The Evolution of Web Based E-mail

04 May 2016 | By James

Topics: Web Based Email Services

Webmail or web based e-mail is an e-mail that can be accessed from anywhere using a web browser. It is not bound by the many restrictions of ISP based emails, which requires an e-mail client software. Today, webmail is almost synonymous with e-mail and Hotmail, one of the first free web-based e-mail services, is credited for triggering the widespread popularity of this communication medium among the general public.


Hotmail (stylised Hotmail) was developed in 1996 by Sabeer Bhatia, a post graduate from Stanford University, along with his friend Jack Smith. The name Hotmail is a word play with HTML, the markup language which it is based on. Hotmail had such a phenomenal impact among internet users that many major IT corporations were vying to acquire it. It had a user base of about 9 million at that time. After many alluring but unsuccessful offers, Microsoft finally bagged ownership of Hotmail in 1997, for a staggering 400 million. This made Sabeer Bhatia a worldwide sensation and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology declared him one of the hundred young innovators expected to have the greatest impact on technology. According to Microsoft, the user base of Hotmail has grown since 1998 at a rate greater than the growth of world population in the last 50 years.


RocketMail is another web based e-mail established around the time of Hotmail. It was soon acquired by Yahoo! To compete with Hotmail for market domination, but did not really succeed at that.


Though many other service providers have followed suit, the next big change in webmail came with Gmail, the e-mail service from Google. Hotmail and all other webmail services had limited storage capacity, ranging from 2 to 4 MB. Gmail changed the face of free web-based e-mail with offering a whopping 1 GB storage space. No other e-mail services could compete with Gmail in this respect at that time and even Yahoo! could afford to offer only 100 MB. Gmail also introduced the concept of indexing of emails for faster and comprehensive searching and replaced the concept of e-mail folders with labels.


Rediffmail, an Indian company operating from Mumbai was another noteworthy free webmail service. They offered 1 GB storage and was pretty fast too. But they failed to grow beyond the Indian market, but that was good enough for a company of their stature.


Another free webmail worth mentioning here is ProtonMail, an encrypted web-based e-mail which uses a zero-knowledge system for added security. Their servers are located ideally in Switzerland, outside the US and European Union jurisdiction, to underline their “Swiss Security”.

User Share

Currently, the big three players in webmail services are Gmail, Hotmail and Yahoo Mail and the three together accounts for more than 1 billion users. As of 2012, Gmail had a user base of 425 million active users, whereas the closest competitor Hotmail had about 330 million users. In contrast, Yahoo mail had a global user base of a little over 300 million users.

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