The purpose of Inbox isn't to "mediate" something for the purpose of mediating it. Elgan seems to suggest that first Google decided they had to intrude with meditation, and then came up with the idea of Inbox to justify it. The reality is, mediation falls out of the architecture of email anyway.
Most day to day interpersonal communication has moved away from email and into chat apps. Your email outside of work is largely an incoming federated asynchronous dumping ground for receipts, bills, notifications, and other things. It's become unmanageable for many people, a nuisance.
Inbox is an attempt to improve the experience of email given the reality of how it's used. All email is mediated. The way RFC822 email works is, MTA's transfer messages between services, and MUAs are responsible for the presentation of that email to users. MUAs mediate mail, for example, IMAP4 SEARCH and folders are mediation mechanisms for mail. Mail clients are free to present data from MUAs in any form they want. The fact that people have largely copied the same 'From,Subject,Date' table format that's been with us for the last 30 years isn't part of any spec, it's for lack of trying.
Inbox changes nothing about the unpinnings of mail (SMTP), what it wants to do is change the user interface that presents the mail so that it has superior summarization, sorting, searching, and clustering. That requires some form of mediation unless done completely on the client side, but doing it completely on the client side imposes some performance downsides, especially on mobile.
It's not as if Gmail doesn't "mediate". It spam filters, it has priority inbox, it automatically puts stuff into tabs like "Promotions". Even providing indexing and searching of mail is a form of meditation.
Elgan has penned an opinion piece that tries to impute some reason for Inbox other than what user interface designers and product managers have been aiming for -- usability goals. The implications about wanting to find excuses to mediate and take away control are utter nonsense.
He mostly means "monetize", in that Google is a company built entirely on slipping paid placements into things while disarming people's aversion (or even realization) that they're being advertised to.
Gmail is mediated in the technical sense, but Gmail Adwords is hardly an efficient channel into which subtle paid manipulation can be injected. If Google started adding ads into emails in transit everyone would flip. This is suboptimal for Google.
Whatever Inbox is today, it's a break from the email model that Google can freely evolve into a channel optimized for injecting paid content, in a way that people won't be outraged over. When everyone is using Inbox, Google calls the shots over what you see and true "mediation" can begin.
> Inbox is an attempt to improve the experience of email given the reality of how it's used.
No, Inbox is a Product by a company that holds a monopoly on Internet advertising. They're not in the business of improving the experience of email with a free product. They'e ultimately in the business of finding more subtle and effective ways to deliver ads. If you refuse to believe this, then congratulations to Google for a mission accomplished.
The ads division is mostly firewalled off from the daily concerns of people developing products at Google. They supply cash to the treasury, people think up cool ideas and try to implement them. It works just like startups, where you don't always know what your business model is going to be. Gmail started as a 20% project, not as a grand plan to create an ad channel. Lots of projects and products at Google have no business model, no revenue model, the company does throw money at projects and "figure it out later" how it'll make money.
Do you think Johnny Ive, when designing the Apple Watch is concerned more with the business side of how they'll up-sell different watch bands to make money, or do you think he is absolutely focused on delivering a product experience that is fantastic and that if they do a good job, the business will do well?
Someone may figure out how to shove ads into Inbox later. There are separate teams who figure stuff like that out. But those people are not the ones who control the product features, purpose, or design goals. They don't come to us and say 'Hey, we want to sell more ad space in Gmail, do you think you could come up with a UI to cluster emails so we can surface more ads?' That is not how things work. Products start with ideas to solve user problems, not with ads.
Notice, G+ has been out for years and still doesn't show ads. Do you think G+ was designed to show ads? It was not, otherwise it would have shown them already. Someone will retroactively figure out how to do it at some point. In the same vein that Twitter was launched without knowing how they'd put ads in it.
Products at Google, from Search, to Mail, Calendar, Docs, et al are designed primary to help users. If we do a good job, we will retain our user base, and someone will figure out how to convert that to revenue, be it ads, or direct payments.
Ads are a necessary evil, but they are not the primary motivating force driving designs or features, either inside Google, or in the wider startup community.
