Email: The Original Cloud

from the things-change dept

Sponsored by

This is the first of a series of posts looking at how email has changed over the past decade-plus. These posts are sponsored by As always with sponsored posts, the sponsor has no editorial say in the actual content of the post.

Email is one of those parts of the internet that have been around for quite some time, and is considered a (if not, the) core piece of how many people communicate. But, if you actually look at the history of email, it’s quite amazing how much it’s changed over time — bouncing from a server based setup in the early days to a client/server version and these days back up onto the internet as a “cloud computing” service (the buzzword version of server based). Even if we’re just looking at the past 15 years or so, from when web-based email services like Rocketmail and Hotmail first hit the scene, it’s quite amazing how much they’ve changed. But also fascinating is how web-based email pre-dated “cloud services” by more than a decade, but in many ways are one of the key “cloud” services out there.

Ah, the bad old days…
Hell, just the change from having to load a new page for each click to today’s dynamic/AJAXy interfaces changed the way web email worked. But one of the bigger changes in my mind was the massive expansion in storage. Historically, many people were pretty careful to regularly delete all of their emails to avoid hitting the very small storage limits associated with web email accounts. In fact, a decade ago, I remember conversations about how “expensive” storage was, leading the online accounts to have limits of around 25 megs. The world of online email changed on April Fool’s Day in 2004 — with a gigabyte of storage (this was so much larger than anything anyone else was offering that some thought it might be an April Fool’s joke). When it was launched, Google said that people shouldn’t ever have to worry about deleting emails again — and, in fact, Gmail originally buried the delete button such that it was difficult to find.

Of course, as with many innovations, user demand quickly grew to match what was available, and having so much storage started to change the way people viewed email — not as something where you just kept a few things, but one where you could store your entire email history… and more. The leaders in webmail at the time, Microsoft (who had bought Hotmail) and Yahoo (who had bought Rocketmail), responded to Gmail by expanding their storage as well — and that’s only increased time and time again since then. Both Microsoft and Yahoo eventually went to (virtually) unlimited offerings, while Gmail has boosted its free email storage up to ~10 gigs.

Suddenly, with significantly more storage, new opportunities opened up. Email could become more of a combined task list/timeline for your life. There was no real reason to ever get rid of anything — and that included being able to store attachments and important files, as more and more people discovered. Rather than just being about email, web-based email really did become the very first truly useful “cloud” service, letting people go way beyond the restrictions of older client/server email systems.

Historically, when computing resources become abundant, it becomes natural for people to “waste” them, and, as such, discover completely new and unexpected uses, and that’s absolutely been true of email with such massive storage and the availability of access from anywhere. While “cloud computing” is a more recent term, webmail programs really became a key part of a cloud strategy long before that term came about, and part of that was because of the amount of storage available. Combine “virtually” unlimited storage with a communications interface and you can start to build in more integrated features — including things like document viewing, storage and creation. Email starts to fulfill its potential as more than just a communication tool to a central life manager.

With lots of companies now pushing cloud services, it still seems like web-based email, the original cloud service, really has the leg up on being the true interface for “the cloud” upon which many other useful cloud services will be built.

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Comments on “Email: The Original Cloud”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Wow, working both sides. First Google and now Microsoft.

I love how you say:

“the sponsor has no editorial say in the actual content of the post.”

yet clearly, without sponsorship, you wouldn’t be talking about it, and I am sure you are wroking from their talking points.

The term “sell out” starts to play well here.

Applesauce says:

Re: AC #7 "Sell out"

Here’s a few helpful ideas for future ‘Sponsored Posts’:

1. Bad patent laws – sponsored by Samsung.
2. Why the courts need to protect innovation – sponsored by Apple.
3. How tablets will replace the desktop – sponsored by Microsoft.
4. Why Linux is a dying platform – sponsored by Intel Atom Clover Trail

Tim K (profile) says:

Re: Re:

You sir are dumb as shit. Obviously he doesn’t mean they have absolutely no say in the article. Clearly an email site isn’t going to pay him to write an article and it’ll be about why the sky is blue. He is referring to, which you purposefully pretend ignorance (or you’re just dumb as shit), he’s not going to say is the best email site in the world and everyone should use it, google/yahoo sucks, etc…Letting people pay you to write objective articles is not selling out. Selling out would be the example I just used

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Tim, let’s be fair here. Mike wrote the entire article on the basis of a Microsoft “social” marketing campaign. He wouldn’t be writing it otherwise. He appears to be working from their talking points, their prepared text.

