In recent weeks Google has revamped the Gmail user interface. That’s a big deal on several fronts, not least because Gmail is arguably Google’s second-most popular consumer product, behind Google Search. Google currently estimates that over a quarter of a billion people use Gmail.
Moreover, the Gmail interface is one of two reasons the free webmail service was instantly popular upon its initial release in 2004. (The other reason was the then-unfathomable gigabyte of storage; observers assumed the storage limit — and probably Gmail itself — must have been one of Google’s infamous April Fools’ pranks). Gmail’s so-called “conversation view” method to organize email reply strings was revolutionary amongst mainstream webmail products at the time, and remains perhaps the most compelling feature of the service.
Of course, when discussing reasons for trepidation surrounding Gmail product updates, you can’t overlook Google Buzz. A rather ham-fisted attempt to emulate Twitter, Buzz also had the unwelcome side effect of publicizing much of every Gmail user’s contact list by default. It was a glaring misstep that damaged Google’s general reputation and — due to its inexorable integration with the webmail service — Gmail’s standing, as well.
In light of these recent gaffes, it’s sometimes easy to forget that, when it was first released, Gmail invites were in such high demand that an entire aftermarket cropped up on eBay, with Gmail access selling for $150 per account at the height of the boom.
All told, there’s a great deal of history and interest tied up in gmail.com — which is interesting, considering Google’s webmail service is the second free online email provider to reside at that domain. A decidedly non-technical entertainment outfit debuted the original Gmail product, but they sold out when Google came calling for the domain.
WHAT UNLIKELY “ENTERTAINER” OWNED THE ORIGINAL VERSION OF GMAIL?