It feels like April Fool's Day at Google. Like, really.
Last night, the search engine said it's kicking its competitive stance up a notch, announcing it will test free email. Scratch that -- Gmail. The story, which has since been widely covered by news agencies including The Wall Street Journal and TheNew York Times, broke before midnight last night -- but, folks, it is April 1, a day of merriment (and scrutiny).
As we all know, Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO ) and Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) may be trying to nip at Google's heels in search, but they do offer several services Google doesn't, one of which is, notably, free email.
While Yahoo!'s service and Microsoft's Hotmail offer four and two megabytes of storage each, with additional charges for extra storage, Google said in its very amusing press announcement that its grandiose plan includes a gigabyte (read: massive amount) of storage space, which it supposedly plans to fund with advertising. It will also add stepped-up search capabilities and targeted advertising to Gmail users.
Even if it's just a prank, it underlines something that is dead serious: the competition between these Internet companies. If it's not a joke, it underlines the fact that email is one of the most popular Internet activities out there, and it goes a long way to create a cache of loyal users.
Free email from Google, especially with a large amount of storage, certainly could spell trouble for Yahoo! and Hotmail's market share. After all, in addition to advertising, Yahoo! hopes to funnel visitors into premium-paying users through services like free email.
Regardless, it's a brilliant bid for attention and in keeping with Google's sense of fun. (Heck, how long has it been since Hotmail, Yahoo!, or Time Warner's (NYSE: TWX ) America Online was this entertaining?) It also could go a long way in seeing if offering email could be viable for Google. Will you, too, soon be able to Google your Gmail? Personally, I can't wait to see what tomorrow brings.
Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any companies mentioned. She'd ditch her free Yahoo! account for a gigabyte of storage space.