Remember when all messages had to be sent through snail mail? It’s so 20th century. Welcome to the 21st century. The digital world. The world of email. In today’s web, its rare to have an internet user not have an email address, especially when there are many services that offer email accounts completely free of charge.
First Class Flyer is a weekly series published every Friday comparing at least two software or web products and services. This week, we’re looking at the 4 most popular free email services, Gmail (Google Mail), Yahoo! Mail, Windows Live Hotmail, and AOL Mail.
Gmail is the newest of the four, created on April 1, 2004 (originally believed to be an April Fools joke because of the incredibly large 1 GB of storage space provided compared to existing services), and is Google’s free email service and comes with a Google Account to access other Google products and services. Google Accounts also function as an OpenID.
Windows Live Hotmail is Microsoft’s free email service and comes with a Windows Live ID account to use on other Microsoft services.
Round 1: Storage Space
Yahoo! Mail and AOL Mail both provide unlimited storage space.
Windows Live Hotmail provide a 5 GB ever growing inbox, meaning the base amount if 5 GB but should the account ever need more, the space limit will automatically grow given that it is done at a reasonable rate, making it technically unlimited.
Gmail provides ever growing storage space. As of now, it is increasing at 0.000004 MB per second and currently has 7430 MB at the time of writing. Additional storage space can be purchased.
Round 2: Interface
All 4 services use Ajax for the interface so the entire page does not have to reload when an internal link is clicked. All 4 allows for dragging and dropping messages into folders.
Gmail provides a simple and clean interface with a large collection of colorful themes (static and location dynamic). Links and the integrated Google Talk contacts list sit in the sidebar with a large search bar on top.
Hotmail also provides a simple and clean interface with many themes to choose from.
Yahoo! Mail tries to look like a desktop email client with email tabs.
AOL/AIM Mail looks similar to the first two along with having many service icons on the sidebar.
Of the four, Yahoo!’s interface feels the most cluttered, however it also has the most unique interface of them all. Gmail has the cleanest and easiest to use interface.
All four provide an integrated chat with their respective services. Gmail chat windows pop up as floating windows on the bottom of the screen and can all be collapsed. Hotmail chat windows pop up as a new window. Yahoo! chat windows open as a new ‘tab’. AOL/AIM Chat Windows open as floating windows that can be placed anywhere on the screen.
For providing the cleanest interface, Gmail takes this round with a perfect 5.
Gmail: 5 (8 total)
Hotmail: 4 (8.5 total)
Yahoo!: 4.5 (9.5 total)
AOL: 4 (9 total)
Round 3: Features
Because of the wide range of features, scoring in this round will be similar to scoring in our regular bonus rounds.
Ever received a mail that goes on for many replies. I have had a few that went on for over 1000 replies among 20 recipients. In regular inboxes, that means 1000 individual messages. In Gmail, that means 10. Gmail groups conversations into threads (up to 100 per message) so they’re easier to manage and read. No other service offers this and its a feature that I love and I’m sure many others do too.
Gmail: 4 (12 total)
Right Click Menu
Need to quickly apply some action to an email without having to check it and choose an option from buttons somewhere? The answer is using the right click context menu. Except for Gmail, these email services provide a special right click menu to apply actions like ‘Mark as Read’ and ‘Report as Spam’.
Hotmail: 2 (10.5 total)
Yahoo!: 2 (11.5 total)
AOL: 2 (11 total)
Ever had an interesting conversation with someone and accidentally closed the window and lost everything? With Gmail chat logging, every chat is logged to your Gmail account in the Chats folder. Individual chats can be set to ‘Go off the record’, meaning they won’t be logged.
All conversations over the Google Talk network that are connected using a Gmail account are logged.
Gmail: 2 (14 total)
Today News Dashboard
Except for Gmail, these services show recent news articles when the user first signs in. The only problem with this is that users typically log into their inbox to check their mail rather than the weather and recent news.
Hotmail: 1 (11.5 total)
Yahoo!: 1 (12.5 total)
AOL Mail: 1 (12 total)
With Gmail, the first thing the user sees is the inbox. It features web clips (feeds) on top of the inbox. However, the web clips area also shows sponsored links (text ads). Web clips can easily be disabled.
Gmail: 1 (15 total)
Add Extra Features
Gmail offers Gmail Labs, which activates pre-release features to Gmail, such as extra emoticons in emails, easy image insertion into emails, additional stars, and much more. These features integrate seamlessly into Gmail.
Gmail: 3 (18 total)
Yahoo! offers an application gallery to add additional apps. However, I noticed that many of these apps don’t open directly inside Yahoo! Mail, but rather a new web page. Some apps, like Picnik, open in a new mail tab.
Yahoo: 2 (14.5 total)
AIM offers plugins to the inbox sidebar which allows for extra functionality such as seamless AIM Chat, weather updates, news, and more.
These extra plugins add seamless features, but unlike Gmail Labs, does not add features to the emails itself.
AOL: 2.5 (14.5 total)
Let’s tally up the score so far.
Gmail is in the lead with 18 points. Yahoo! and AOL are tied for second place with 14.5 points. Hotmail lags behind with 11.5 points.
Round 4: I Want Real Mail, not Spam!
How effective is the spam filter of each? I conducted an experiment where I created one junk account with each service and signed each email up for the same random spam/scam ‘surveys’ and ‘special offers’. After slightly less than one month (3o days), here is what each inbox had in them:
Spam Filtered: 75
Spam Filtered: 15
Spam Filtered: 155
Spam Filtered: 25
A possible explanation of wide variations in total messages received could be because the services may block certain emails before they even reach your inbox. This may greatly alter the filtered percentage as the emails that were blocked entirely would have been filtered.
Based on these test results, Yahoo! and AOL both received a very large number of spam emails compared to Gmail and Hotmail. Hotmail received a relatively low amount.
Gmail: 5 (23 total)
Hotmail: 2 (13.5 total)
Yahoo!: 2.5 (17 total)
AOL: 1 (15.5 total)
You know what time it is… It’s time for…
Advertisements Here and There
How do these companies make revenue from free email services? Ads of course.
Gmail only displays contextually relevant text ads when viewing an email. These ads are selected by having an automated bot quickly scan your email message and finding ads related to it. The scanning technology is the same as that of spam detection methods.
Hotmail displays a large banner ad on the sidebar. In addition, outgoing emails have a tagline ad in the signature. Yes, ads in the actual email.
Yahoo! displays a large square ad on the welcome page as well as a large banner ad on the sidebar. There are also ads in the actual outgoing emails in the signature.
AOL displays a large banner ad on the top.
Gmail: - 1 bonus point (22 total)
Hotmail: - 3 bonus points (10.5 total)
Yahoo!: - 3 points points (14 total)
AOL: - 1 bonus point (14.5 total)
Pro Feature Only?
Gmail, Hotmail, and AOL offer features like auto forwarding, unlimited filters, and POP and IMAP Access for free. With Yahoo!, a subscription to Yahoo! Mail Plus is required, which comes with the price tag of $19.99 USD a year.
Yahoo!: - 2 bonus points (12 total)
And with 22 points, our winner is…
Do you use free web based email services? Do you prefer Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo!, AOL, or another email provider? Vote in the poll below and leave your thoughts in the comments.
That concludes this edition of First Class Flyer. Be sure to join us next Friday. Have a great weekend!