Sure, just like how people want a task manager that keeps track of everything in their lives for them, prioritizes it automatically, and is easy and quick to use, not taking up noticeable time in their day just for task management. So yeah, Gmail worked in a way that people wanted when you consider it at a very high level, which is almost meaningless (but at least establishes the goals), but in terms of actual in-use functionality it was a somewhat radical departure, a gamble, and one that really worked. There has to be some lessons to learn there, don't you think?
I think from a philosophical perspective, everything has a lesson. The problem is, certain examples, may not be the best for discovering those lessons.
For example, not everyone uses task managers. Most people use e-mails.
Most people who use e-mails would want to use them for e-mails. Most people who use task managers may not want to use task managers to manage tasks. Maybe they want to feel more comfortable putting colored icons to prioritize their tasks. Maybe they are just desperate for something to randomly and omnipotently help schedule their tasks.
These issues aren't semantics for the questions you've raised. Especially since e-mail is a settled concept. It's goal is to ease up communication. Productivity on the other hand is up in the air. Everything from task management to prioritization is an open concept with no clear hard idea to separate the well placed reminders put in by productive users from ways random prioritization might help unproductive users who can't work well with dated reminders.
I didn't say it was flexibility or quality, it was in fact a new way of organizing and finding mail. Most of additional, integrated services and "openID"-type authentication management came later. While Google had a good brand, many also saw them as solely a search company and wondered why they were doing mail, not to mention many were hesitant to use a "beta" product (that remained in beta for years).
Flexibility and quality here are just my way of shortening this: "is it better to try to have flexible software that adapts to the user (assuming they know what they want), or to have software that implements a really good way of doing things and have the user adapt to that?"
- I just assumed it would be clear enough since the keywords are still there and it's just a modification on my part to make my posts shorter. I apologize for the confusion.
As far as Gmail goes, well that's the thing... it wasn't a one night success. It was a gradual process that's why there are as much criticisms as there are positives. Any type of gradual process destroys both the questions you've raised because the question assumes a more static scenario where as Google and it's end users were each playing a game of "should I/shouldn't I use this?".
There are indeed a couple of reasons that Gmail caught on that have nothing to do with its UI or how it handles mail (large amount of free space, ability to use POP and IMAP out of the box for free) *but* if the mail handling ideas and UI had not actually ended up being a good fit for most people, they would *not* have stuck with it, especially as competitors began to mirror Gmail's *other* main stand-out features (e.g. large free storage space).
I doubt that. For one thing the competitors only tried to mainly fight back with larger storage when Gmail was not only providing enough but Gmail had evolved further and they were playing catch-up in such a way that they didn't consider the wants of their current users. I might have stuck out with Yahoo Mail for example since I prefer Yahoo's folders to labels and the archive thing still confuses me up till today but Yahoo went on to create a slower newer version of Yahoo that turned me off. Worse, there's no Yahoo Docs or Yahoo Reader for me to play around with. I also have to tolerate the newer Yahoo search design. Also at the time, Yahoo had the more annoying sign-up process. I forgot what it was but this was before Gmail required SMS verification.
As far as good fit for the people. Good fit is not just about "good way of doing things that people would adopt to". A bit of that involves modern capabilities. Had other webmail services provided straight up equal upgrades or there was no blogosphere that licked up everything Google and Twitter brings up, then using Gmail as an example for fit might be more valid. The problem is there was alot of external and internal factors manipulating that fit. Even a program that's a great fit for many users but has no Windows XP or 7 version and is stuck with win95 would slowly lose it's userbase.
Not only that, as Apple can attest, there are enough people running around when it comes to software. (Apple products never "just works" for me.) There are still people switching to something other than Gmail. There are just many users, who once they switched, aren't bothered to look at any alternatives unless Gmail starts becoming horrible.
Gmail has only continued to grow in user numbers, despite best efforts by Microsoft, Yahoo, and others, who are now providing large(r) amounts of free space, as many or more integrated services (Windows Live has tons, as does Yahoo with the YID), etc. Why is that?
See, my last sentence above. Although obviously there's a lot more to the details that I don't know. If businesses discovered the straight up answer to this question, there would be no competition among businesses. Adoption is always a deeper subject and one that goes beyond the two questions you raised.
I would argue it is in large part because Gmail "just works", it established a new way of doing things and because it actually was an improvement, people adapted to it and many love it. I've heard countless Gmail users say how much they love how Gmail works, not once have I heard that about Hotmail or Yahoo, and both work in traditional folder-oriented ways and have much slower, more limited search functions.