Microsoft isn’t stupid – they aren’t going to ask Mike to go full shill. But having the discussion as a way of introducing their “new” old product is still paid posting.

It’s selling out when you take money to “express your views” within narrowly provided guidelines. Do you think Microsoft would be paying if Mike said the new site sucked?

Come on, even Marcus isn’t that naive!

Tim K (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Well shit, you mean to tell me people don’t pay others to trash their products? Damn, you must be smart. Clearly they thought their product wasn’t a POS and Mike wouldn’t trash it (even though this is an article about email evolution not Outlook), but just because he’s not trashing it doesn’t mean he’s selling out. If the MPAA created an awesome streaming service and wanted Mike to write about it, would he be selling out for doing so if he didn’t trash it despite it being awesome (I know, them doing something awesome not very likely to happen). But if they payed him to write an article about Dodd’s (which I don’t think would be a good idea, but they have done dumber things) I’m pretty sure he’d continue to say the same things he’s been saying.

In this article he’s talking about how email has evolved. I think that relates to Techdirt, so, no, I don’t see this as selling out

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Tim, you are being a little obtuse here. Try answering the simple questions:

1) Would there be a post about “the original cloud” on Techdirt, relating to hotmail, if Microsoft wasn’t paying?

2) Do you think Mike would write for the MPAA?

“In this article he’s talking about how email has evolved.”

No, in this article he is trying to have a fireside chat about without mentioning It’s called social marketing. It’s the point where Mike basically sells out all of his feed subscribers by sending them a paid post.

It just more than a little disappointing.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“Tim, let’s be fair here. Mike wrote the entire article on the basis of a Microsoft “social” marketing campaign.”

Even if he did, so what? It’s clearly marked as a sponsored article. Is this one of those things you can’t bring yourself to understand, like how the fact that your baseless idiotic attacks are voted to be hidden (but still easily accessible if the reader chooses) is not censorship? What is it about clearly marked labels that confuses you so?

As ever, I wonder what your paid motivations are for your constant stupid attacks on anything written here. You certainly don’t announce your motivations like the writers on this site do.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Paul, it’s called an abuse of your patronage. It means that Mike is always willing to sell out to whoever comes with a pile of money to spend.

It creates doubt. What else is done on trade, or done in exchage for something, without note? What about the guest posters? Are they paid, or is it a trade off?

Remember: Techdirt uses blind links to try to promote themselves on Stumble Upon… clearly there is grey area they are willing to work in.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

“It means that Mike is always willing to sell out to whoever comes with a pile of money to spend. “

Unless you can find an example of where he’s done that without informing readers, I fail to see the problem. I’ve seen many TV stations, radio stations, newspaper and magazines that do exactly the same. Do you also criticise them, or is it just this site? Why is a sponsored link or story a problem, if it’s clearly and openly marked as being so?

Face it, you have an obsessive hatred of Mike, and you won’t let logic nor comparisons with every other site and media’s standard practices get in the way. If you have evidence that Mike is using this to mislead readers, let’s see your evidence. Otherwise, it’s just another of your stupid conspiracy theories.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

Paul, there is no obsessive hatred. I am sure that Mike is a very pleasant person, that’s never the issue.

“Unless you can find an example of where he’s done that without informing readers, I fail to see the problem. “

Okay, now, this is a promotion of a book. Is it a paid post, are they paid for the post, is there a trade, or what? It’s clearly marketing. So what’s the deal?

How about “Sky is Rising”? Mike wasn’t very forthcoming that it was anything other than his work for himself, but it turns out to have been funded by Google and other companies. Why wasn’t that disclosed up front, first thing? He pointed to a couple of front groups, but sort of avoided mentioning it was Google. Yet, when push came to shove, Google mentioned him by name. Hmmm!

(As a side note, seeing that The Sky is Rising was based on Trent Reznor, today’s announcement of a new label deal sort of scuttles it all).

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

“Okay, now, this is a promotion of a book”

As part of the “Techdirt Book Club”, a discussion group based around a single book every month and which anyone with half a brain cell understands may well have sponsorship deals behind it. Is Oprah being misleading when she promotes her book club? Really?

This is what you have? Find me actual reporting that’s paid for and masquerading as something else, not a promotion for a book that’s clearly marked as being so. The straws you’re grasping at are as bad as the strawmen you construct from them.

