May 3, 2004

Manipulating Google's Gmail for fun and profit

Don't you just hate it how companies are using us, our knowledge, and our relationships to make money for themselves?  Consider Google's "Gmail" - when I send e-mail to a friend or associate who has an account on Gmail, Google's machines scan the text that I wrote and use that to present paid advertisements.  In effect, Google is data mining my own personal knowledge and relationship with my correspondents.

What's in it for me?  Nothing.  In fact, I run the risk of sending something that triggers an advertisement that really ticks off my correspondent on Gmail.

But there may be ways to turn things around.

Suppose we to establish a company that processes outgoing e-mail.

Suppose further that, just as search companies do today, we sell words and phrases.  For example, we might sell the word "pasta" to some company.

To induce users to send their outgoing e-mail we would pay them, yes actually pay them money, for the privilege of processing their outgoing e-mail.  (We'd put on rate limiters to keep spammers away and impose other caps to limit amounts paid to senders who are trying to artificially drive up the amounts we pay them.)

We then add text and other materials to the outgoing mail.  For email that's going to normal ISP based users, we'd do nothing more than what is typically done today - a header or footer containing links to advertisements.

But for things going to Gmail we could do several things.  One thing is that we could add text designed to trigger certain Gmail advertisements (presumably ones purchased by the same people who bought the word from us in the first place.)  Another thing is that we could try to rephrase the sender's text so that it is less likely to trigger Gmail advertisements by those who are not our customers.

This would turn into a competition between our ability to add and modify e-mails in ways that appropriately tickle Gmail's sensors and Gmail's ability to detect when it being manipulated.  It's sort of like the battle between spammers and spam filters.

The net result would be yet another step along the road of transforming the once useful system e-mail into nothing but bulk advertising.  But at least this time we users might be able to take a cut of the action.

Posted by karl at May 3, 2004 12:56 PM