I have a Gmail address. In fact, most people in the web industry that I know are now using Gmail for their defacto personal email addresses. About a year ago at this time, it was the ultimate cool factor. A badge of honor among the techno-elite, Google’s invitation only viral strategy was driving people to bid as much as $200 on ebay for their desired email address. But now some say that the coolness is dying down. Ok, so my mom has a Gmail address too … that doesn’t make it uncool, does it? Well, maybe it does.
The one thing that is clear, though, is that for most of us who use a Gmail address, we abandoned another email provider in order to do it. In my case, that was Hotmail. My hotmail account was definitely the direct causalty of the arrival of Gmail, but it was also the first web-based email account I had. As a result, I have signed up for the most things from that account, and now get the most junk mail there. Are they paying for that initial victory? Since then, they have been perennial "me too" innovators after Gmail and Yahoo. They upped their storage limits last, added new features last, and today they announced the new MSN personal homepage which has features which duplicate those already available from competitors.
MSN’s strategy of dominance in personal communications through the Passport network and features like IM has, in part, been based on the initial popularity of Hotmail as an email service. Unfortunately, it seems that people have been surprisingly willing to change email addresses – punching a hole in that strategy. Email addresses are not like a surname – held by individuals for a lifetime. They are more like a home. We love them while we use them … but when a better situation comes along, and the time is right, we’re not afraid to move.