Month of Microsoft: Gmail v. Hotmail

My good friend Barbara Darrow of GigaOm just posted an awesome rant about Gmail and other Google apps. (“Hey, new-and-improved Google, please fix your apps.”) This was prompted by a Marissa Mayer appearance where she said Larry Page is really focused on products and users, and really wants to streamline everything at Google. (Have you noticed lately, with Page’s one-year anniversary as CEO approaching, the way the people around him are out beating the drums about what a great CEO he’s been, and all the big changes he’s making, and how it feels like a brand new place, and everyone is so excited, etc.? I’m waiting to see which publication gets the big Larry interview for the anniversary. I know it’s not us. We tried, but Larry’s PR person wouldn’t even meet me for coffee. Oh well.)

Anyway, here is Barb’s money quote:

So what explains the nightmare that is GMail? And, to put it gently, Microsoft Word doesn’t have that much to fear from Google Docs. (This is coming from someone who is not enamored of Office’s bloated feature set.)

I don’t hate Gmail as much as Barb does, but I can tell you this. A few weeks of using Hotmail has been a really good experience. It feels cleaner and less cluttered and just all around like a nicer experience. And, no creepy ads that somehow know what’s in your email and start trying to match it. Want to have fun? Start exchanging email with a friend and talk about hemorrhoids, or sex toys, or the new Patagonia Primo jacket, and then see what happens.

Yes, I realize it’s just a computer that’s “reading” my email. It still feels creepy. The problem is that even if it’s just a computer doing it, it makes you aware that your email isn’t really private, and that no doubt if some human inside Google wanted to read my email, they could. And yes, I know that this is always the case, with every mail system. And so, in a twisted way, maybe Google is doing us a favor by constantly reminding us that nothing we send over email is truly private. I think somehow I’d rather live with the illusion that the only people reading my email messages are the people to whom I’m sending them.

And frankly it kind of bugs me that someone is trying to “monetize” my email. And, it’s pointless, because whatever I’m writing about in an email, I’m never writing that email hoping that somehow a computer will spot something in my message and deliver me an ad. I’m not writing email as part of a shopping expedition.

That said, the one problem with using a or address is the stigma of having a or email address. It marks you as a dork. All the cool kids are on Gmail. It’s not as bad as having an AOL address, but almost.

The other problem is that since Hotmail and have been around so long, all the good names are taken. So, for example, I was unable to get danlyons, dlyons, dan.lyons or dan_lyons and instead had to create a name with a number at the end.

Here’s an idea: Someone (like Microsoft) could create a brand new email system where we could all start fresh and choose good names. And make it cool, somehow.

And Google could keep talking about focus and streamlining and user experience, and they can keep saying that they’re going to fix Gmail and fix their apps and make their products nicer looking and easier to use. But I don’t think they’ll ever get there. It’s not in their DNA. It’s just not.

And for all the talk about less clutter, a lot of what they’ve done recently (Search Plus Your World, smearing Google+ across everything) has made things more clusterfucky, not less. And what genius at Google came up with a product name that reduces to an acronym (SPYW) with the word “spy” in it?

The fact is, Google is starting to become Microsoft: the gang that couldn’t shoot straight, and always seems to be acting to its own advantage rather than to the advantage of its customers.

Which means Microsoft has the opportunity to go be someone else. I hope they take it.