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You know what I am going to write but you don't know how I am going to write it.
In brief, the meaning of 'G' in Gmail will depend on their corporate morals and ethics standard.
The general argument about scanning the email for advertisement purpose via program rather than via human will be left for later discussion.
First, let's see why they do scanning and advertisement.
Free email in exchanges of advertiesement means that their email maintenance cost will depend on advertisement revenue. Let's do an approximation.
-How much does it cost to maintain users' accounts?
Simple version: assume a server with 400G hard disk costs about $1500 to maintain (let's amortize it over its life time, and it should be less). As a user can have 1G, that means $1500/400(users) = $3.75/person
A more elaborate version on the cost:
[number of users] * [1G memory]
-------------------------------- * [general cost of a server] [size of hard disc of a server]
Let's compute the advertisement gain.
-How much does it get from users' advertisement?
[number of users] * [average number of email per day] * 365 * [number of ad per email] * [click rate] * [average paid per click]
As long as the gain >= cost, then Gmail works.
We can cancel out the [number of users]
And we have
[average number of email per day] * 365 * [number of ads per email] * [click rate] * [paid rate] >= [general cost of a server]/[size of hard disc of a server]
plugging in estimates of
[average number of email per day] = 10
[number of ads per emal] = 3
[click rate ] = 0.1%
[cost of a server] = $1500 (let's factor in network cost as well, they do it in bulk so it is not going to be expensive.)
[size of hard disc of a server] = 400G
we got 3.65 * 3 * [average paid per click] >= 3.75
So, if the [paid per click] = $0.34, the balance will be achieved.
Adjusting various numbers, you could get different result but this is the general idea. And this will enable Google to pay for the cost for maintaining Gmail usage. It is independent of the number of users.
Perhaps, the expected click through rate will be around that of AdSense (or maybe more conservatively, half of it.) One thing for certain, the average paid per click is much higher than $0.34, because we know average AdWord costs much higher than this.
From these calculation, we know one thing: the newly suggested California law will not hinder Gmail at all. It is irrelevant. Esenssially, it is a win for Google. As the advertisement of the AdSense already scans the content on the fly, the function of putting advertisement on Gmail is practically the same. the proposed California law will hinder nothing of Gmail's original plan.
Further, the proposed law does not stop Gmail from gathering statistical group information. In other words, Gmail could gather many individual's many emails for statistical purpose and gather repseponses from many individuals on a specific advertisement. This will give them a good indicator for what trends a community follow. A community could be as small as people from a specific area code. The proposed law does not stop them from learning these information.
So far, Gmail may not have problems in California and perhaps even in United States. It is less clear what would it be for European and Asia countries.
Now, let's talk about scanning the email with programs which select relevant advertisement and bring them to you. There is a great difference between putting the advertisement on the search result or on webpage's content vs putting ads on your personal email.
For a search result, users go to Google in order to find informaiton they want, and in that spirit, a relevant commercial might be needed and Google shows these ads along the side of the search results.
For a website page, users go to website to look up information and knowledge.
It is other people's website so owners could put advertisments on their sites (revelant or not). Now, users go to Gmail for their personal email. The content is NOT Google's nor any other website's. It is USERS' own (and perhaps the senders' as well.) Would you like to have ad on your personal content? Maybe ,and maybe not.
There are technology journalists who say the privacy issue is over blown; while others say it is dubious and creepy. I hope journalists who support Gmail's current offering were not 'charmed' into writing these articles. They love Google so much they can trust it anyway. It's just a program, they say. And I hope they say it from a user's view; not as a technologist.
There were comparison on purchasing Deja News and Gmail.
And it says that there were concerns about Google gaining the historical archives of Usernet and then the complaints went away. I think these two are not comparable. Because the archives is already own by a commercial company and it is mere transfer of properteries. This time, the situation is different.
The question of "Could we trust Google on Gmail?" becomes "Could we trust their corporate ethics and moral standards?"
It would not be nor an easy question to answer once they go public. Given some of the intensive product announcement prior to their expected IPO, I would have some doubts about it. (didn't they say 'long term'?) And it is a question the public should ponder, if not question, because it will determine if 'G' in Gmail stands for 'Good' or 'Gvil'.
[edited by: engine at 2:18 pm (utc) on June 17, 2004]
[edit reason] formatting [/edit]
If that's a part of the package, you can take it a leave it.
The rest is just politics that surrounds any large entity, such as Google.