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Messages from the Free Email Provider GuyTM
Free Email, Past, Present & Future
May 26, 2000
The Free Email Providers Guide was founded in November 1997, back in the days when there were only a handful of free email providers. At that time there were a few web pages around that listed sites supplying free email services, but nothing that outlined the features that each provider had. Because knowing what features a free email provider offers is, in our mind, paramount in choosing a provider, thus began the Free Email Providers Guide.
Initially The Guide was a single page, listing about half-a-dozen sites, HotMail, Yahoo!Mail, NetAddress, RocketMail and one or two others, all of them in English and primarily serving the USA. Over the last two and a half years, this number has grown to more than 1400 providers, from over 85 countries!
As our fledgling site grew, we moved around to various free webspace hosting services until, in late 1998, we launched under our own domain name, FEPG.net and found an official home.
So how has the world of free email changed in the last two and a half years and what does the future hold?
The most obvious change has been the ubiquitousness of free email--today, everywhere you look on the Web you can find sites offering free email. You can find every type of site from every corner of the globe offering a freemail service. However, the most important change is probably in the quality of free email services.
Most decent freemail services now offer an excellent set of features that are comparable to most pay-for services. Some even offer quality email software, such as Outlook, Eudora, etc. As email sites are becoming more commonplace, however, the competition between the main providers has also increased. This increased competition has resulted in the ongoing development of new features, which are necessary to attract new customers and maintain existing user-bases. The hard fact is that providers who rest on their laurels today will find themselves tomorrow's has-beens.
The primary current trend in the world of free email is the development of Unified Messaging Systems (UMS) and Personal Information Management (PIM or "Virtual Office") systems.
A UMS is a system that integrates email and voicemail into a single mailbox. Many systems also offer fax-reception capabilities as well as the ability to check your mail by phone as well as on the Web. Most of the established freemail providers have added UMS functionality in the last few months. For example, Yahoo!Mail has partnered with jfax.com to add fax and voicemail functionality. Other suppliers of free email systems, such as Commtouch and Critical Path, have either already developed or are developing their own UMS functionality.
PIM systems are those that integrate email with other services, such as an online calendar/appointment book, to do/task list, file storage, notepad, etc. Again, many of the traditional freemail suppliers have added this functionality to their sites. . .Yahoo!Mail, HotMail, etc. all have access to some of these features. There are however, some excellent sites that already offered this functionality from the word go--the best one, in our opinion, being Visto.
So what of the future. . .we predict that most free email providers will need to offer either UMS or PIM functionality to stay competitive in this highly volatile and changing marketplace. However, the real "killer apps" of the next twelve months will be those that offer both UMS and PIM functionality in a seamless, fast-loading, attractive site. If Visto, probably the best PIM, and uReach, by far the best UMS, were integrated into a single site, you would have an unbeatable combination.
One more thought, 2000 is also going to be the year of the free ISP. . .add that to UMS and PIM functionality and you've definitely got a winner!
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