Well you're entitled to that opinion but Gmail didn't work for me earlier on. I know tons of people liked it but I know tons of Apple fans too and yet I'm not one of them.
Your last point is exactly mine: it did things differently. Sure there were lots of other smaller reasons, like the ability to use it as a "file locker", but the vast majority of users did not take advantage of that, probably weren't even aware of it. The UI is the one, glaring stand-out aspect of it that no one else duplicates and is, I believe, a big part of the reason for their success.
As with the above, the ui really didn't do anything for me. Also there wasn't much of a choice other than Gmail then as Yahoo and Hotmail were either turning me off or were slow to adopt.
Plus the issue with these additional features are not so much for the current users as much as it further increased the curiosity for the product to the point that people just register for it, find they want Google Docs and are now too bored to switch to something that requires multiple accounts.
Hmm, and you think that's what happened with Gmail? Google wasn't doing anything with mail at all and suddenly Gmail came out of the blue with a totally different way of handling it. How does that fit into the picture you've painted of product development?
I don't really know what exactly happened with Gmail. I mean if I knew, it would be much easier to create a Google model for business. I'm just simply talking about startups in general and aligning it with the two questions you've raised.
For one thing, at the time, Gmail didn't just come out of the blue for everyone. There was an invite model that was slowly building up hype. This was a time when I mostly ignored Gmail. Then there was a little of a buzz from people getting invites. Google was starting to be seen as a service that got products correctly due to their success with search. It was like the underdogs finally catching up to the man and showing them how many innovative things you can do to multiple "thought of as impenetrable" services. (and anyone who is familiar with major open source products knows how big "underdog" adoption can have)
I'm not a heavy e-mail user though and even prior to this I only know of Yahoo mail with some trials of hotmail and I particularly didn't care for webmail other than well..."it's e-mail, you have to have a service to send e-mails." and I mostly used e-mails to register for forums.
What made me really stick with it was that my account wouldn't get deleted due to inactivity. There really was nothing Gmail did on it's own that appealed to me. It was just like an annoying tick that "itches" everytime I whiffed up the buzz. (Thankfully I have outgrown that w/ things like Windows 7)
As more Google related news started appearing, it just became a matter of annoyance to be constantly bombarded by news without knowing what it is. What eventually made me stick with Gmail though was due to Google Reader. Google Docs was also not a bad word processor as I hated installing MS Office until OneNote. (although sadly the Ribbon has invaded things by then) I'm not the target demographics though but just saying in terms of the questions you've raised, Gmail didn't suddenly answer it so it's a poor example. Interface is another tricky thing to nail down. If you're wowed or many of your friends are there or you found the product first and it works well enough, it could seem unfathomable that it wasn't as great a concept as you thought it was.
I apologize if many of my counter points appear to be looking down on your own impressions. I know less than anyone here but from the outside looking in, I'm just sharing my impression as to why Gmail appears off as an example based on my own experiences and my observation of how software gets adopted. Gmail to me is like using Evernote to try to clue in on both questions. It would fail simply because Evernote didn't just grow "more powerful". Instead Evernote "degraded" and "alienated" it's users in order to get the wider adoption. An adoption that was below being a flexible software and below implementing a good way. An adoption that was propelled by emerging technologies like cloud syncing and for Gmail, webmail stabilization. (No more wondering if I should delete this e-mail, no more worrying if I can leave this account inactive and lose my contacts, no more secret payed jargon like POP, one account that logs me into different services.)Edit:
Ok, I'm reading something basic about Game Design so maybe a shorter way to illustrate this would be to compare the Mechanics-Dynamics and Aesthetics in relation to the two questions JavaJones raised as well as how it goes with e-mails.
I don't really know game design so I'm just throwing up words based on my own interpretation.
-Mechanics: e-mail (makes users adopt)
-Dynamics: e-mail w/ search, e-mail that lasts long, webmail (doesn't make user adopt)
-Aesthetics: labels, themes, filters, stars (flexible - allows users to adopt)
-Mechanics: Unresolved (productivity enhancing? task speed-up? bulk organization? scheduler?)
-Dynamics: Unresolved (life coaching connector? check box to cocaine simulator? colored priority addictiveness? to-do print template? Leave it at your home software but don't worry about it's content during office hours suite?)
-Aesthetics: Lists, graphs, etc. (good way of doing things that make users adopt except when freeform is allowed)
The 1st is a settled concept. (Users don't have to calculate their needs between using webmail and Outlook)
The 2nd needs to still be separated with freeform vs. non-freeform variations.