It’s interesting to look at the status symbols of society — such as it is — and to see what is “all the rage”. At the moment, this seems to be accounts on Google’s Gmail service — at least online. This service is actually one of the best-sounding opportunities in free e-mail anywhere — minimal advertising, and even when there is advertising, it tries to be related to the messages you read and the content of e-mails.
Now, to offset the people who are saying this is an invasion of privacy: quite frankly, bullshit. By that logic, virus scanners or spam filters are an invasion of privacy. Oh, but we’d hate to have our privacy invaded in order to stop our computers from crashing, wouldn’t we? In my eyes, this is no different than Hotmail doing virus scanning or spam filtering, and that could be argued to be a violation of privacy as well, since it also scans the body of messages. We don’t hear about Microsoft being sued (at least, not on that issue).
Anyway, back to the point. Gmail accounts are, at this point, very much a status symbol — Google has been somewhat secretive about it, and those who use it could almost be concieved as an elite cadre. When Google opens the service to the public, it would be interesting to see if they keep the current system of requiring people to be allowed in via referral from another member. This would greatly reduce the chances of spammers being able to use legitimate accounts on the system to send out e-mail. They can still spoof, but there is an implicit trust relationship in relying on a referral sign-up system. LiveJournal used this kind of a system for a while, but switched off of it. It doesn’t perpetuate very fast, and to become a member, you have to know someone who is already a member. But once the number of users gets high enough, this isn’t really an issue.
The question that comes to my mind is what can be said of this group of beta testers. Are they simply beta testers, or the first ones in the door for what is quite possibly one of the biggest service launches in the history of the Internet? Do they report bugs, or are they somehow assuring that this service takes off? Being secretive while still allowing people in has this sense of enticing people into the middle of a mystery novel. You can’t really be sure where the story has been; all you can be sure of is that you’re a part of where it’s going. Of course, sooner or later the glitter will wear off and Gmail will simply be another free e-mail service, but until then, it’s a badge of social status. Let’s see what happens.