By Cynthia L. Webb washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Friday, May 21, 2004; 9:31 AM
Proof positive that scarcity prompts inflation. No, this isn't about the global oil shortage and the resulting $2+ per gallon gas prices. This is about Google's smart, and perhaps unintended, strategy for creating a lot of hype about its soon-to-be-launched e-mail service.
The search-engine giant's decision to invite only a select few people to test Gmail has spawned a feeding frenzy on the Internet, with people lining up to pony up cash and trade trinkets and services to get a coveted gmail.com address.
It's the old supply and demand lesson from Econ 101 being played out on the Internet right now. Many Gmail account hopefuls are turning to Internet auction site eBay to buy a Gmail account. And then there's the new Gmail account-swapping site -- gmailswap.com, where visitors offer up some pretty creative (and often weird) things they would trade to get an account. Among the items offered: A soprano who will sing in exchange for a Gmail address, and another offers a batch of homemade spaghetti sauce, shipped in dry ice.
Bloggers, a number of whom received invitations to test out the Gmail service, are hoping to cash in on the craze too. Case and point: Brad Fallon has offered up his account for a trade, writing in a posting: "Interestingly, not all the offers are rated G. So far, the leading contender for one of my Gmail invites is a guy who'll make a custom cartoon with me in it. Not sure what I'd do with it, but pretty cool."
The creator of gmailswap.com, Sean Michaels, explained what all the fuss is about in a posting on his site (which is not sanctioned by Google): "For lots of people, there's no rush; they're happy with their email service. Some of us, however, are over-eager for Gmail's ease and elegance. Furthermore, we want to snag a good email address before the barbarians make it through the gates. Why settle for email@example.com when you could sneak in early and nab firstname.lastname@example.org?"
Michaels had this to say to Wired, which reported on the Gmail trading trend yesterday: "For weeks, I had been hearing people complain about their desperate need for Gmail, and I thought it was silly -- and a little sad -- there was no recourse other than eBay. It 'came out of my firm belief that nice people were out there somewhere, ready to answer the pleas of the masses, but that there simply wasn't a conduit for the two groups to get in touch.'"
Wired explained more about why the Gmail accounts are so coveted: "You have to have an invitation from Google employees or associates to open a test account. People are clamoring for the accounts because of Google's image as a young, hip, progressive company." In the same article, gmailswap.com's Michaels addressed the privacy issue: "I think the privacy concerns are overblown, really, and I think most people agree. As commercial e-mail services go, Gmail's extremely benign, and unless you're scared about evil e-mail-scanning robots, there's not much to worry about."
Wired: My Left Arm For A Gmail Account
More on Gmail swap from USA Today: "Some 20,000 technophiles have posted on Sean Michaels' gmailswap.com Web site, begging those with access to let them in ... 'They want to prove their Internet credibility by getting in before anyone else and nabbing a good account name,' says Michaels, 22, a recent graduate of McGill College in Montreal." One lucky swap winner is Seattle photographer Mark "Sparky" Toews, who traded a photo session for a Gmail invite, USA Today said. "There's a lot of 'I have this and you don't' mentality," Toews said. "But there's also Google's ability to combine technology in an elegant way."
USA Today: Net Aficionados Grovel To Test Google's E-mail
"For something that will eventually cost nothing -- Google has not announced when the service will be available to the public -- people are willing to trade all sorts of things for the right to snag a choice e-mail identity," The Washington Post said in its Gmail piece. "Tech companies frequently roll out new products with limited releases of test or 'beta' versions to identify and fix glitches before a major release. ... Early e-mail invitations to try the service were extended to digerati, journalists and friends of Google employees. New account holders occasionally get to invite their own friends to the service, though usually in limited numbers. Some think this looks more like a sly promotional effort by the popular search engine company than a bug test, however.
"'It is a very savvy marketing plan to build up interest,' said Andy Beal, vice president of Websourced Inc., a search engine marketing firm. By controlling the influx of new users and building up anticipation for the service, Beal figures Google is stacking the odds to help make sure people will sign up for the service if they receive one of the coveted invitations. Newcomers in the e-mail arena typically have a tough time attracting new users, since that requires getting people to switch from accounts they're used to."
The Washington Post: Search Is On For Gmail Names