Criptext: When a recall actually looks pretty good.

Criptext logo

I doubt there are many of us in business who have never inadvertently sent an e-mail to the wrong person … or sent a message before it was fully complete … or forgot to include an attachment.

In such cases, it would be so nice to be able to recall the e-mail — just like we used to do in the days of postal mail simply by retrieving the letter from the outgoing mail bin.

Recent news reports reveal that this capability is actually a reality now.

In the fast lane?  Criptext principals just completed a successful round of investment funding.
In the fast lane? Criptext principals just completed a successful round of investment funding.

A start-up firm called Criptext has just raised a half-million dollars in private investment funds to help it perfect and expand a product that allows any sent e-mail to be recalled — even if the recipient has already opened and read it.

According to a report from Business Insider, Criptext is currently available as a plugin and a browser extension for the popular Outlook and Gmail email services.  It operates inside of the email, enabling the sender to track when, where and who has opened emails and/or downloaded attachments within them.

In addition, Criptext also enables the sender to recall emails, and even to set a self-destruct timer to automatically recall emails after a specified length of time.

Viewing a screenshot of how Criptext works (in this case with the Gmail service), things look pretty simple (and pretty cool, too):

Criptext activity panel example

I thought it would be only a matter of time before some developer would figure out a way to “unwind” an email communiqué once the “send” button was hit.  And now we have it.

Of course, time will tell whether Criptext can live up to its billing … or if it turns out to be more of a nightmare of glitches than a dream come true.

It would be great to hear from anyone who may have first-hand experience with Criptext — or other similar email functionalities.  Please share your experiences and perspectives pro or con with other readers here.

Big, brawny behemoth: Google’s Gmail email service reaches 900 million active users.

Google GMailIt’s been several years since Google gave us an official report on Gmail’s user base.

But now we have a new announcement from one of Google’s senior vice presidents,  reporting that Google’s Gmail service has now reached a new milestone of 900 million active users.

Three years ago — the last time Google commented officially on the Gmail active user base — the company had reported ~425 million users.

… Which means that in the past three years alone, Gmail’s active user base has more than doubled — and doubled from an already strong baseline figure.

In fact, Gmail had already become the most popular email service in America by 2012.

Despite the fact that most other email services have failed to report newer stats since then, it’s a safe bet that Google remains King of the Hill when it comes to the number of active users of its Gmail email service.

[Related to this, the same Google spokesperson is also reporting that three out of four active Gmail service users are accessing their accounts on mobile devices.  I’m sure this doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone.]

The continued robust growth in Gmail users may explain why Google hasn’t been making significant changes to the service or the user interface.  Any service that’s the largest one out there can’t risk irritating or alienating large swaths of its users.

Indeed, even when an email service isn’t the biggest or most important one in the market, making changes can still be a risky move.  Just recall the howls of protest from users (and even some of Yahoo’s own employees) when Yahoo made sweeping changes to its e-mail service about 18 months ago.

No doubt, Yahoo has lost a certain number of subscribers who simply couldn’t abide the changes.

Google InboxIn Google’s case, what it’s doing is using Inbox, which Gmail users see on top of the Gmail platform, as an area to experiment with new email features and such — without upsetting satisfied Gmail users who may have little appetite for those changes.

Inbox is an email app by Google for Android and iOS, along with web browsers Chrome, Firefox, and Safari.  In a hint at things to come, Google has now made Inbox open to all users.

Google claims that its Gmail and Inbox services serve different functions and needs, and that it will continue to work on enhancements and updates for both.

But it’s pretty clear that Inbox is where the bulk of Google’s developmental effort and energy are being directed these days.

Software and security flaws: Even mighty Google isn’t immune.

Here’s a bit of news that doesn’t make one feel very reassured about cyber-security.

Gmail email accounts compromisedIt turns out that a major flaw has existed in the security of Google’s Gmail service for an extended period of time.

And that flaw could have been exploited to extract millions of Gmail addresses – potentially every single one of them, in fact.

What’s even more unnerving is that this flaw wasn’t uncovered by Google’s own engineers, but instead by security researchers in Israel who were kind enough to bring it to the company’s attention.

