Marissa Mayer, please build us all a better Gmail over at Yahoo. Gmail is a disaster. That’s right, I said it. There’s an undercurrent of frustration surrounding Google’s webmail service, which is still growing like crazy (likely due to Android activations), but is now widely known to be “painfully slow.” The more you use it, the worse it gets. Even Y Combinator co-founder Paul Graham called out Gmail as painfully slow in a recent essay detailing ambitious startup ideas, saying that if someone were to build a service that was only as good as Gmail, but fast, that alone would allow them to pull away users from Google’s service.
Despite this, what does Google do? It keeps adding bells and whistles to Gmail. Video hangouts? I don’t want video hangouts in my Gmail. I want to read my email messages. Or rather, feel free to add video hangouts to Gmail, after you fix the damned thing.
Gmail is unusable. The other day, I counted how long it took Gmail to perform basic functions: open an email, do a search, and expand a thread. On a high-speed FiOS connection, on an Internet where clicks translate to immediate actions, it’s incredible to watch Gmail struggle to even function. 10 seconds to perform a search, 14 seconds to open an email message, 10 seconds to expand a conversation thread.
[Follow up – As you can tell by comments, there seems to be some confusion here. I’m not saying those are the load times every single time, which is what’s prompting a lot of the reaction (it’s your computer! connection! etc.) Sometimes it’s snappier than others. But even when it’s fine in one area, it slows down elsewhere, like returning to the inbox or sending an email. This is old news. The problem is one Google has been aware of for some time, and generally fixes by moving accounts to new servers. It affects a subset of users – power users: those with the “oldest,” “largest” accounts. A Google employee confirms this in the comments.]
These are numbers to be ashamed of, and I refuse to take the blame simply because I have “too much email” in storage. I have 24.2 GBs, but I’m a paying customer. I bought extra storage because Google sells extra storage. I archive emails because that’s what Google told me to do. That, in fact, was one of the original promises of Gmail – an email service so revolutionary, that you never have to delete your messages. You can save them forever, in a searchable archive. Gmail is your own personal Google.
Or it should be. But it no longer works.
Why has Gmail become painfully slow?, Why is Gmail so slow? Why does Gmail push on the iOS Mail app seem slow?, ask befuddled Gmail users over on Q&A site Quora. Answers range from it being a “victim of its own success” (that’s the story from a former Googler, written back in 2010) to “it’s probably all the add-ons.” Gmail, to be fair, is an impressive technological accomplishment. It lets us store gigabytes of messages in a huge database, and it lets us pull those up at will. Thanks for raising the bar, Gmail, back in 2004. But it’s long been time for someone, if not Google itself, to raise it again. It’s 2012 – is it really so much to ask to be able to click on an email and instantly read it? I can tweet and pour a cup of coffee before Gmail gets around to showing me what I clicked sometimes. Crazy.
Gmail is operating at an incredible scale, so the challenge of besting the service is not for the faint of heart. The company recently announced it had reached 425 million users, which tops the most recent public numbers from former rival Hotmail as well as other webmail players like AOL or Yahoo mail. There’s a reason why startups aren’t building Gmail competitors – and it’s not because they’re just looking for an easy exit. It’s because building a better Gmail is going to be incredibly hard to do.
But Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer led development of Gmail (among many other things) during her tenure at Google. If anyone could bring back Yahoo Mail to its heyday, it’s her. And it’s so desperately needed, she must be considering it. If successful, it would be such an easy sell, too: “Yahoo Mail: it’s like Gmail, but it works.”