Gmail: we are focussing on features not user numbers

Todd Jackson at SXSWi
Gmail's Todd Jackson: "focus on usage not users"

Since launch, Gmail has grown to become the third largest web mail service in the US, and while Google wants to see usage grow, it is more focussed on bringing new features to existing users.

In an exclusive interview with TechRadar at South by South West Interactive (SXSWi), Todd Jackson, Product Manager for Gmail and Google Buzz, explained why.

"We hope that more and more people will use Gmail – and not just that more people will use it but that people will use it more often," he said.

"This is something that Larry and Sergey, the founders, tell us – focus on usage not users, because the people who are using your product the most, the most active demanding users, are the ones who are going to be helping inform you about what the future is.

"The leading edge users are where everyone else is going to be two to three years later. So they are the ones that can help push your product to where it needs to be for the future, so we're really focussed on innovation."

Labels vs folders

But could such a focus on Gmail's power users mean that features that could attract new users across from Hotmail are being ignored? The lack of folders, for instance, might be a deal-breaker for many webmail switchers.

"We worked on this recently with our project where we improved labels," replies Jackson. "We wanted them to be accessible for people who are familiar with folders.

"We believe that the label model is a good model because it allows something to be in multiple labels. If I receive an email that's from my family but it's about a vacation I want it to be both in the 'family' and the 'vacation' label."

Jackson admits that many people just didn't understand labels. "All our research showed this. And so we did this big project to improve them. While still keeping them as labels we wanted to make them familiar to people who use folders, so you can drag and drop, you can 'move to' – which is essentially moving something out of one label and into another label. So we made them, sort of, still implemented as labels under the covers but look and feel and behave like folders so that users who are familiar with folders could use it."

The change was a success, claims Jackson: "After we launched this we saw the usage of labels go way up and we saw the number of people doing the traditional label commands go down a little and the amount of people doing the 'move to' and the folder-like commands go way up."

Global Editor-in-Chief

After watching War Games and Tron more times that is healthy, Paul (Twitter, Google+) took his first steps online via a BBC Micro and acoustic coupler back in 1985, and has been finding excuses to spend the day online ever since. This includes roles editing .net magazine, launching the Official Windows Magazine, and now as Global EiC of TechRadar.