Google says it will dramatically ramp up the storage available with its Gmail Web-based e-mail service, raising the bar for rivals in the sharply competitive business for the second time in a year.
The Mountain View, Calif.-based Web giant on Friday plans to double the free storage on Gmail from 1GB to 2GB, said Georges Harik, Gmail product management director. After that, Google will add a yet-to-be-determined amount of extra storage daily, with no plans to stop.
The move highlights the seemingly inexhaustible storage needs of a small group of heavy e-mail users, and the sharply falling costs of online storage. Lifting predefined storage caps for Web-based e-mail could have broader ripple effects, Harik said, changing the way people think about quotas from something that is set in advance to something that grows with the user.
"We wanted to make sure we have a plan in place for when people reach their storage limit," he explained. "We don't want people to worry that they might run out."
Google first broke the e-mail mold on April 1, 2004, with an announcement so bizarre that many assumed it was an April Fools' Day joke. Gmail's 1GB of free storage at the time was widely thought to exceed the lifetime needs of most e-mail users. By contrast, rivals such as Yahoo and Microsoft offered about 10MB of storage, seeking to charge customers who wanted more.
A slew of imitators scrambled to match and even exceed Google's free 1GB storage offer, transforming the Web-based e-mail business.
In addition to its gargantuan storage capacity, Gmail distinguished itself from rivals by scanning the text of e-mail messages to serve up contextual advertisements--a plan that raised a short-lived furor over potential privacy violations.
In the first year of service, Gmail defied expectations, Harik said. The privacy concerns have amounted to little or nothing, he said, but the storage capacity became a pressing concern when some heavy Gmail users came close to using up their preset limit.
"One gigabyte did seem like a lot, but it turns out there are a lot of heavy users of mail," he said. "They send attachments, share photos. It all adds up." He said Google discourages customers from using Gmail as a vast storage locker for music and video files. He said Google does not disclose the storage patterns of its users, but said a small but not insignificant number of users were close to exceeding the 1GB limit.
Gmail will remain in a beta, or public test phase, for now, Harik added, putting to rest rumors that the closely watched service might be released officially in the near future. He said plans for new features could hold back an official release but gave no timeline.