But the strategic decisions about what projects get funding and promotion and integration into the google ecosystem and cross promotion, etc. take these things into account. So the end result is that, like every other company on the planet, how revenue is generated affects how products are made. The fact that it's indirect at Google is actually the norm.
"they are not the primary motivating force driving designs or features, either inside Google, or in the wider startup community"
If Ads are the primary revenue generator and the company is long lived then they are one of the primary motivating factors, it's just good management to hide that from the passionate makers who build great things because it is a distraction and a fucking downer.
So, when you see Inbox by Gmail being even more intrusive with ads than regular Gmail, you can raise your arms in the air and declare that you were right all along -- "I told you so!"
I feel like a person who wrote a novel and based one of my characters on an old woman who worked at the corner store, but yet a literary critic reads the "hidden meaning of the text" and insists the woman really represents my mother. And then when it's pointed out that the character is based on a real person who is not my mother and the critic is simply wrong, it's claimed the woman must secretly represent my relationship with my mother anyway.
You're basically asserting that years of product meetings, in which ads are not discussed, and which the only concerns are how to improve user workflow and usability in email, in which we do countless user studies getting feedback from experiments, and then making changes in the system so that people tell us it's working better for them, all of this really is an engineering and product team being manipulated by strategic decision makers.
And while we think what we're really doing and working on is making it easier to manage your mailbox and get at information quicker, we don't realize we're playing right into the hands of a Machiavellian plan by the executives/board to use those same mechanisms for even more intrusive ads, and they haven't let us in on the secret.
Or, maybe we're just trying to make the mail experience better so that people don't get sick of gmail or mail altogether, and go off and use WhatsApp, social network "mail", or some other communication mechanism not ruined by a deluge of noise. Maybe we're concerned that if we don't make things better, users will go elsewhere.
Or maybe, after 10 years, we just thought it was time to give gmail a refresh as it was getting long in the tooth.
All are better and more plausible explanations than the idea that this is a monetization plan for gmail. I personally don't believe mail can ever be monetized effectively like that. Personally, I think mail ads are pretty ineffective and not huge revenue generators.
The reasons for impuning the motives of Google here are political and consequentialist, not about user experience or software quality.
It's about the consequences of having a 3rd party organize and filter your communications according to it's own incentives rather than yours, it's a discussion about power.
It's about the politics of service providers putting themselves in the middle of p2p communication in order to surveil them (to monetize the software/service with ads in this case, although of course the NSA is happily given a copy).
It's not about thinking people at Google are mustache twirling villians or bizdev douches who ruin things by plastering ads on them, it's about the crappy direction that well-meaning people are taking the internet.
So Google is really a trust fund combined with the charities it supports? Either what you're saying is right and Google is a very bad business, or wrong, and Google is excellent at hiding its nature from its own employees (I suspect that both of these are true, to some degree).
> Do you think Johnny Ive, when designing the Apple Watch is concerned more with the business side of how they'll up-sell different watch bands to make money, or do you think he is absolutely focused on delivering a product experience that is fantastic and that if they do a good job, the business will do well?
It doesn't matter what Johnny Ive or some product manager at Google are focused on, or what their intentions are. The history of business, politics, and the world, really, is full of people focusing on doing a job, but all the while advancing a different goal altogether -- whether they mean to or not (this emphasis on intent is a common theme with Google in particular; Google seems to think that if your intentions are good then no bad can come out of your actions, even though there's no reason to believe that's the case, and plenty of reasons to believe the very opposite).
It seems to matter a lot to you.
If the intentions don't matter, why are you so committed to maligning them? Most users seem pretty happy with the results, and if you don't like them, don't use the products.
* I do believe Ives is very aware of the bottom line impact of his designs, and that it affects what he does. He'd be a (starving) artist and not a designer otherwise. Even artists -- great ones -- consider the bottom line.
* If someone cares only about giving users great solutions, then they must concern themselves with the bottom line impact. Costs to the vendor and to the consumer determine, to a large extent, how many people will use the solution.
* Google and Apple are for-profit businesses not digital art colonies. Returning to my above point, that's how they afford to staff so many designers and develop such advanced designs.
* For example, I suspect Ives' ideal iPhone would cost Apple orders of magnitude more than the iPhone 6. I suspect the ideal Inbox would cost Google far more per user than the deployed design. What constraint determines how much the iPhone 6 and Inbox cost their companies? Maximizing profit.
