“Classic” Use of Email

We have an ongoing study with approximately 10,000 users that allows us to see how they interact with email at a macro level (anonymously of course). One of the interesting items we track in the study is which email program people are using. There are the obvious top-level major webmail and standalone clients – AOL/AIM webmail, Earthlink, Gmail, Windows Live Hotmail, and Yahoo! Mail along with Outlook Express and Outlook 2003/2007 – but we can also determine the particular subtype, which yields some interesting insight.

Most webmail programs offer full-featured versions that are richer in graphics, chat links and companion applications, but often do not work well in low-bandwidth environments or across all browsers. That’s where the “classic” or basic versions come in. They have less sizzle, but work across a wider variety of environments and perform all the basic email functions just as well as their full-featured siblings.

Yahoo! Mail is a prime example of this. As a Yahoo! Mail user, you can select (even within a session) which version you want to use – the full-featured Yahoo! Mail (released in August 2007 – known prior to release as Yahoo! Mail beta) or the more streamlined Yahoo! Mail Classic (based on the “original” Yahoo! Mail introduced in 1997). Yahoo! offers a great comparison of the two on their site. Yahoo! Mail offers the latest in rich interfaces (preview pane, tabs, drag-and-drop, etc.) and application support, while Yahoo! Mail Classic works in more environments.

But which do users prefer? Based on our study, 56% of Yahoo! Mail users use Yahoo! Mail Classic, while 44% use the newer Yahoo! Mail. This could be historical – most of the Yahoo! Mail accounts came into being before 2007 when the new version was introduced. Interestingly, this ratio has remained constant (varying less than 1%) over the last year.

What about the other webmail programs? Gmail also has a dual offering, named Gmail standard and Gmail basic (see good comparison here), but as a more recent entrant to the webmail market (initially offered as an invitation-only beta in 2004, opened to the public in 2007), they haven’t dealt with a historical user base to the same extent as Yahoo! Mail. As a result, 95% of Gmail users in the study use Gmail standard, while only 5% use Gmail basic.

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