Roughly 60 days ago, I began My 30 Day Gmail and Yahoo! Mail Challenge. Obviously it lasted longer than 30 days, but the experience has been very, very useful. I've learned a lot about the strengths and weaknesses of both services.

Part of me wonders how many Gmail engineers have forced themselves to live off of Yahoo! Mail for a month. And I wonder how many Yahoo! Mail hackers spent a month exclusively on Gmail.

Anyway, here's the lowdown.


Before the challenge began, I was using Thunderbird for my personal mail, with a copy of every message also going to my Gmail account. When away from my notebook, I'd use Gmail as a substitute. Switching to use it full-time wasn't hard at all, since I was quite comfortable with the interface and knew the keyboard shortcuts quite well.

The bad:
  • I'd kill for a keyboard shortcut for "move message to trash" since I have a fair amount of mail that's not spam but also not worth saving.
  • Every once in a while I wish for folders instead of labels. I think the label interface is still a bit klunky but can't articulate what's wrong with it.
The good:
  • Gmail is fast, mostly easy to use without a mouse, stable, and reliable.
  • While the message grouping isn't true threading, it's the next best thing. It's better than any other web-based alternative.

I've decided to continue using Gmail as my primary vehicle for sending and receiving personal email. A copy of everything still goes to my server (and then to Thunderbird) just in case.

Yahoo! Mail Beta

Before the challenge began, I was using Thunderbird exclusively for my work email. When away from my laptop, I simply didn't send or receive much of any work related email. (Occasionally I'd send from my personal account.) Switching to use it full-time took some adjustment. Most of my struggles can be traced to two things: (1) the sheer volume of email I get as a result of being on tons of lists, and (2) the changing nature of the Yahoo! Mail beta.

The bad:
  • The UI latency for many operations is just high enough to be annoying. I attribute much of this to the fact that it's still being built out and optimized. I attribute less of this to the actual design choices made behind the scenes (such as a lack of queuing for message status changes).
  • Stability was a problem some days. There were times that I simply couldn't access my inbox for 15 or 20 minutes. Again, this will certainly vanish before full deployment. But I was using the product for my day to day work, so I was sensitive to it.
  • The UI is more mouse intensive than Gmail, so it simply took longer to move messages around. With a lower mail volume (think "typical home user"), I'd likely never notice.
  • Uploading attachments seems slower and less integrated than in Gmail. Gmail does it in-line while Yahoo! Mail uses a little pop-up window.
  • No threading. The team is well aware of this need, trust me. :-)
The good:
  • The interface is more like a traditional mail client, giving me a 3 pane view and folders. I'm still quite fond of living that way and suspect that the larger population is well. It just "feels right."
  • Most of my earlier small gripes have been fixed.
  • The search is quite good. It even knows how to search inside most attachments.

The Yahoo! Mail Beta has evolved a fair amount since I began using it. It's a good product that I'd likely continue using if I didn't get so much email at work. But without a UI that's better tuned to "power users", I've gone back to using Thunderbird. A copy of every message still goes to my Yahoo! Mail account just in case I need web-based access. I'd have no trouble using Yahoo! Mail for my personal email.

Just for the record, the internal version of Yahoo! Mail has a few features that even the outside beta testers do not see. Some of them will likely be surprising...

See Also:

Have you switched to web-based mail recently? If so, how's it working out?

Update: RSS is Now Integrated into Yahoo Mail and Alerts. It's one of those secret features I mentioned, but nobody told me we'd be announcing it yesterday. Grr. I'd have waited and included a lot more info here had I known. :-(

Posted by jzawodn at November 28, 2005 08:21 PM

Reader Comments
# Gilad.G said:

I'm in the process or migrating some of my business email operations into Yahoo! mail. I like the Address Book and Calendar and mainly the fact that they are all employed into one interface along with my email. As well as easily synched between the mail-computer-employees. If all goes well I will likely subscribe to the paid version soon.
I have been using Gmail since it's early beta days for all school (college) work, that is more of a webspace for transferring files back and forth.
Lastly Hotmail, cannot forget that one, I use that service for any site that requires my email address to sign up (and looks shady enough to not get my original), so largely it is a spam address.

on November 28, 2005 09:02 PM
# Hanley Leung said:

I've just completed my own 30 day attempt to switch over to Gmail. SPAM on my Y! Mail was ticking me off. I've finally just decided to switch back though. Here are my thoughts:

