Welcome to the bloggy home of Noah Brier. I'm the co-founder of Percolate and general internet tinkerer. This site is about media, culture, technology, and randomness. It's been around since 2004 (I'm pretty sure). Feel free to get in touch. Get in touch.

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Has Gmail Already Reached its Trucker Hat Phase?

In today’s New York Times there’s an article about the lure of beta testing as a status symbol. The article is titled “For Some Beta Testers, It’s About Buzz, Not Bugs” and primarily focuses on the buzz around Gmail accounts. I have talked on another page about the brilliance of Google’s Gmail marketing strategy (and will paste that post below). Anyhow, what really made me laugh in the Times article was the last line, which compared the current state of the Gmail to that of the formerly ubiquitous trucker hat.

But if some beta versions live by hype and buzz, they die by it as well. As with all status accessories, digital status symbols come stamped with a sell-by date. Gmail accounts were lucky to go for $5 last week on eBay.

“Once everyone has been invited it’s no longer cool to be invited,” Mr. Loukissas said. “I mean, it works the same way as fashion: once everyone wears a trucker hat, it’s over.”

I don’t really think that’s a fair comparison and I certainly hope that Austin Kutcher stays away from Gmail. Also, I noted that this hype was fading a month ago when I wrote this other post. It’s just another example of the Times’ inability to stay on top of cultural trends. Here’s that old post from another site:

June 24, 2004: Gmail Toss-Up

There is a certain brilliance in Gmail’s invite system. From a marketing perspective, they created a buzz around their product and allowed indivuals to promote for them. By opening the system to Blogger users first they were guaranteed to have a group of people who cared about the internet (most likely more than average). By bringing the invites out in cycles they were able to keep people interested and happy at the same time.

The only question is how google will finish this performance. I read someone this morning suggest that it would be pretty funny if it were all an April fools joke and, in fact, they never opened Gmail to the public. This would mean that Yahoo! and Hotmail were forced to up their storage capacity to compete with an email system that only had a limited number of users. It certainly got Google a lot of attention.

But seriously, what if Google never opened Gmail to the entire public? What if, instead of doing a giant ‘grand opening’ they continued their invite system? They would then control supply and demand and keep their name floating around. (Although right now it appears as though most people who want Gmail have it. Pretty much anyone very serious about the internet has already gotten an invitation and it has moved on to the mass public. When I go to a party and have three people mention Gmail to me the initial hype is officially over.)

Anyhow, I’m not really sure where I’m going with this, but I do think it has been a fantastic strategy. They put a great product into the hands of people who care most about their computers and the internet and let them do the promoting for them. I know I have touted the advantages of Gmail to any number of people over the last few months and I will continue. It is far superior to most any email application I have ever used and I really enjoy. I have even been stingy with my invites, only giving them to people who I knew would be using Gmail as their main account (no one who just wanted to dabble in Gmail and stick with Hotmail was invited). This is exactly what Gmail wanted with their invites and they got it. We’ve been duped — but we’ve gotten a great product out of it. So there’s the toss-up.

July 22, 2004