Gmail lets even strangers email you now


Google introduced a new feature a few hours ago as per the official Gmail blog, where in anybody on Google+ can technically reach you on your Gmail ID. This feature will be rolled out to all global Gmail users over the next couple of days.

It works as follows:

  • Remember the tabbed email feature Gmail introduced a few months ago, where in all mails will be classified into tabs based on the user’s preference? Primary to receive mails from your contacts, Social to receive mails from your social presence and Promotions to receive sales and promotion offers. Users can create new tabs too. This tabbed interface is the key to this new feature introduced today
  • When you start typing any person’s name in Compose, Gmail now shows matching names from your address book first, and then matching names from your Google+ circles. So simply choose a person from your Google+ circles and send a mail!
  • However, if a mail is sent by A to B and A is NOT in B’s circles, then the recipient B has to approve it before receiving further mail from the sender A
  • Further, if B is A’s circles, then A’s mail via Google+ will now land in the “Primary” tab. If not, it will be filtered into the “Social” tab
  • Lastly, as a recipient one can go to Gmail settings to allow or prevent others from sending mails. Go to Settings -> General -> Email via Google+ -> Choose your privacy setting.

Why did Google bring this feature?

Online businesses are quite simply about hogging eyeballs. In other words, the business that gets more people to spend more time wins. Till about 2008-09, Google was a dominant force in this aspect, with its search engine and later Gmail gaining humongous traffic and time spent. However, with the rise of social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest, the time spent on Google properties decreased. Further, there was a rise in niche, vertical services such as Yelp for restaurant listings and reviews and so on.

Starting 2011, Google has been working towards winning back user time spent and engagement levels:

  • Google+ was launched with much fanfare but received lukewarm response
  • Google+ contact updates were automatically picked up and updated in your Gmail address book
  • Google+ was more deeply linked to the search algorithm to ensure that brands spent building followers on Google+, just like they did on Facebook
  • Gmail introduced tabbed email interface to control the flow of emails
  • Recently, Google made it mandatory to use a Google+ account to leave comments on YouTube, thus forcing YouTube users and their followers to adopt it more directly
  • Now the ability to send mails to strangers or acquaintances got that much easier

All of this tighter integration of its products is a step in the direction of retaining users and their valuable time.


Our View

  • Facebook has seriously stumbled its way through its privacy settings, creating uproar time and again. This has encouraged a large portion of the user base not to update their real information such as phone number, city, home address etc. However, Google has an edge in this matter given that Gmail is widely used and people are comfortable updating this information since it is a utility and not a social sharing platform
  • It is a well-known business tactic – whoever controls data flow controls the money. So when Gmail introduced the tabbed feature in its mail box, it was clear that it had a play down the road. Sure enough, now Google+ users can contact you. The next step is foreseeable. Just like LinkedIn charges users for its InMail and Facebook charges its users to send a private message to other members and end up in the “Other” tab of messages, Gmail can introduce a paid feature to contact people you would otherwise not be able to
  • The only certain thing in this turf war for user data and user time is that we as users, are giving up more and more of our data to one big service or the other, on a daily basis. It certainly is food for thought