+ threading. Helps keep the inbox looking emptier, and it makes deleting a whole thread much easier once it's no longer needed
+ fast and snappy
+ alternate "From:" address is free
+ the concept of ARCHIVING is awesome
+ labels are nice, but in all honestly I haven't really found the need for them yet
+ auto save draft
+ can forward mail AND keep in inbox at same time
- Threading is twitchy and it seems arbitrary to me what mails in the thread it decides to open and when when i view my mail
- still uses the awful radio button interface for deleting multiple mails
- deleting takes two clicks (drop down)
- when i reply to a message it shows up as an unread mail in my inbox sometimes..weird
- starring is stupid. basically if i leave it in the inbox it's starred. why bother with another tag.
- too many google internal ads all over
- reply to button is at the bottom of an email. pain to get to if i need to scroll (yes yes i know there's a keyboard shortcut, but stilll....)
- RIDICULOUS red "Invite to Gmail" link in every reply box
- Hides my inline images ALWAYS. Can't turn it on by default
- too colorful :P
- weird and unintuitive button placements on gmail, why is the compose button all the way up there by itself :|
- lame RSS Clips defaulted when i opened my account.

Y! Mail Beta
+ Love preview pane
+ Love resizable Panes
+ Yahoo! has addressbook
+ Messenger has that hilight and add to address book making it easier for me to keep up my Y! Addres book
+ Tabbed workflow is awesome.
+ really nice add to address flow after sending email
- no threaded view
- no archive button (I've now created an archive folder that i dump all my mails i don't care about into. helps keep my inbox feeling nice and empty)
- Calendar and address book not yet integrated well.
- no RSS reader integration
- UI is a bit slower. doesn't preload emails.
- Delete mail bug where it keeps opening a POP UP
- the customizable "From:" address is a paid feature (though I have Yahoo! Plus from when I was at Yahoo! still).
- can't forward mail and keep in inbox at same time.

Most of my initial joy over using gmail was simply due to the fact that I had a nice empty inbox to work with. Once i picked up on the archive concept and moved 99.5% of my mail on Y! to an archive folder i got the same happy feeling with Yahoo! that I was geting on gmail, and I still had my preview pane, and addressbook integrated with Y! Messenger to boot.

Anyways net-net preview pane rocks my sox, and the twitchy threaded view of gmail leaves it as unfulfilled potential. At some point google is going to change from "The Search Company" to "The Tech Demo Company".

on November 28, 2005 09:12 PM
# James Scheinblum said:

Any word on when yahoo mail might be opened up to a larger beta test? I've been drooling over reports for the new client, and anxious to get my hands on it ;-)

on November 28, 2005 09:42 PM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:

Yes, but that's not something I can publish here until The Big Day.

on November 28, 2005 09:47 PM
# Brett said:

It seems like the real challenge was yahoo v gmail v thunderbird. gmail won over yahoo, but can it really replace Thunderbird? And if so, why?

on November 28, 2005 10:11 PM
# grumpY! said:

agree pretty much with everything you say.

gmail (where i get all of my work and personal mail forwarded):

- would love gmail to just have a delete button, had limited success with the greasmonkey version across firefox versions. but yes it is fast and the threading basically works.


- slower. yes i could just start it up and leave it running in a firefox tab, but i don't
- UI is out of step with its platform. i don't want my webapp to waste cycles trying to look like a desktop app. i also hate fake wood on car dashboards, incidentally. agree though that this is what the mouth-breathers will like.
- lame attempt to milk users with "mail plus".

but i don't see either client making a huge dent in the trends of webmail. most corporate users are still using outlook and will continue to do so. most home users will use what they used yesterday, since its a bigger pain in the ass to change addresses (mouth breathers don't do forwarding and send-as) and most of them don't care about AJAX. look at maps, mapquest is still the leader by a mile with a prehistoric UI.

on November 28, 2005 11:21 PM
# Deepak said:

I have not tried yahoo mail beta (on the waiting list), but have used good old yahoo mail for years. I use that now primarily as an address for signing on to a bunch of sites. On the other hand gmail is what I use for pretty much all personal communication now. Using a greasemonkey script I have added a delete button, although I wish there was a keyboard shortcut. I have thunderbird on my desktop where I aggregate gmail with a personal domain, but I hardly use it now, since gmail is fast and travels around the world with me.

