Nearly three years after Gmail was first released, the free Web-based e-mail from Google is being opened up for anyone in the world. Beginning Wednesday, everyone and their mother can sign up instead of having to get an invite from a Gmail-using friend. Google has been phasing out the invitation restriction geographically, with total general availability offered in Europe last week and in North America, South America and Asia this week. The service is still in beta test mode, however.
Many people thought Google's ad-based searchable e-mail service with an unheard-of gigabyte of free storage was an April Fools' Day joke when it was announced on April 1, 2004. Privacy advocates and others objected to Google serving up ads based on the content of the messages. Making Gmail accounts available only by invitation, and thus a scarce commodity, increased their allure and led to auctions of invites on eBay. Later, rival Web-based e-mail services followed with full search functions, vast amounts of storage and ads.