Five years ago today Gmail debuted. Like many I viewed it as yet another web based email system and had little interest. Web mail had always been a clunky pain in the behind, useful when travelling but that was about it.
By the time July 2005 had arrived I was playing with it out of curiosity. To my surprise it was actually a good interface, not annoying at all. Then came that fateful August of 2005. Hurricane Katrina and the levee failure that followed forced my wife (then fiancee) and I to evacuate New Orleans, heading North with our five cats, a laptop and little else.
Just before leaving I blasted my entire contact list with a message to use the Gmail account until further notice. Little did I realize that further notice would never come. Over the next six weeks Gmail was our lifeline. As friends and family members turned up scattered across the US we were able to get back in touch. Three weeks after the storm I finally found out that my grandmother was alive and in Texas. Six weeks after the storm we returned to a mostly deserted New Orleans.The introduction of useful and efficient web-mail could not have come at a better time.
Gmail was the first large scale application of Ajax, and led directly to the evolution of a lot of the social media online today. Since it was opened up to the general public in February of 2007 it seems as though everyone has a Gmail address. It, like its parent search engine, seems to have become ubiquitous.
To me the significance will always be that in the days when social media was limited to blogs, Gmail was our lifeline.
Happy Birthday Gmail! And that’s no April Fools joke.
George “Loki” Williams is the owner of SocialGumbo, LLC