In inbox advertising less is more for Gmail
When Google introduced Gmail seven years ago, it didn’t copy Yahoo Mail or Microsoft’s Hotmail. Gmail was built for distraction-free speed. The ads were text-only, and so unobtrusive that you could forget they were even there.
In this respect, Gmail has been a retro service, resembling the text-only computing of ancient times, before mice and touch pads.
Google realized from the start that irrelevant ads would annoy its users. So it developed software that analyzed the words in an incoming message and then selected the seemingly most salient ads among those in its inventory.
Now, “better ads” are coming to Google, the company recently announced. But as has always been the case, ads in Gmail will remain “fully automated — no humans read your messages,” the company says.
Seven years in, it’s amazing to me how crude the Gmail ad-matching system still is. This week, an e-mail from my daughter’s school about a coming Teacher Appreciation Week brought an ad inviting me to “Become a Teacher, Earn a Master’s.” A different e-mail, which made no mention of medical matters but had the phrase “no recurrence,” was accompanied by an ad for patients who had had a mastectomy.
Gmail presents a single text ad when you look at an inbox view and haven’t selected a particular message. A recent sampling of ads included one inviting me to invest in oil stocks; a message from Rand Paul seeking my signature on a petition; and a plea from BP seeking to
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