Could you ship a mobile smartphone today without having, minimally, photo backup, cloud backup services, mapping? No. Are these expected to be growth earnings divisions for the company? No, they may even be expected to lose money. Apple Maps is a pure cost for Apple, and iPhones would have sold whether or not Apple had to use third parties.
The Chrome browser doesn't place ads. It doesn't cost anything to use. However, by ensuring that the web is used by more and more people (by helping to make browsing better), and that Google search is used (and not blocked, by say, Internet Explorer owning the market), the Chrome division at Google indirectly makes money for the company by being a defensive moat, but make no mistake they are a cost that makes no revenue or profit.
Having services that deal with SMS, chat, and email are just the price of entry these days for a computing platform. If you're lucky, you break even on them.
Neither Google nor Apple are in the profit maximizing business. If they wanted to maximize profits, they're a lot more they could be doing. Google could shutdown way way more services than the small spring cleanings they do. The company could cut a ton of its profligate R&D spending and stop hiring at the rapid pace it is, as the company's costs are rising far faster. Google could probably lay off 30% of staff and its services would not be affected, much of the money makers are automated.
These tech companies are not being run like General Motors or Walmart, pushing for ruthless efficiency and profit. They are interested in "big" wins, big upsides, not tiny business lines here and there. Take for example, Google Calendar, you think this is raking in billions in ad revenue or Google Apps revenue? Why do we have it then, since micro-econ 101 would tell you to kill it.
I also work on GWT. Google had a team of 25 people working on that project at one point. It's open source. It makes no money. It never will make any money. And it wasn't even used by Google internally during its first few years. Google has a large team of people working on Angular. They won't make any money on this. Angular is used by many more people in the external community than by consumer-facing products (which use Closure Compiler). Those are real costs, lots of money, on things which benefit the external community and Google Brand more than they benefit quarterly revenues.
The simplistic model to which you think these companies are run, always with an eye on monetizing everything directly, is simply wrong.
First (as I wrote in a comment below), no, he really didn't mean "monetize" when he said "mediate". He's criticizing a trend toward mediated consumption of media at the expense of self-controlled consumption. That in and of itself is a perfectly fine trend to criticize (look at criticisms of Facebook's mediated timeline and Twitter's moves to do the same, or G+ social stream vs my firehose stream in Reader, as specifically called out in the article).
I'm not sure why people are asserting that he's saying otherwise.
> Google can freely evolve into a channel optimized for injecting paid content
> They'e ultimately in the business of finding more subtle and effective ways to deliver ads
Except google doesn't do any of these things now, so if you're argument is that they're moving to do these things, you're going to have to show some kind of evidence.
Plus, you can just disagree with something because it's wrong. Everything need not be a logical fallacy with a Latin name.
If you understand this - you start to understand most of Google's decisions (even if you might not like them).
I'm not accusing Google of anything, but their treatment of Atom/RSS can be likened to Microsoft's old Embrace/Extend/Extinguish strategy. I honestly believe that in some ways it's worse off now than it would've been had Google not got involved. Killing Reader was at worst malicious and at best irresponsible.
1. Kills RSS - forces people to receive updates from people / blogs / companies you want to follow in email.
2. Wow, that inbox is looking pretty messy - we should help clean it up!
3. We made a nifty little app to help keep your inbox clean (and filter out those annoying companies you used to subscribe to via RSS).
4. Our customers like their inboxes clean - so if you're a company and you want to talk to your customer - you better pay for a spot.
RSS + Email were dumb pipes. Google's doing everything in it's power to control those pipes either y eliminating them (RSS) or using their near-monopoly to shift people to a new standard (gmail/inbox). Now, this is all smart on their part, but not necessarily great down the road for consumer or companies.
This smells like the "new coke" argument to me.
Please don't bait other users by inviting them to downmod you.
2. I don't think Google wants to "replace" Gmail but change how we use email. (If the end product will be called Inbox, Gmail or something completely different is not important.) I see Inbox in the same way I saw Wave. As an experiment. The features which work will be merged in one way or another into Gmail. The others don't.
