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Gmail is no joke

Google's decision to begin testing an advertising-supported Web-based free e-mail service this week was so far out of character for the search engine giant that many people at first believed that the announcement was an April Fool's Day hoax.

Google representatives downplayed the strategic significance of the move, painting its new Gmail service as a search-based e-mail application that offers a natural extension to the company's primary focus on organizing information. Nevertheless, analysts said Gmail likely heralds a broad expansion of the company's business and a gives it clear shot across the bows of Google rivals Yahoo and Microsoft.

Though Google has not yet made accounts available to the media, a description on its Web site points to a completely new way of accessing and organizing e-mail. The service will rely on search technology to automatically organize and find messages, removing the need for file folders. By typing in a search query, Gmail can scout out any message sent to or received by the user in its archive, showing entire strings of e-mail conversations related to the query, according to the site. Google said the storage allotment means that people will never have to delete messages.

But Gmail carries substantial risks, analysts said, most notably closer scrutiny from privacy advocates uncomfortable with the company's plan to scan the content of e-mail messages in order to serve up targeted ads--a feature that some critics said clashed with the company's long-held business mantra: "Do no evil."

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News source: C|Net

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