Paying for email

I’ve recently been growing increasingly uncomfortable with my dependence on some of Google’s vast array of free (as in beer) products like Gmail. Now, I’m not really very concerned with privacy per se; what bothers me a lot more is the very unclear business model behind it. And particularly for email, which is (still for most people) the root of identity on the Internet.

From Google’s Q2 2011 earnings, we see that advertising on Google sites are 96% of its revenue. We don’t know how much of the advertising revenue comes from clicks on the search engine versus say GMail, but my guess is the GMail portion is very very small. Now I know GMail gets packaged up and sold to business as part of Apps For Your Domain, but how much income they get from that is unknown.

Under this premise that GMail is being subsidized by the core search business (which it may or may not be, I don’t know), what makes me particularly uncomfortable is that I’ve almost never clicked on a sponsored result in Google Search, and particularly not done so and paid for something. This means my email is effectively being paid for by other people. Who are these people and what are they doing? Seniors searching for online pharmacies I guess? I have no idea.

While at first I admit it was hard to resist “free”, I decided to just start paying actual money – directly – for email. By the recommendation of a few other people I chose, which is working out fairly well so far and I’m about ready to stop using GMail.

This means I’m also back to using Evolution. The only hiccup so far is that I find myself really, really missing the GMail conversation view. It’s simply a far faster and more effective way to read lots of email. Oh well, at least I have the source code to Evolution! I wonder what happened to that Summer of Code project for the conversation view…


  1. You don’t know how much Google spends on GMail or how much it makes off of GMail. That seems to be the gist of your problem with GMail. Since you don’t click on ads, do you continue to use Google for search purposes?

    • Bob, the difference for me is simply how much more critical email is in terms of my online identity (all those “reset password” links for various services), as a way other people contact me, etc.

  2. I left gmail more than a year ago, and I now pay for email with I chose hushmail because they are more security minded than others.

    I was never comfortable with google reading my mail, even if it is done in an automated fashion. And I didn’t like their perpetually changing terms of service. I figure that their desire to make more money will eventually entice them to analyse my email even more.

    I use the lightweight app “claws” instead of evolution for daily mail use.

    Even after all this time I still have my gmail account forwarding to my hushmail account. So I’m not free of gmail completely. I guess the next step is to put an auto-responder on it.

    I have a google account for google plus, but that’s it. And the way google plus is going, I might get rid of that too.

  3. The questions that you have raised did also occur to me some time ago. I finally ended up getting a dedicated server from Hetzner and running my own setup with a friend — Postfix, Dovecot, Mutt and Roundcube.

  4. The email is trivial. It’s Google Voice that keeps me from even thinking about using another service. I’ll just have to hope that Google continues to find providing these in their best interests. Honestly, it works well enough for me that I’d be willing to pony up for the paid version if that was my only choice.

  5. Regarding Evolution, moving to WebKit/GTK+ is a prerequisite to any conversation about conversation view. Not something to be attempted with GtkHTML, trust me. Fortunately that work is underway.

  6. If you’re really worried about who’s looking through your email, the (almost) full solution is colocation. Second-best is getting a virtual server. Full-best is your own data center, but I suspect that’s outside the reach of all of us.

    It used to be you could host a server from your home, but with all the port blocking nowadays, that’s significantly harder.

  7. You’ll quickly learn how to spot people using gmail not by their the e-mail addresses but how they use the conversation thread model and you don’t. 😉

  8. I for one am very happy with my current web host. As I consider my email address to be my “internet signature”, kind of, I’m glad to have a couple of domains to my name. I also stopped trusting Google for no good reason a couple of years ago, so hosting my own name somewhere became quite the obvious solution.

  9. I managed to go from free email in late 90s/early 2000s, to paid email up to the mid 2000s, then going to self-hosted email where I am now, never fell for GMail, although I’d love to have its conversation view as well.

    I used mutt, evolution and claws at different points in time. An interesting ride it’s been, up to now =)

  10. No matter where you go for email the company/admins will have access to your email unless you encrypt it and maintain your keys locally. I *always* recommend using GnuPG.

  11. Very interesting question. I think the answer is, you are also paying for Gmail:

    1. Google gets money from advertising companies.

    2. Companies get money from customers. That includes you, me, any consumer.

    To be precise, every time you buy something from a company that advertises on Google, you are also paying for Gmail, whether you click ads or not…

    Just like when I buy Nike shoes, I’m contributing to Nike ads shown in the street, on Google, on Roger Federer…

    Other people clicking ads and buying the corresponding products are making web ads a success. This ensures that your money (as much as theirs) will be directed in part towards further web advertisement. So “clickers” contribute to the policy of placing web ads, more than you do. But they don’t contribute more in terms of money; you might even be the bigger contributor, if you bought a product without the special web discount tied to an ad campaign.

    As a side note, it appears that as many as 8% of visitors click the first Ad in Google search results! (on the first page).

  12. I’m still learning from you, while I’m making my way to the top as well. I absolutely enjoy reading everything that is posted on your blog.Keep the aarticles coming. I enjoyed it!

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