It's hard to believe that it's been a decade since Google first introduced Gmail beta to the world – a task that, at the time, the team behind the product had no clue would fundamentally change how we use email. According to an excellent piece on Time, however, Gmail is really a product that almost wasn't. There were times when the company questioned whether or not to release the product to consumers at all.

Really, that's not much of a surprise. Google was, at that time, just a search company. There was no Android, Google+, Google News, or anything else. There was only Google. That in itself, however, is one of the things that made Gmail great: since it was a search company's product, search was built into the very core of experience (which still remains true to this day). Gmail was a head-first dive into uncharted territory; one that would eventually change everything.


The first public version of Gmail, back in April 2004

The initial version of Gmail was built by one man – Paul Buchheit – and ran entirely off of a server at his desk. Implementing the search tool was actually the first thing he did, and from there he continued to add features. Compared to popular email services at the time – Yahoo and Hotmail – Buchheit knew that he wanted the Gmail experience to be more like a desktop application, such as Outlook. With this motivation, AJAX was born (though it wasn't called that at the time), and thus the platform for all web apps as we know them today.

But Gmail didn't emerge without controversy, mostly due to the fact that the search algorithm did exactly what it does today: read through incoming messages for keywords to intelligently place ads. At the time, this was unheard of, and Google caught a lot of heat for it. There were concerns of privacy and the like, but Google stuck to its position that it was doing nothing wrong. Fast-forward to today, and it's probably safe to assume most users feel the same way, especially considering the majority of ads are delivered in a very similar fashion across the web.

One of the most interesting points (outside of the ad targeting aspect) about Gmail back in 2004 was its incredible storage capacity – every user was offered 1GB of storage, which was an obscene amount at the time. Of course, the storage capacity has gone up as the need for more space has increased over the last decade. Gmail users are now offered 15GB of storage, which stays in line with one of Google's original intentions for Gmail: so users never have to delete anything. And to think, early adopters probably never imagined needing more than that single gigabyte.

Otherwise, while everything has become streamlined and prettier, Gmail fundamentally works the same way it did back in 2004. As many services have been redesigned, re-thought, and re-imagined over the years, Gmail has always been consistent. Sure, it's more robust and packing more features than ever before, but the basic gist is the same. It's a complex product that keeps everything simple and intuitive on the user-facing end.

Really, it just works. And there's no reason to change that.


Cameron Summerson
Cameron is a self-made geek, Android enthusiast, horror movie fanatic, musician, and cyclist. When he's not pounding keys here at AP, you can find him spending time with his wife and kids, plucking away on the 6-string, spinning on the streets, or watching The Texas Chainsaw Massacre on repeat.

  • Fatal1ty_93_RUS

    Happy birthday!

  • ChicagoPete

    Also from 10 years ago - Time writing an excellent article.

  • abqnm

    I remember this. I had to wait about a month to get my beta invitation, but I have been there since.

    Gmail was a dual purpose moniker back at that time as well. Not only did it stand for Google Mail, but it was also a reference to the 1GB of space everyone got.

    • remister

      I remember getting my invitation the shameful way. An internet friend had many invitations and he told me I could get one, if I did one of those internet referral sign up accounts, so he could get credit to get a free iPod.

      • abqnm

        I gave mine away to anyone who asked. I burned through the first ten immediately. I think it took a couple months before I got more, but then they slowly started increasing the number of invitations so it wasn't as big a deal. People were still buying them amongst other things, but not as much.

        • Matthew Fry

          I was one of the last people in my circle to have one- My invitations languished. Didn't it balloon to 99 invitations at one point?

          • abqnm

            It just supported only a 2 digit number of invitations so as the beta went on, it was actually pretty easy to amass 99 invitations.

          • Jalok Xlem

            At the time, I gave my invitations away for some Runescape related loot. Silly at the time, but few years down the road when runescape started to suck. I sold my account for someone's collection of Bionicle comics! ;D

      • Brad

        oof, i remember those scams... I think I still have my original account.....

    • sssgadget

      And the counter which showed increasing space :)

  • jpelgrom

    "There was no (...) Google News" That's not correct, since Google News launched in september 2002 (it's also mentioned in the article as 'inspiration' for Gmail's UI) (edited)

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Cameron Summerson

      I'm referring to when they started work on Gmail, not when it launched.

  • Jalok Xlem

    Getting the beta invite before anyone else was the best thing evah in late 2003 for me! (or was it early 2004? dunno)

    I think Google should reward those members that has been around for 10 years with a free Nexus 6 phone shipped to their door! >:] That would be the best(est) gift ever from Google! It them saying, "Thank you in believing in us since the very beginning, yo!"

    • DoctorRabbitfoot

      Its been 10 years to the day it was released, in beta, to people. So the earliest you could have got an invite was 04/01/2004.

      • Jalok Xlem

        Hm, yeah. It must of been. Because I've registered for a BZPower (LEGO Bionicle Fanbase site) account with that email provider (google) around April or May.

    • Lisandro O Oocks

      you've been rewarded with free services longer ;-P

      • Jalok Xlem

        Well, that is true. Thankfully Google is not charging us for services that we take for granted (though I think Google's search engine sucks now (I use DuckDuckGo :P)). But at least they should give us $100 worth of Google Play moneys!

    • usaff22

      They will reward you by giving you unlimited free Google searches.

