The webmail war is on, it seems

In case you haven’t noticed, the webmail war seems to be on. Via various strategies the big guys (mainly Microsoft and Google) are battling it out right now for your online webmail choice of GMail vs Hotmail. Be it advertisements, new features or boasting figures: the war is on. This post is meant as an insight webmail update to the current state of online email providers.
First of all, why would there be a webmail ‘war’? Is it even appropriate to call it that? Let’s have a look at official (and not so official) advertisement videos by both companies recently.
Here’s Googles promotional campaign of GMail called ‘Email Intervention”. The tagline: ‘save your friends from outdated email’. The video:

The above video was posted 22nd of July. Remember that date. Now it could be just me, but this seems a straight stab at webmail providers lagging behind, mostly AOL and Yahoo but also Microsoft. GMail has been bouncing around various features maturing in GMail Labs, including stuff like YouTube preview & play within an email, many interface spice ups and Smart labels. However, Microsoft now supports HTML5 video as well as having no trouble doing much of the regular html and css stuff (like css classes, which GMail still lacks).
Also, Microsoft knows how to strike back. Here’s a video called ‘Gmail man’ promoting Microsoft’s Office 365 (not Hotmail, mind you) while mocking GMail’s ad system based on email content. It was shown to the attendees at Microsoft’s annual Global Exchange sales conference earlier this month, notes CNet. Date of posting on YouTube: 28th of July, just 6 days after the Email Intervention campaign start:

Now to get back to the question: why do I feel like a webmail war going on? First of all, the numbers speak, for the bigger part in favor of Google (so far). If you have over a billion users like Google, chances are they will want to use your webmail service like all the other products they are already using like Search, Maps, etc. Secondly, if you buy an Android powered phone, you will eventually have to have a GMail/Google account: bam, new email address. And there are over half a million Android devices activated every day!
Social baby!
Furthermore, lets talk social networks. Everyone’s got to have one or you’ll be the laughing stock of the golf club during the next champagne breakfast. So both Google and Microsoft have one. Google since the 28th of June, and Microsoft’s network… hasn’t launched yet. They couldn’t help but leak something two weeks after the Google+ launch though: see the info on Tulalip here on TechCrunch.
What do social networks have to do with webmail? Simple: without webmail (and email in general) those networks would lose tons of traffic. People are drawn in because of notification emails about updates, friend requests and event alerts. Without those, what would be the point of ‘going’ to a social network if you don’t know what (if anything) is happening? is currently one of the biggest email sending domains worldwide with billions of emails being sent each month!
Traffic is money in the online world, it’s that simple. Lose 10% of your traffic, lose 10% of your revenue. But the big guys want a piece of the traffic pie too: their webmail services can boost ad clicks and other ‘promotions’ too. Let’s put numbers to that traffic. At the request of Mark Brownlow, Mailchimp’s Ben Chestnut recently posted emails sent to subscriber numbers for Hotmail, GMail and other webmail services on their blog. These are the main figures from July 2011:

July 2011 59,124,900 20,966,657 249,286,991 250,853,114 238,816,082

What do these numbers tell us? Just like Ben notes, it is that GMail has been playing catch up to Hotmail. Don’t forget that Hotmail has nearly twice the amount of total accounts as GMail, but still just only bigger than GMail in terms of ‘active’ addresses. On the usefulness of the data:

I have no idea if the stats are representative of the rest of the industry, to be honest. Stats are usually very suspicious to me, unless there’s an extremely large sample size. In this case, it was several billion outgoing email addresses we tabulated, so I think there’s something useful in there somewhere.

As long as we can’t get any bigger sample size, we are fine with 2 billion sent per month.
Winning, how? And who?
The war is on for dominance on quite some platforms right now, and the stakes are high. The winner will either get a very big slice of the pie, or even put competitors out of business. On the technology front, Microsoft’s Windows Live Hotmail (which is the official name) seems to be winning with the recent HTML5 video support addition and beefed up security features. However, Google isn’t sitting idly playing with Google+. It knows that even though it’s not making a lot of money off GMail (a guesstimate) it’s still a prime service with which a company can win over users. Win the users and win them for more services than just webmail. That’s where the money is (search, ads) so Google will want more people there. In the above numbers from MailChimp they seem to be winning in the active GMail accounts department, and that’s an important factor in my book.
Power to the people
Also, the users (you!) and hopefully marketers will win too: with the recent progress in webmail technology we finally get to have cool stuff in our inboxes, like playing YouTube videos right away without having to leave the inbox, or searching from within an email. Keep those nifty features coming guys!
Did I mention that both companies have browsers too, called Internet Explorer and Chrome? That’s for a future post…

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