Around 2004, I had been a dedicated user of Yahoo’s email system for four years or so. It had solved the problem all email users had at the time, which was that if you switched internet providers or changed institutions, you had to make a difficult transition to a totally new email address. Instead of all that, you could have a Yahoo address (or a Hotmail address) and keep it forever. All your friends could remember that address and never get lost when you switched jobs or internet providers. It was fantastic.
But then an old friend wrote me and told me he was trying out Google’s new email product. I wasn’t really interested, but I did like how his address was with gmail.com. Gmail seemed nicely understated relative to the yahoo.com addresses. I don’t think it would have succeeded as quickly or as well if Google had been selling an address ending in google.com. Gmail offered an escape from telling people they could write you at YAHOO.com. It just sounded stupid. (Too late, Yahoo offered up Ymail.)
Two things really moved the dial. The one that caused me to switch was the realization, after playing around with gmail, that I could get to my emails with at least one less click with Gmail than I could with Yahoo. Yahoo made you sign in, then look at a summary screen, then get to your inbox. Gmail signed you in and went straight to the inbox. Yahoo may have been maximizing clicks for metrics purposes, but they were doing it at my expense. Gmail got me to my email faster. That was decisive.
The second thing was the search function that has kept me an avid user and raving fan of Gmail for the last seven years. Gmail doesn’t really need folders and subfolders (though it offers labeling) because you can find ANYTHING. If you can remember just a few key words in any email you are trying to find, Gmail will deliver it. Yahoo supposedly did the same, but there is a reason we all ended up moving to search with Google. It is simply superior.
Companies should remember his much: It was the convenience and speed that got me. It was the rich features that kept me. If Yahoo hadn’t maximized its clicks at my expense, I’d probably still be ignorant of Gmail’s awesomeness. Gmail satisfied my agenda first.