3. Google already changes Gmail. The smart label were just the first step. The aim is, that you don't create filters yourself but that the algorithm does it for you. Inbox is a second step in this direction.
4. One loser in all this are open protocols. Those were never meant for this. So either someone develops a new IMAP or open protocols will disappear. Like with Hangouts and XMPP.
And yes, open protocols are the losers. And users, and everyone else outside of Google, obviously. Proprietary, non compatible, you see what they decide you can see, etc.
So it sounds like the author's post has a point.
> Email is the "dumb pipe" version of communication technology, which is why it remains popular.
Email might be a dumb pipe. Gmail is anything but that.
Data mining personal emails is an advertiser's dream. The second I start sending emails to my spouse about purchasing a house, lo and behold Google can show me an ad for homeowner's insurance. Given correct semantic analysis, it's incredibly persuasive and highly targeted advertising.
It's arguably akin to wiretapping or spying on my text messages - and lest we forget, there was a huge class-action lawsuit against Google that argued just that.
> Carriers resist becoming "dumb pipes" because there's no money in it
There's a boatload of money to be made in email, even as a 'dumb pipe', if you're an advertiser targeting ads at people based on the contents of those e-mails.
Further, and this I could easily be wrong about, isn't the whole American telecom industry the complete antithesis to the argument "there's no money to be made as a dumb pipe"? Even if net neutrality is maintained, I don't see anyone realistically arguing that Comcast will become nigh-unprofitable in the near future.
Maybe there's no money to be made as a newcomer onto the scene, and competition can be fierce at the lower tiers, but Gmail is certainly an established player in the e-mail game.
Consider Uber vs taxis - if there were massive entry costs to the cab / private car category, a company like Uber would have trouble raising enough money to get launched. So the existing cabs wouldn't ever experience the competitive pressure from Uber, because it would never enter the market.
For example give user 100% control, while supplying actions that shortcut what would typically be a long human activity.
As soon as you begin relying on the automagical world without a good set of controls for the user, your users begin to have more questions and concerns about how the sausage is made.
Inbox was probably launched as a separate product because replacing Gmail with this interface could have sparked a mass exodus by users resistant to change. I personally like that I can switch between the two products when I need to do something quickly in an interface I'm already comfortable in.
Gmail isn't going anywhere anytime soon.
However - selling email advertisers prime position for their precious emails and conveniently "bouncing", "hiding", or marking any non-paid emails as "spam" is much, much more lucrative.
He's not arguing that gmail isn't an ad conduit - he's arguing that they're not efficiently monetizing the email sector as best they can (and Inbox is another attempt to improve that).
When people read their mail they are immersed in content they care about. Your ads are the furthest thing from their mind. When people browse news etc., their connection to the content is far more relaxed. When they are searching, they are often happy to see ads if well targeted. Yahoo got as aggressive about mail ads as they did because people were extra blind to ads in Mail.
I know I behave that way: I never click on ads in Gmail, but in Google search results I quite often intentionally look at the ads and sometimes prefer the ads to the organic results.
Mail was seen as a traffic driver, rather than mainly a revenue source: People check their e-mail a lot; and when they're done, or if there are no new messages, they may very well look at other content.
Of course many things change in a decade, but I don't think peoples mail behaviour has changed all that much.
This isn't the point of the article--nothing in it even implies anything about people buying a spot in your inbox--and selling an advertising email slot guaranteed not to fall into the spam folder would be the dumbest move an email provider could possibly make.
We also only have to look as far as the fact that sometimes email from Google themselves gets put in the spam folder to see the likelihood of this coming to pass.
> and selling an advertising email slot guaranteed not to fall into the spam folder would be the dumbest move an email provider could possibly make.
Explain your thinking here?
Except it's not the point. The article points out that it's moving to mediated consumption of email instead of just a good interface on "here's all your email". There's no argument about cash flow in the article, and you'll have to actually demonstrate that they're moving in that monetization direction to assert it.
Meanwhile I'm not sure what a non-hyperbolic version of "buying a spot" would be, so you'll have to specify for me to respond to it.
>> and selling an advertising email slot guaranteed not to fall into the spam folder would be the dumbest move an email provider could possibly make.
