Gmail is a product that started out as an April Fool's joke

Google is one of the many companies participating in April Fools' Day celebrations each year. However, the best prank was not a prank. It was called Gmail.

Google announced Gmail on April 1, 2004.

gmail, google, April Fools' Day iguru

Email web applications were of course not a new idea in 2004. Hotmail and Yahoo Mail were extremely popular. Paul Buchheit was then a Google developer working on the Google Teams project. So he was asked to create a service - a new e-mail product.

The first version of Buchheit Gmail was created in one day based on code by the Google Teams project. The goal was to create a web-based email service that would not be written in plain HTML, like competing Hotmail and Yahoo Mail services. Each action required the server to reload the page, which was quite slow. Buchheit bypassed the use of HTML using JavaScript.

Gmail has been around Google for a while and in early 2004 it was used by most people within the company. Gmail was finally released to the public on April 1, 2004. Google then stated that Gmail was in beta. In fact, the logo was the word beta.

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gmail logo evolution

Of course, some people thought that the announcement was an April Fool's joke. At that time, Google was known only for its web searches and, of course, its ads. An email service was far removed from the company's scope. But they soon realized that it was a real product.

gmail 2004
Wikipedia / Jason Shellen

When Google announced Gmail did not allow anyone to sign up. It did not have the infrastructure to run Gmail with a large number of users. Gmail was then running on three hundred old Pentium III computers.

But to get started, Google invited 1.000 members of the media and other tech celebrities to try it out and invite their friends or family. These invitations became popular as Gmail spread around giving 1 GB of free storage, which was unthinkable at the time.

In late April 2004, Google extended invitations to active users on its Blogger platform. The invitations were so popular that some people sold them on the Internet. The invitations were circulating until February 2007.

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However, the "beta" tag remained there. Gmail beta has become a joke. It was in beta from the beginning in 2004 and remained in beta for five years, until July 2009. Of course then Gmail was already very popular and did not look like a "beta" product at all.

1 GB of free storage was an incredible feature considering that Hotmail, Yahoo Mail and other web email services then offered from 2 to 4MB.

Google increased its free storage to 2 GB in April 2005. Free storage has continued to grow since then, reaching 15 GB of free storage today. Competitors were forced to keep up.

What started as an April Fool's joke has become one of the most successful products of all time. As of 2019, there are 1,5 billion active Gmail users worldwide.

You can see the incredible rise of Gmail in the video below.

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