on November 29, 2005 12:04 AM
# Vinay said:

I had applied for the Yahoo! Mail Beta but I've still not got the invite. In the meantime I have been using the AJAX Yahoo! mail firefox extension avaliable at This extension makes Yahoo! mail as fast and slick as gmail. I just hope I get my invite soon enough.

on November 29, 2005 01:31 AM
# Guillaume said:

i 've been on the Yahoo Mail beta for few months now. i've also tried Gmail.
I really prefer the Yahoo Mail beta. The login process is a bit slow and I hope this will be fixed. But well when Gmail will stop to automatically add anyone in my address book and will feature a calendar and a Notepad then it could deserve to be compared to Yahoo Mail
most of my feedbacks were well received and things have been fixed.
Should it be Gmail or YMail, both are way better than MS Live Mail
For those who use Yahoo Mail , you might be interested by the Yahoo Mail group I have created:

on November 29, 2005 01:43 AM
# John Jonas said:

After a hard drive crash a few months ago where the only thing I lost were my emails (because I hadn't spent the time to figure out how to backup emails from thunderbird), I decided I needed to try moving email completely online.

I have used gmail exclusively for a few months now and absolutely love it.

The biggest reason I like it is because when I don't want to deal with a message right now, or I don't know what do do about it, I can star it and archive it. That way it's not "gone", but it's also not in my face anymore.

The only complaint I have is the gmail search feature won't do a partial text search. If you search for "jer" because you don't remember how to spell "jeremy", gmail won't find the message. That drives me nuts.

When that hard drive crashed I also decided to try moving other apps off my desktop and online. I wrote about it here:

And while I know there are lots of apps that people use that I don't, we're getting much closer to being able to move offline.

on November 29, 2005 08:07 AM
# Abhi said:

Just wondering.. when will the yahoo mail beta go public? Been a while since anybody's talked about it.

Now to gmail, gmail is very nice but the lack of IMAP and folders is a nasty problem IMHO.
I switched my mail to gmail for roughly 15 days and then decided it was just not for me. I get 100+ messages a day and all of them remain cluttered up in the inbox. Not being able to file it away into appropriate folders is a big drawback. The search is limited to only 20 results.

Gmail's pop3 is half way between the regular pop accounts and IMAP but half and half solutions satisfy nobody. Gmail should implement IMAP and charge for it. Those who don't pay can use pop3.

So I'm sticking with Fastmail for now.

on November 29, 2005 09:22 AM
# Atle Veka said:

"No threading. The team is well aware of this need, trust me. :-)"

Is that the reason for the delayed launch of the public beta? ;)

Can't wait for the beta, the old interface is driving me nuts now that I know how much better it can/should be.

on November 29, 2005 04:28 PM
# jeffery said:
on November 29, 2005 06:48 PM
# Doug said:

Does the new Ymail have improved spam filtering, or is it an interface upgrade only? The big thing that drove me away from using my Ymail account was that Ymail repeatedly failed to classify spam messages as spam, and repeatedly incorrectly marked certain legitimate mail as spam, despite my dutiful use of the "Junk" and "Not Junk" buttons. It should be smart enough at least to recognize legimate senders of mail after I have marked them as "Not Junk" once; instead I would repeatedly see email from the same organization always classified as spam no matter how many times I told it it was wrong.

on November 30, 2005 05:49 AM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:

The spam filtering is quite good, in my experience. In fact, both Gmail and Y! Mail do an excellent job of keeping most spam out and most ham in.

on November 30, 2005 06:51 AM
# Kiran Max Weber said:

Just posted this on Niall's blog as well...

My big question is this, and it would make the new Yahoo! mail truly killer. Can I add my non-Yahoo! email accounts into this system i.e. IMAP? That would immediately eliminate a possible FOUR desktop apps on my PowerBook.

I know people will bark at this but centralization/access anywhere of my info is one of my main pet peeves and Yahoo! has an opportunity to pull ahead on this.

on November 30, 2005 07:34 AM
# Rimantas said:

Abhi, did you really try Gmail or some other mail?
Folders? They are replaced by labels. Tastes differ, but I prefer labels much more, at leas I can use sveral labels for
the same letter.
Search results limited to 20? That's one page of results, not
all results. Try click "older"...
And a little of nitpicking - why "Yahoo! Mail Beta", but just
"Gmail"? Officially Gmail is also beta...

on November 30, 2005 07:36 AM
# Abhi said:

I have been using gmail since may,04. I'm not really a fan of labels. I like sorting out mail into their respective folders. Folders have been around for a long while. There's a reason why. They work! Just because google has introduced labels does not mean folders have become obsolete. I really dislike inbox clutter. There are mails that don't need my attention now but are also not archivable. Where do you put them? And to sort out archive mails if they have no labels requires a bit of search.

