Some of you may be reading the newsletter version of this very column via the product in question, as Gmail was released on March 31, 2004. Some have suggested that Google timed the product release intentionally to imply it was a prank, if only to capitalize on the word-of-mouth marketing that would result when users realized that Gmail was in fact a serious product.
For the sake of context, Gmail was released with one gigabyte of storage at a time when other competing free Web mail products were placing restrictions on storage -- often in the range of less than 10 megabytes. (In-house e-mail storage issues were also becoming an increasing issue for corporate IT administrators, thanks to the archive requirements of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.) The idea that Google would give away a gigabyte of storage for a free product seemed impossible.
Google went back to the same publicity stunt in 2005, announcing that Gmail storage was doubling to two gigabytes. Astute observers weren't so incredulous this time around, though many folks still thought Google's Ride Finder service, released the same day, was a joke. (Granted, Ride Finder is now defunct, so maybe the nonbelievers were on to something.)
In 2007, the Gmail hoax came full circle, as new fake features for Gmail became a signature April Fool's prank from Google. In 2007, users were offered Gmail Paper (as in, a print function), which was touted as an analog version of the e-mail system that would be supplemented by couriers (mail carriers) who visit a Gmail box outside your house. In 2008, a whole host of Gmail hoax options appeared, but the most high profile was Gmail Custom Time, which let you send e-mails backwards in time to create alibis and excuses.
That's not just some snarkily circular verisimilitude; it's an annually ostentatious example of offbeat Geek Trivia.
The quibble of the week
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Jay Garmon has a vast and terrifying knowledge of all things obscure, obtuse, and irrelevant. One day, he hopes to write science fiction, but for now he'll settle for something stranger -- amusing and abusing IT pros. Read his full profile. You can also follow him on his personal blog.