It appears that Google has pulled support for IMAP, although it’s unclear whether this is a temporary decision, the result of a bug, or a permanent change of policy. Google first rolled out support for IMAP in October.
IMAP allows email users to manage their email using alternative clients (such as the desktop app Thunderbird or Mail) without creating copies of their messages, as happens with POP. This means that users never have to use the Gmail web interface and can effectively bypass all of Google’s ads there.
We’ve contacted Google to determine the cause of this disappearance. We’ll run an update when we’ve heard back.
Thanks for the tip, Mark.
Update: Don’t panic everybody, IMAP support is back…hopefully to stay. We’re also hearing in the comments that users have been having issues with chat as well.
Update 2: Google has sent us this official response, which doesn’t really provide any insight into what caused the problem, just acknowledges that it did occur:
“Gmail users had some difficulty accessing certain features in Gmail for about a half hour today, including IMAP access and chat. The issue is now resolved. We know how important Gmail is to our users, so we take issues like this very seriously, and we encourage anyone who is having technical difficulty of any kind with Gmail to contact the Gmail Support team through the Gmail Help Center.”