The Online Battle That Everyone Is Missing

The story (as with GMail and YMail) is about your internet identity, not email.

MailboxIn all the talk about Microsoft’s competing with GMail and YMail, people are missing the real story – that this is NOT about email.

The story (as with GMail and YMail) is about your internet identity, not email.

Your internet identity is what you will use to access services in the future. And whoever “owns” the internet identity system you are on, wins the game.

Right now, Outlook/Hotmail, GMail and YMail have roughly (+/- 50 million) users. Each of them wants to be your default internet identity to access various services – not just on their own properties, but everywhere.

Adjusting for duplicates, fakes, etc, GMail/HotMail/YMail each account for about 400 million users, with MASSIVE overlap. Almost everybody has an account on all three systems – not because they need them or use them, but because they simply want to make sure that their name on that system is secure. Or they may have created and used those accounts in the past, before moving on to a newer system. No one ever deletes their old accounts.

It may look like GMail is winning so far because Google has the most services where a GMail account is needed, but it’s still an open game. The real services where your internet identity will play a meaningful role are yet to be released by the big players. And who knows, there may be others lurking in the background, though I suspect that those will simply lead to rapid acquisitions.

The next phase will be MS, Yahoo an Google releasing new services where their identity services are used. That’s going to be interesting, because in this day and age, everyone is working on almost the same things – with only a few implementation details differentiating them.

And believe me, email is the smallest of them.

For the record: I have a Google account, but I don’t use gMail at all. Neither do I use Outlook/Hotmail or YMail (where I have accounts). Each of them simply forwards to my real email system (a dedicated server on my own domain). In some cases, they don’t even do that – a good example being the spam-riddled Hotmail and Yahoo accounts.

Having said all that, I have to confess that I find it really funny to watch TV Channels and journalists falling over themselves trying to document the MS/Google/Yahoo “email fight”, because there is no email fight! No one here is winning based on email. It’s whatever services Larry & Sergey, Ballmer and Marissa can come up with now that will decide things.

And while everyone is betting on Google and MS, I suspect that Yahoo bears watching – it is the dark horse in this “race”. With Marissa being savvy about both Google’s plans (many of which she could have forged) as well as having an alarmingly accommodatingly Yahoo firmly in her hands, she can actually do an Apple on both Google and Microsoft. But that she can does not mean that she will. We will know in the next 3-6 months.

According to me none of the three will establish dominance over time. The market is just too big. It’s just like the with smartphones.

And then there is the Facebook factor. With Microsoft having a stake there, could we see Facebook and Microsoft combining “email strategies” to achieve internet identity dominance?

That could get seriously complicated for everyone!

If you have any comments, or wish to discuss this post, please do so on Twitter, where I interact under the ID @AtulChitnis