      • Matthew Fry

        Hahaha. I've got 25GB so I guess they gifted me 10 more gigs....

        • Jalok Xlem

          You sure it's not because of that Quick Office app promo?

          • Matthew Fry

            Doh! Yeah, you're right.

            Good thing I did it. I'm at 19 already.

          • http://robert.aitchison.org raitchison

            I think the QuickOffice promo space is only for 1 year

          • https://plus.google.com/+TroyLeonard Troy Leonard

            2 years

      • remister

        Getting free searches as been done already, with this:
        OK Google

        • usaff22

          Yep, that's where I got it from lol

    • abqnm

      As long as you haven't disabled POP3, you can see when your account was created. Go to the desktop version of Gmail, go to settings and then the "Forwarding and POP/IMAP" tab. Next to Pop Download, you will see the status and a date. If you haven't disabled this, the date will be your Gmail account creation date.

      • sssgadget

        October 2004!

        • HowsTheHope

          4/3/06. Guess I'm a newb. :)

          • Paul_Werner

            12/21/07 - I was late to the party

      • DrakeTungsten

        Or if you haven't deleted your welcome to gmail message. June '04 for me!

      • http://www.modminecraft.com/ Nick Coad

        I got 2007 and I was thinking whaaat? I was sure I'd been on there longer than that. But then I realised I was looking at a second email account - went to my original one and: 7/3/04

        I remember trying to explain to people just dump bloody Hotmail already! And no one would listen. I had invites and no one who was interested.

    • James

      The "best thing evah" was an invite to join a beta email service. You must be a sad man.

  • h4rr4r

    If only we could have the old interface back.

  • Anthony

    i wish there was a way to tell how long you have been using gmail. i know i was 2004-2005 but back then i deleted mail but in late 2006 i stopped. if there is a way to check this stat that would be awesome.

    • Taylor

      Do you have G+?

      • Anthony


        • Taylor

          Go to Google Takeout, click on create an archive, click transfer circles to different account... You'll see a screen that says when you created your account and when your last login.

          • Anthony

            thank you very much. now i know my memory is CRAP haha. oct 17 2006 was the date of creation.

          • Taylor

            Hahaha no problem. Some said that could be inaccurate. Maybe you had another Gmail account before!

          • Taylor

            Hahaha no problem. Some said that could be inaccurate. Maybe you had another Gmail account before!

          • Anthony

            thank you very much. now i know my memory is CRAP haha. oct 17 2006 was the date of creation.

          • Nick

            Nice. June 26th, 2004. Didn't realize I got in on it that early.

          • Taylor00

            Sep 5, 2005!

    • Matthew Fry

      I know you already figured it out but you can go to the All Mail category and look at the date on the Gmail Team welcome email.

  • Matthew Fry

    Here's a fun game! Let's post the date of and the first non-google email we sent/received.

    11/16/2004 - Talking to my stepmom about my father's 60th birthday party.

    • Sarah Login

      The oldest email I still have on my account is from 2011 and that is an e-mail from Qantas Airline confirming a flight.

      I usually go through every year and clean it out.

    • http://www.standupforkids.org blackroseMD1

      10/14/2004 talking to a girl I met while I was on tour on the Warped Tour.

    • Joseba Mendivil

      7/11/04 - registration email from skype

  • Chris

    It's truly amazing what Google has done. Gmail created the platform that Google stands on; creating premium services while maintaining QoS - for free.

    I remember how special I felt that I had an email that stored more then 100MB. I love how Google is constantly setting the bar.

    • Sarah Login

      I remember how happy I was when one of my friends got an invite to gmail beta. Back then you were limited to inviting 10 people to use the service. We got around that by inviting 9 friends and then using the 10th invite for a dummy account that gave another 10 invites.

      I was one of the most popular kids in my school for a couple weeks as I must have handed out 300+ invites.

  • Taylor

    My brother invited me, I don't remember if it was in 04 or 05. Been using Gmail ever since.

  • Josh

    I remember that day, people thought it was an April Fool's joke at first

  • Milton

    I used it to recieve my junk mail only, then google invited me to use g+, and I said "no thanks", then google made youtube comments only possible through g+, and I closed my google account, f**k you google and your f***ing g+ crap, snoop on someone else

    • Guest

      I guess that Google didn't return your stapler.

      • Milton


    • Taylor00

      God, it would suck major balls to be you.

      • Milton

        Go eat a toilet please

  • joseph barrientos

    my favorite is that everyone thought that this was an aprils fools joke! CNN, USA today, motley fool, all reaping their words!

  • nomad

    It's hard to believe it got so bloated and complicated since then.

  • whispy_snippet

    I still wish the reply box was above the last email in a conversation... not at the bottom of the page. But other than this, Gmail is superb.

  • spunker88

    Yahoo offered a whopping 4MB for free until Gmail came around, you pretty much had to delete stuff after you read it. Moving to Gmail (by invite only back then) and never having to delete anything was pretty awesome.

  • Leonardo Baez
    • Iwan

      i don't think sharing your email address in the internet is a good idea, man.

  • ANex

    I still remember asking my sister for Gmail invitation. And on G+ launch I asked my friend.
    Why am I not the first to get an account? :(

  • eth

    Gmail changed everything? Eh, what?

    Yes, thanks for putting ads in my inbox Google. What would I have done without them.

  • Thomas Cai Jinzhan

    Email...LOL...where's google wave when you need it?