 2005 while Gmail was still new and under all kinds of scrutiny, but today, who cares that your emails are automatically scanned, really? Even before Gmail, ISPs already had the ability to read all your emails, but it has never really stopped anyone from using the email service of their choice. I predict that this ad will get people to talk more about Gmail than the product it’s promoting (starting with myself).”

Speaking of getting more people talking about Gmail, Google on 27 July began officially encouraging its users to stage “email interventions”.

The idea is to get users to import contacts from Microsoft Live Hotmail, Yahoo Mail and other webmail apps into Gmail. Two of the hooks include the fact that non-Gmail users can’t conduct video chats or make calls, two distinct features in Gmail.

Concerned friends of non-Gmail users navigate to emailintervention.com, sign in and identify contacts who aren’t on Gmail, or type in users’ email addresses.

The intervener then pick one of three intervention message templates (“straightforward”, “concerned” or “embarrassed”) and adds his own intervention video if he chooses. Finally, the user sends the “customised email and follows up as needed.” (See the instructional video here.)

It’s tempting to conclude email intervention is a return salvo from Google, the latest of many skirmishes between the companies. However, a Google spokesperson told eWEEK email intervention is not a response to the Gmail Man portrayal.

Still, the timing lent itself to another interesting salvo in the Microsoft-Google war over cloud computing. Google finds its Google Apps increasingly under fire from Microsoft, whose Office 365 just launched a few months ago.