Gmail can display upto 100 mails a page. Why can't it display more than 20 results per page? If you want to delete messages or search through a large number of mails, it's not ideal.

I don't have a opinion about Gmail Beta or Yahoo Mail Beta. The Yahoo mail beta was to distinguish it from the current Yahoo mail that is publicly accessible.
With fastmail, I've received 2 spams in over 8 months. With gmail, depends, 2-8 spams(out of 100+ regular mails) a day in my inbox. I don't use Yahoo mail so no idea about it.

on November 30, 2005 08:19 AM
# Ben Metcalfe said:

I still wonder whether there is privacy and security issues with people off-loading a lot of corporate (and even personal) email to companies like Yahoo and Google. Especially if you work in the industry, where the contents of your email might be of interest.

I'm not saying that Google or Yahoo would do anything naughty, but there's nothing to stop a rouge engineer working for either company (or indeed another email provider) going AWOL and taking a peek.

on November 30, 2005 02:06 PM
# Graeme Williams said:

I think the reason people aren't completely happy with labels in GMail is that there's no easy way to search on multiple labels. A label is pretty clearly equivalent to a single level of folders, but not to folders within folders.

I think Yahoo! MyWeb 2.0 does this exactly right. You can click on a single tag (== label) and then you see only the tags for items with the first tag. If you click a second tag, you see the tags for items with the two tags you've selected. If you wanted, you could treat this exactly like folders, but you can also do stuff with this that you can't do with folders, specifically adding and deleting tags one by one.

So now can I join the Yahoo! Mail Beta??

on November 30, 2005 02:16 PM
# Adam said:

> I'm not saying that Google or Yahoo would do anything
> naughty, but there's nothing to stop a rouge engineer
> working for either company (or indeed another email
> provider) going AWOL and taking a peek.

I've thought of this, too. However, I'd guess that both Google and Yahoo! make it extremely tough for employees to log into a member's account and read his/her mail, if it's even possible at all. And beyond that, you can be sure that there'd be an audit trail.

My guess is that no engineer at either company would be willing to suffer the likely repercussions of such a blatant privacy violation (financial or reputational).

However, I do acknowledge (as others have brought up) that there's the specter of governmental snooping. While I doubt that any of the major services have created a backdoor for the feds, I can imagine that if Mr. Ashcroft came a callin' that any of the services would feel (and be) compelled to release e-mail records in the name of national security.

Then again, come to the think of it, how's that any different than my accounts on FastMail, at my Web host provider (accounts I access via IMAP), or any ISP-specific mail? All major ISPs and such have backups, and with IMAP you don't even *need* a backup unless you've deleted and purged everything.

Whew, well, I digress. My point is, at the end of the day, your data is probably as much or more secure on GMail and Y! Mail than anywhere else, including your own desktop.

on November 30, 2005 10:20 PM
# Dustin Diaz said:

I really really like Y! Beta mail but still have issues of its dependancy on the mouse. Not quite as many keyboard shortcuts and takes a little longer to load... but I think we've all excused most of this stuff due to its 'beta' nature. Just sitting in behind the scenes, the development is coming along quite quickly and as Jeremy said: There are lots of things we just can't say.

To this day, however, I continue to use Gmail just because I'm comfortable with plain and simple interface. I like things simple, but I know the rest of the world is really going to like the Y! Mail UI much better.

on November 30, 2005 11:57 PM
# Jason said:

Wondering when it's going to be public too, and if anyone has an invite they'd be willing to share? If so visit my blog and add a comment somewhere! Thanks!

on December 1, 2005 07:26 AM
# Dustin Diaz said:

Hehe. Invites are so Google. psssh...

on December 1, 2005 10:32 AM
# Nils said:


>>The spam filtering is quite good, in my experience. In fact, both Gmail and Y! Mail do an excellent job of keeping most spam out and most ham in.>>

hmmm, frankly yahoo's spamfilter sucks imho. Works maybe %50 of the time in my case even though I've trained it left and right :(

Thanks for the insight into gmail vs. yahoo though :)


on December 1, 2005 01:37 PM
# John Schneider said:

Tagging vs. Folders is probably the key difference in the two schools of thought about email management. Read Clay Shirky's bits on ontology vs. tagging. He lays it out well.