> Explain your thinking here?
Google makes money if people choose to use their products. Since so many people already use Google products today, there is some lock in due to convenience (all my email is already in there, I have an Android phone at least until my contract renews, etc), but offering a spam filter that doesn't work as long as someone is willing to pay would be a death blow.
The Promotions tab contains advertising in email, but it's the advertising you signed up for. For some reason this blows people's minds, but people really do sign up for those email updates from businesses to see new products and deals. Having a way to organize those emails is not some sinister new advertising plot by google.
Not to mention that an offer by google to make sure spam bypasses the spam filter for only 1 cent per 1000 messages or whatever is kind of going to get noticed.
(Yet). Google is an ad company. They will.
> the promos folder hides their marketing spam
Would it surprise you that some people actually sign up for newsletters they want to read?
There's no guarantee of that at all.
All these conspiracy theories about Inbox seem to be using overly simplistic black and white reasoning. If Google didn't enrich emails with relevant information that users might eventually find as indispensable as a spam filter, somebody else would and steal their users, given how easy they've made it to move off their service. The jury's still out as to whether Inbox represents such an improvement, but it is obvious to me what its purpose is.
My point is that so far, everything points to Inbox falling on the "get/keep more users" side of the spectrum as opposed to the "increase monetization on existing users" side, similar to how Google Now tries to keep users giving information to Google as opposed to show them ads directly. It may eventually do both, but the former is what the current features target.
I think Google's strategy was to get their ads into people's feeds with services like FeedBurner, but when that didn't go over so well they didn't see much use for Reader.
We already have functional tools to solve the nominal 'my inbox is full' problem.
Spam is a bigger problem - CPU required to scrub it can be significant for a well established email account, and the complexity cost in running this infrastructure yourself pushes everyone to federated commercial services which has become a geopolitical fail equating to zero privacy.
There are people working on this ... I just hope they can succeed. Any of the various projects want to check-in in this thread with status updates?
Way to really go out on that limb.
Being an "algorithm business" isn't necessary or sufficient for the argument being made here. I can't tell if this is a "google wants all the eyeballs" argument or a "if all you have is a hammer" argument, but, either way, it doesn't follow.
Now, can they? It's too complicated for me to say something clearly. They are not the only mail hosting providers and I'm not even sure that gmail is the leading one amongst "common people", that is "your customers". If your customers use email, you will be using email. If you use email, and your colleagues use email then turns out everybody around uses email and your company shall be using email internally too. If your company is using gmail services and gmail shuts down, your admin will be starting your own mail server in a hurry. In that light I would say I'm very much wanting gmail to be shot down, because it means no more excuses to not setting up your own SMTP server.
So I believe Google could gently move some part (maybe even major one) of their users to some service of their own, but if it will be far enough from email, being more like "recommended to you" feed, then people eventually will feel the need in service that could "just deliver that fucking message, goddammit!" and Google will lose niche they are leading at in favor of niche where they will be more like competing with Facebook and, probably, losing.
If email persists then, they will lose ability to read emails of millions of people basically for nothing. So, no, I don't believe they will shut down gmail. Not as long as email exists at all.
It's implied that Google is doing this organization for us not because there's room for innovation and improvement, but because they simply want to insert themselves into our lives anyway they can.
I think it's more likely that Google doesn't want to throw the baby out with the bathwater, they want make a better bath tub. If that reinforces their role as middle man, fine, but it isn't like Inbox is a superfluous solution in search of a problem! And it isn't like Gmail doesn't already have a lot of intelligence and monetization built in to it on top of the basic protocol that make it a business winner for Google anyway.
There is too many people using it for their email which creates unhealthy imbalance, also the shut down would not be as painful since there are plenty of other mail providers. For that reason though they won't do this.
I agree with the authors suggestion regarding that Google does not want any service that acts as "dumb pipe".
It explains what happened to Dejavu (currently Google Groups), or current separation of Google Talk from the rest of XMPP network.
It seems like Google Voice will be next, I am starting to think that they used it for training their voice to text functionality, but since now there are other services such as Google Now/Voice Search they probably no longer need it.
Stop upvoting this link bait rubbish to the frontpage HN.