Thankfully, it was the “good guys” rather than the “bad” who made the discovery.

Evidently, the flaw resided in the sharing feature of Gmail that allows each user to delegate access to his or her Gmail account.

By “tweaking” the web address, the security researchers were able to reveal a random user’s e-mail address.

Once this procedure was proved out, scaling the hack was relatively easy.  By automating character changes using a software tool called DirBuster, the researchers were able to harvest approximately 37,000 Gmail address inside of two hours.

Oren Hafif, one of the security researchers involved in the exercise, blogged recently about the potential scope of the flaw:

“I brute-forced a token in a Gmail URL to extract all of the e-mail addresses hosted on Google.  I could have done this potentially endlessly.  I have every reason to believe every Gmail address could have been mined.” 

While the hack would not have exposed passwords explcitly, it could have left email accounts open to password-guessing attacks — not to mention unwanted spam mail or phishing.

Potentially, the breach could have affected not only personal users, but also businesses that use Google to host their email platforms.

Helpfully, the Israeli security researchers decided to inform Google of their discovery, preferring to be part of the solution rather than let the company twist in the wind.

So … are you ready for the kicker?

Reportedly, it took Google one full month to fix the software bug after being informed about it.

For a core service like email that is so central to the entire Google experience, one wonders why it took one of the world’s largest and most powerful companies weeks rather than just days to fix the problem.

If you’re looking for a redeeming or staisfying finale to this story … there really isn’t one.

Why?  Because in its infinite generosity, Google decided to reward Mr. Hafif for bringing the software flaw to its attention, in the form of a cash award.

One that really, really expressed thanks and appreciation for what he did.

Reportedly, the award amounted to US$500.

Goodbye Hotmail … Hello Outlook

Hotmail becomes OutlookMicrosoft has finally bitten the bullet and acknowledged the catch-up ball it needs to play in the e-mail space.

Last week, Microsoft announced that it’s unveiling a completely revamped version of its Hotmail free online e-mail service.

Dubbed “Outlook” in a bid to transfer some of the goodwill from Microsoft’s popular Office email application to the free e-mail space, the successor product to Hotmail incorporates functionalities designed to make it more directly competitive with Google Gmail, which has been growing by leaps and bounds in recent times.

You may not realize it from the persistent dearth of industry press coverage about Hotmail, but it’s actually held the rank of the world’s largest online mail service, owning more than a third of the world market share (~325 million users), according to June 2012 reporting from cyber-statistics firm comScore.

But Microsoft’s margin over rivals has shrunk considerably, with Gmail hard on its tail at ~31% market share of users and Yahoo holding a similar percentage (~32%).

It may be surprising to learn that in the ever-changing digital space … but prior to this revamp Microsoft hadn’t updated any of the features or functionality of Hotmail in nearly a decade.

“A lot has changed in the last eight years, and we think it’s time for a fresh look at e-mail,” Chris Jones, a Microsoft exec, stated in a blog post that has to be the understatement of the decade.

Here’s some of what’s in store for users when they switch from Hotmail to Outlook:

  • A clean, uncluttered look – just like Gmail.
  • Tasteful, unobtrusive advertisements appearing in the right column of the screen – just like Gmail.
  • Users can link up with all major social media accounts to view the latest updates from their contacts and friends – just like Gmail.

Is this beginning to sound a bit repetitive?

But there is one feature that may give Outlook a bit of a leg up on its free online competitors: The service will automatically detect mass messages like sales notices, daily deals, newsletters and social updates and place them in separate folders. Users can customize this functionality to sort incoming e-mail any way they wish.

I haven’t used Hotmail in the past … although I might be tempted to consider Outlook now that these newest innovations have been added.

But the long-term success of Outlook – and any free e-mail platform – is going to be how effectively they can connect various online assets together to provide “one-stop convenience” for users.

One thing’s certain: There’s no way Microsoft can let another eight years go by before making more enhancements to its free e-mail service offering, considering the always-aggressive posture of Google and its Olympian competitive spirit.