Yesterday a large webhosting company, Dreamhost, told the world that, while they would continue to provide email, their email service was not that great and suggested their customers should probably use Google’s Gmail instead.
They provided some fascinating data about email and support costs. My two favorite nuggets:
“Just over HALF of all the support requests we get are about email. Everything else we offer, combined, doesn‚Äôt add up to the amount of trouble, expense, use, and effort that goes into ‚Äúsimple‚Äù old email.”
“If a web server with maybe 750 customer sites on it were to go down for even as long as five hours, we‚Äôd probably get two angry messages about it. But if email goes down for the same number of customers for just five minutes we‚Äôll have already received 50!”
And they are clear as to their view of quality:
“(email is) something the big free email providers like Yahoo, Microsoft, and Google can do better.”
This post was picked up on Slashdot where the discussion, not surprisingly, swung back and forth between “I am a sysadmin managing 20 domains and use Google Apps and Gmail and love it” and, “You should always run your own mail server for privacy purposes and, well, its just plain fun.”
Both the original Dreamhost blog post and the resulting Slashdot discussion completely missed the point. Luckily the comments on the Dreamhost blog did not. They were very clear.
Overwhelmingly commenters said that they often came to Dreamhost for hosted email, they did not trust or want to use Gmail for their business email and many of them would immediately leave if Dreamhost discontinued offering email.
Whether geeks like it or not, the vast majority of people want and need simple, reliable email that is easy to use AND they want a supplier who will help them use it. That means providing phone support as well as resources to make things simpler. Support data provides golden information for i) how a service can be improved and ii) what your customer’s needs and wants are. Guess what? People are willing to pay for this.
Contrast the Dreamhost view with that of Rackspace. Faced with, I suspect, the same or similar data, Rackspace responded by going out and buying Webmail.us.
It is amazing to me that because most service providers have chosen to give away email they take that as an existence proof that people do not or will not pay for a quality email experience. People will pay over $80/month for a single cup of coffee per day. People paid Geek Squad over $1 billion last year to “set up” their wireless routers. Every geek knows how hard (or not) that is! My ten-year-old son does just that for my mother-in-law. With regards to email specifically, RIM, the Blackberry people, have a market cap of over $75b JUST FROM PROVIDING A PORTION of peoples email needs!
People, especially small businesses, use email more than anything else on the Internet‚Äîmuch more than they use or need web hosting. Service providers are in the business of making the Internet easier and more effective‚Äîwhether they like it or not.
Geeks who run service providers may find Gmail great. Human beings, not so much.