Is Gmail growth threatening Yahoo in UK?

Old guard under pressure from Google's webmail

Gmail   massive growth

Google's Gmail is putting on an astonishing growth spurt in recent months, but ComScore has told TechRadar that it will be a long time until the service competes with Hotmail in the UK.

A report in Information Week pointed out that the astonishing growth of Google's Gmail webmail service has seen it rapidly close the gap to Hotmail, so TechRadar contacted ComScore – who had provided the US figures – to find out how the UK market is evolving.

Google's popular web service is certainly experiencing rapid growth, with a 43 per cent growth year on year up to December of 2008, but whereas Yahoo remains top of the webmail tree in the US, it is Hotmail that rules the roost in the UK.

According to ComScore's latest figures, Microsoft Windows Live Hotmail accounts for more than 21 million webmail accounts, that's an impressive 57 per cent of the entire UK internet audience.

Yahoo

Some way behind lies Yahoo – with a still considerable 11 million users and Gmail has recently leapfrogged AOL (3.3 million) with a 3.4 million user base.

"You will see that Gmail is now growing at a much faster rate than Hotmail in the UK, which would indicate that it is beginning to gain traction," a ComScore spokesman told TechRadar.

"However, in terms of matching Hotmail's user base, it still has a long way to go. Hotmail is so ingrained in the online community here in the UK – where it is used as a base to link to other popular sites such as Facebook – that it will be interesting to see if the momentum that Gmail is gaining will enable Google to level out the playing field during the next two years or so."

Google's growth

Considering the popularity of Google products, it is of little surprise that its webmail offering has picked up a sturdy following in a relatively short space of time, but it is the additional functionality that now appears to be driving its success.

Dan Oliver, editor of .net magazine believes that user experience is key.

"Well, according to Nielsen Online, by the end of 2008 Google owned 63% of online searches, and that little 'Mail' link at the top of the Google home page gets a lot of attention," he said.

"Also, Google has consistently led the competition, especially with regards to user experience and the amount of storage each account receives. However, if you had to put Gmail's success down to one factor, it's spam detection.

"Simply put, Gmail's spam filters are the best you'll find in any web-based email offering."

Labs

This year Google has integrated Gears to provide offline access to Gmail and the Labs functionality – which essentially lets users beta test new applications – has been a huge hit.

Another thing that cannot be underestimated is the growing mobile phone webmail platforms, with the likes of the Google co-developed Android platform and Apple's iPhone enjoying simple access to Gmail.

In the US it is Hotmail that is looking over its shoulder but, in the UK, it is Yahoo hat will be firmly in Gmail's sites. It may take a long time to erode the user-bases of the giants in webmail – but Google is certainly making the old-guard newly nervous.