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Gmail Gunning For More Users With Auto-Import Feature

Yesterday, Google's Gmail service added a feature that may earn it a lot of new users -- and some jealousy or outright hostility from competitors. If you open a new Gmail account, you should now be offered the option of copying your old mail and contacts from another mail service, then have messages sent to that old address automatically forwarded to your Gmail inbox for the next 30 days.

A technical-support document spells out the scope of this new option. It lists 45 providers around the world from which Gmail can bring over old messages and address books, including such big-name competitors as Comcast, Cox, EarthLink, Hotmail, Juno, NetZero, Verizon and Yahoo.

Some paid mail services have offered this kind of automatic mail-account import before, but I can't think of any free Web-mail services that have provided this level of help before. Most existing Gmail users don't have access to this feature yet, but Google says it will "slowly" add it to all free accounts.

This is the latest in a long line of features -- for instance, offline access through either your e-mail program or your Web browser; text, voice and video chatting; an optional to-do list function -- that have made competing Web-mail services look weak in comparison. If, that is, you don't mind Google's computers automatically serving up ads based on the content of incoming messages.

That last issue has kept me from using Gmail for personal use. Instead, I have most commercial mail -- for instance, newsletters from stores and booking confirmations from airlines -- sent to my Gmail account. Those messages should give Google's ad robots plenty to work with but shouldn't reveal too much compromising data about me.

(Today, Gmail may be presenting a different obstacle to users: Many report that they can't get to the service at all. My own account, however, appears to be working fine.)

Is this auto-import feature -- from Gmail or, hypothetically speaking, from another free service -- the kind of extra help you'd need to dump a longstanding mail provider?

By Rob Pegoraro  |  May 14, 2009; 11:37 AM ET
Categories:  E-mail  
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I use Gmail only for a couple of things. It was down a while ago, along with Google maps, seems ok now.

Posted by: tbva | May 14, 2009 12:24 PM | Report abuse

Gmail is my primary address. I have had it since 2004. I like it very much. Mostly I ignore the ads. I don't really care what Google or anyone else knows about me. I don't have anything to hide.

Posted by: rtzohar | May 14, 2009 12:42 PM | Report abuse

I actually used an add that I found in Gmail for good use. I was looking to refinance my mortgage and was corresponding with a friend about refinancing. I noticed that next to one of my emails were a bunch of advertisements for banks and mortgage brokers. I contacted two of the advertisers, got competing rates and wound up with a fantastic refinance package. And it really did all start with an add that popped up in my Gmail. It's not all bad, Rob.

Posted by: anonymous31 | May 14, 2009 2:54 PM | Report abuse

There is a note on that Gmail help page you linked to: "The ability to import mail and contacts is currently available to only a small subset of Gmail users."

Posted by: bokamba | May 14, 2009 6:37 PM | Report abuse

Not only do I use gmail, but I also use Google Apps and have all the email that once was delivered to my Linux server that ran sendmail and cyrus IMAP.

I finally go tired of fighting spam and worrying about break-ins and moved all of that headache to Google Apps. I still am able to use my own email address with my own domain name and get all the Google Apps features branded with my domain name.

I rarely even notice the ads on the web version of gmail in Google Apps and don't even seen the ads at all when I read the email using Thunderbird in IMAP mode.

To import all my email from all the way back to mid 90s until to day, I used a combination of the Google importer that works with Thunderbird and painful drag-and-drop of email messages from my home IMAP server to the Google Apps IMAP interface.

It took a good bit of concerted effort, but I got it all moved over eventually.

The only concerns that I had were ancient password reminder email messages and any old email messages that might have government issued personally identifiable information.

The gmail web interface provided an instant list of any passwords and identifiers just by typing a portion of the string in and searching all 1.5GB of old email. I just deleted those messages and went on my merry way.

Google Apps has saved me a good deal of time and anxiety from when I used to run my own email server.

Posted by: Annorax | May 17, 2009 9:08 PM | Report abuse

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