<IT WORLD> Customers losing out in e-mail rivalry
By Martin J Young
HUA HIN, Thailand - Google, the world's dominant search company, notched up
another milestone in its march to control the rest of the web, when its Gmail
overtook AOL to become the third most popular choice for e-mail in the US.
Yahoo remains leader in electronic mail, followed by Windows Live Hotmail,
according to figures released by industry analysts ComScore.
Yahoo, which was around at the dawn of the Internet as we know it to be
provider of the first e-mail accounts for millions of people,
has 106 million users per month, 22% up on last year's figure. Microsoft is
well back with 47 million users and a 3% increase. Gmail jumped into third
place with a 46% increase on last year for 37 million users. AOL's e-mail usage
has fallen almost 20% from this time last year to around 36.4 million users per
Google's success is likely due to its innovation and delivery of new Gmail
features such as Google Docs, Google Calendar and applications for mobile
platforms. Yahoo and Microsoft e-mail services have only recently revamped
their services and layouts after stagnating over the years, the nudge to change
probably due to Gmail's growing strength.
There seems little chance of AOL recovering from its downward spiral, but
Microsoft's Live Hotmail services may get a boost from the release of Windows
7. Yahoo, which has been rebranding itself, has just dumped its search services
onto Microsoft so it will be looking to maintain growth in the e-mail sector.
Popular though free e-mail is, its main problem is the prevalence of spam, a
scourge common with all three providers. This week's ComScore figures have been
calculated from visitors to the respective company's e-mail service website,
not from individual accounts, probably for this reason. It is hard to say which
provider suffers the most at the hands of spammers but it is a problem that
none of them seem to be able to tackle successfully.
The overall effectiveness of free web-based e-mail as a reliable means of
communication is reduced by fake accounts and hyper-sensitive filters that the
e-mail services deploy to hold back the spam tidal waves. That leaves a
startling amount that ends up buried in the junk mail folder, never to be read.
But at least there it is visible. Worse, Microsoft in particular often bulk
blocks IP addresses from mail servers in certain countries, usually in Asia,
when it detects higher than normal levels of spam. In old-fashioned letter-post
terms, it is as if a post-office sorter automatically dumped all mail from one
country or postal region into the rubbish bin, irrespective of content or
That means the intended recipient or recipients of an e-mail - however
legitimate - sent via those servers can never know that a message has been sent
to their address. Nor is the sender always informed that the message has been
In other words, not only is spam blocked with varying efficiency, the likes of
Hotmail, Yahoo and even Gmail are only partially efficient at sending and
receiving genuine e-mail.
Those seeking a more reliable system of electronic mail for business or
personal use may consider using their own domain name and hosting services.
These options, aside from not being free, also have drawbacks, as reliability
is then dependant on hosting companies, which often consider customer support
an added luxury, and Internet providers with their own usually excessive
arsenals of cyber weaponry for use in the fight against spam.
As creatures of habit, even in the virtual world, we usually stick with what we
like and what we know; in that respect, e-mail is no different to a web browser
or operating system.
That suggests a better way for Microsoft and its rivals to resolve the spam
dilemma. Instead of devoting resources to securing the number one spot or to
win yet another subscriber who can then be bombarded with advertising whilst
having his or her search history and browsing patterns logged, Microsoft, Yahoo
and Google could put their collective heads together and focus those energies
on finding a better means to combat and eradicate this pervasive pestilence of
The gaming industry continues to feel the pinch from consumers spending less as
the financial crisis cuts jobs and confidence. Sales of games and consoles
dropped by 29% in July from the same period last year. Nintendo's Wii remains
the top-selling platform, shifting 252,200 units in the month. Even so, that is
still less than half the number sold in July last year. Microsoft sold 202,900
Xboxes and Sony found buyers for 121,800 PlayStation 3's in July. Sales for the
industry are down 14% to US$8.16 billion in the year so far compared with 12
months earlier, according to researcher NPD Group.
Microsoft claims that its Xbox 360 console is bucking the trend and showing
growth this year - sales are up 17% so far on the equivalent 2008 period -
arguing that it offers consumers the best value with a US$199 starting price.
On the downside, a recent Game Informer survey of about 5,000 gamers reports a
54.2% failure rate for Xbox 360 units. Microsoft also came out top for "most
unhelpful customer service".
What was once considered a recession proof industry is suffering along with the
rest of them. The video games business is hoping that the release of a number
of big titles later this year could serve as a lifeline.
Martin J Young is an Asia Times Online correspondent based in Thailand.