“As a side note, seeing that The Sky is Rising was based on Trent Reznor, today’s announcement of a new label deal sort of scuttles it all”

Not really, but I presume you’ll pretend that your personal opinion is fact and mine is irrelevant, as ever.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:7 Re:

“How do you know?”

I don’t, nor do I care whether or not a book club has its subjects paid for or not, be that the Richard & Judy, Oprah or Techdirt book clubs. I also don’t see your evidence showing that there’s any question of this happening, other than your wild assumptions of course.

Now, are you going to present evidence that these or any other article on the site was paid for without being noted as such? Wild insinuations don’t count. If they did, that would be proof positive that you’ve a desperate paid shill, but I’m not accusing you of any such thing without solid evidence…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:8 Re:

Actually, considering Mike’s noting his “call from the whitehouse” and a sudden burst of “internet voting” blog entries, I wouldn’t be shocked to see a subtle Rock The Vote type thing going on.

See, the problem is that once you see one, you have to start asking more and more… any post could be paid, or be part of Mike’s other paid work, without disclosure. No way to know if Mike isn’t going to fess up.

Andrew Norton (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Re:

As part of the “Techdirt Book Club”, a discussion group based around a single book every month and which anyone with half a brain cell understands may well have sponsorship deals behind it.

As the guy behind the book club entry for August I can say there was no sponsorship that I’m aware of.

I spoke with Mike after his May book club chat with Rick+Christian, and I mentioned No Safe Harbor. I then continued chatting as we were both coveritlive users, affected by the change in plans, and I’ve certainly been looking for a replacement ever since (for my pirate election coverage), while he’s gone to google hangouts.

Late July, he dropped me an email saying ‘Any interest in having NSH be the book of the month for August?’ To which I said ‘sure, but I’ll be away at an event the end of the month, so we’d have to be flexible about the chat. “No problem” was the response.
No talk of money, adverts, costs, buying, or anything else nefarious. I suggested my book to him as a candidate. Few months later he comes back, offers, I accept. I think the total discussion between us EVER prior to the video starting has been a smaller wordcount than this comment (including sigs)

Just thought you’d like to know, as someone who’s been through it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

“Why wasn’t that disclosed up front, first thing?”

It was. That you overlooked it and then made it out to be some hidden thing is your problem. No one else’s. The infographic even clearly stated who it was funded by. And no, it wasn’t just Google.

” Yet, when push came to shove, Google mentioned him by name. Hmmm!”

No, Google DID NOT. They were told to list anyone who mentioned or wrote about what they were involved in. Of which Mike was but one of many. That you and other ACs keep trying to spin that as to “Mike Masnick is a paid Google shill” is just more of the same old tired AC nonsense. Grasping at straws and attempting to shoot and smear the messenger for having a message you disagree with, but are unable to refute logically and with anything in the way of facts.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Re:

“That you and other ACs keep trying to spin that as to “Mike Masnick is a paid Google shill” is just more of the same old tired AC nonsense.”

I am not trying to spin it into anything – other than to say that he has been paid for work before, and used it as the basis of posts here – both full on with disclosure, and more indirect posts without accreditation.

It makes me wonder what else here is posted with payment without disclosure.

Nigel (profile) says:

Not sure why I bother but, funny enough, he answered them before you even asked them. Thus, invalidating the point you try to make to me out of the gate.

You simply lack the comprehension skills to read and engage a bit of nuance.

You suggesting Tim is obtuse is just rich by the way. I was going to go back and read the misinformed screed that was your comment but it seems the community has collapsed said ignorance.


Mesonoxian Eve (profile) says:

*scratches head and re-reads article.

Okay, that’s it. I lost all credibility in this article for mentioning Hotmail has changed in the past 15 years.

I don’t call this my “spambox” for nothing. 😉

Joking aside, I’m wondering how long this “free gigs” from Google is going to last some of us. With some of its questionable actions of late, do we really see change or just limited competition?

Looking around, “free” most certainly is anything but.

A shame, but inevitable. Anytime a company gets large enough it thinks it can start calling the shots, it usually does and we pay for it, excusing it as much as we can before we’re finally with no true choice.

Email hasn’t changed, really. With service prices now possible to allow for greater competition, it’s why we can also get web hosting for $100 (Oh, and let me tell you the stories how much it cost in 1995… yeesh!).

In truth, I wish email interfaces would remain simple. I don’t need links to facecrook, bitter, or chat. I don’t want to have to decide what “group” I want to “see” my email (and hope to hell the powers that be actually keep this limitation).

I just want three buttons: reply, send, and “STFU with your penis pills”.

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