For any individual it may just boil down to whether one is more visual or not, liking to manage folders you can see vs. labels you cannot (hint perhaps gmail needs a tag cloud).

So, I prefer tagging to folders, because I agree with Clay, who can a priori know what the right ontology is, things change. I prefer gmail to other mail programs because it's fast on the search and the search works, I occasionally use the labels to search or review a higher level thread but, I think they are a complete pain to use (making for that unsatisfying feeling)

Lastly the big failure of both is that you are forced to pop all of your mail to some location that is off line via Thunderbird or Outlook lest you be caught w/o connectivity and need to access your mail.

on December 2, 2005 10:06 AM
# Jeff said:

>>hmmm, frankly yahoo's spamfilter sucks imho. <<

Keep in mind that anyone using MailPlus (or Y!Plus, or the SBC version of Y! Mail) will have Spamguard Plus. Your average user just has Spamguard. All users who have regular Spamguard share the spam filter. When you hit "Spam" or "Not Spam" in regular Spamguard, the results of that are diminished by all the other users' inputs into the filter. So you're essentially contributing to improve the filter rather than creating any personalized rules. Users with Spamguard Plus have their own custom spam filter, so hitting "Spam" or "Not Spam" has an immediate impact. I've got Plus, and I get almost no spam in my inbox and can't remember that last time I had a false positive. And I typically have a couple thousand spams in my Bulk folder at any period in time.

on December 7, 2005 01:28 PM
# kael said:

Would the other secret feature you mentioned look like this ?

$ telnet 143
Connected to
Escape character is '^]'.
* OK IMAP4rev1 server ready (3.4.4)
01 capability
01 OK CAPABILITY completed

That's incredible !

on December 21, 2005 05:32 PM
# sjk said:

Quick-and-sloppy list of some things I dislike most about Gmail:

• Certain action "links" (e.g. newer/older) don't have fixed locations; they can shift during usage, becoming a moving target for mouse clicks. Commonly-used actions need predictable targets.
• Deleting large numbers of messages is tedious; maximum trashed 100 at a time, then permanently deleted 100 at a time
• Inability to search within any message header; other search-related limitations (e.g. only 20 matches visible at a time); can't apply actions to search (or filter) results (AFAIK)
• Labels can't be nested; longer labels truncated when displayed
• Too little message content and too much vertical scrolling with expanded conversations; hard to read quickly when cluttered with "noisy" signatures (e.g. ones appended by Yahoo! Groups); lack of time-sequential thread ordering flow in longer conversations

I like some of the Gmail concepts (folderless mail) but the implementation is still too lacking and limiting for regular use. And the UI just isn't comfortably usable, especially with its moving target elements.

on January 9, 2006 01:22 PM
# George said:

I used to think that Yahoo!Mail Plus ($20/year) email service was a much better alternative than Gmail, but my opinion is now the opposite after my recent experience with Yahoo: they lost 6 continuous weeks of ALL the emails sent to AND from my account during 2006. I lost hundreds of emails, which I was informed were “corrupted”. I learned this after repeatedly reporting the problem to Yahoo Help (4 email exchanges on same topic with Yahoo’s “help” staff, all save the last resulted in the same false “problem solved” form-letter reply). The final insult was Yahoo’s proposed solution - that I contact the senders and recipients of my lost emails and ask them to send me a copy of each correspondence.

on October 20, 2007 10:45 AM
# Alex said:

Anyone have new opinions on the whole mail thing? My old ISP ( finally seems to have disappeared so now I'm wondering whether to stick with my old Yahoo! and Rocketmail addresses, or if Gmail is the way to go. I would prefer to have, I guess it's called POP access, via Apple Mail. Yahoo! still seems to charge for that, but is Gmail's POP good and smooth?

on January 22, 2008 10:20 PM
# said:

Actually, Gmail does have a "move to Trash shortcut".

on April 29, 2009 10:12 PM
# indra jatmiko said:

Yea, Gmail is better than Ymail

on April 3, 2010 06:31 PM
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