November 22, 2004

The gig for the Gigabyte

And how GMail might become just another free email provider

GMail, seems to have opened the floodgates for email storage. And while it is still in its beta stage, quite a few other free email providers are threatening to take away the crucial popular advantage that GMail seems to offer.

We will look at the issue in two sections - first we will try to understand the big ado about the 1 GB email service. Then we will look at how this affects GMail.

The Gigabyte fallacy

Ever since GMail came with the email for life offer, everyone seems to be falling head over heels in telling everyone that 1 GB of email space is good, and in other words that we all need 1 GB of email storage. Though 1 GB is good, it is like the offer at your favourite restaurant - "Eat all that you can and pay your usual". The problem with such an offer is this - you just cannot eat any more just because it is available.

Email users are typically of three types - the desktop user, the home user and the kiosk user. These are non standard terms, more of relevance to this article.

The desktop user is a user who does not use the webmail. He has a desktop email client and users a service provider to connect to. We assume that this user is one of the heaviest users of email.

The home user connects to the Internet using a personal/dedicated machine and has an alternative disk storage without having the Internet connectivity enabled. This user uses webmail and typically is a lighter user than the desktop user.

The kiosk user is user who uses a public machine and a public connection. Such a user does not own any disk space and cannot access any data without having a live Internet connectivity.

Lets look at how long it takes each of these users to rake up 1000 MB or 1 GB on their email accounts. We assume that a desktop user typically adds 1 GB every year to the size of his inbox. Taking into account that the usage might not be dedicated and to err on the conservative side, this is about 400 kb every hour. We assume that a home user is half as active in using email and a kiosk is one-fourth as active. This means that a home user takes 4.5 years to rake up a GB while a kiosk user takes 16 years to make 1 GB.

Usage Factor
Hours / week
MB / Week
Weeks to 1 G
Desktop user 1 45 18 55.5 1
Home user 0.5 21 4.2 238 4.6
Kiosk user 0.25 12 1.2 833 16

Assuming a 1:3 split between the Home user and the Kiosk user, we have, on an average 13.2 years for users to hit their 1 GB mark. A lot of things can happen during this time. More importantly this means that the webmail provider only has to increase his inbox size only up to 75 MB per subscriber and need not gear up to 1000 MB anytime in the near future.

In short this means that the Gigabyte is not as huge as it is made out to be. The actual usage of it might be a lot lesser than even these numbers suggest. There is hence little that is actually different in the Gigabyte rush.

However the only thing that will severely affect these numbers is the usage patterns. Unless GMail becomes the next biggest file sharing network things might change. Again, as long as the bottleneck is the network and not storage, things might not change all that much.

Document Changes
November, 22, 2004: First published version.

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