Getting to Know Gmail: A conversation with Georges Harik, Director of Googlettes

If you’ve had your fill of Web-based e-mail burdened with skimpy storage and cluttered interfaces, say hello to Google’s free Gmail. Packed with innovative features such as message threading and fast searching, Gmail provides a full 1 gigabyte of server space and does away with both banner and pop-up ads, relying instead on sponsored links similar to those on Google’s search engine page.

We asked Google’s Georges Harik, Director of Googlettes, to run down his sought after creation.

Q: First of all, exactly what is your role and responsibility at Google and Gmail?

Harik: I’m Director of Googlettes, which is not a rock and roll band! It’s a group of people who work on making little Googles. Google is a very innovative company and likes to start things, so the idea is to form an environment where groups of people can act a lot like Google did a few years ago and really go out and try to change the world. (Ed. Note: Find his work at

Q: For those that may not have seen or heard of Gmail, can you run through for us what the bigger vision is for Gmail at Google?

Harik: The idea behind Gmail is to make an e-mail and communications facility for people that just works. Our Web site – – is where you can go and basically receive the equivalent of Web mail. It’s similar in some ways to YahooMail or HotMail. We’ve tried to fix many things that are difficult in e-mail. For instance, you spend a lot of time trying to find a message that someone sent you two or three weeks ago. Our interface makes it really easy to find that by putting a search box on top.

Q: What are some of the other features?

Harik: We have a “conversation view” of your messages. You go back and forth between your friends, organizing where to go for dinner, that goes to five or six messages. Maybe the phone number for the place is in one message, the address is in another message – and now you’re just lost because you can’t find all these messages. Gmail keeps track of what we think is a conversation between a group of people and we show you the entire conversation at once, which makes it really easy to follow really long discussions.

Q: I live in much Gmail, so what I find infinitely helpful is it shows how long ago the message was received in terms of “one minute ago” or “five days ago”.

Harik: We figured out that, when you look at dates and times, people are sort of lost because they don’t exactly know when “now” is. So we put “recentcy” in various places in the interface. It’s better to know it was e-mailed “10 minutes ago” than whatever time it is now, which you may not know.

Q: What feature would you say is the most popular?

Harik: That’s hard to answer. You ask a lot of people why they like Gmail and what they come up with is sort of a beaming smile. One thing people have said they liked is we use JavaScript that makes it instantaneous to pop back and forth between your messages and your Inbox.

If you want a free Gmail account, Google is currently only offering it as part of a preview release and limited test, and there’s no word on when it will be more widely available. If you’re interested in receiving an invitation for a Gmail account, e-mail

The full audio interview with Georges Harik of can be heard Nov. 20, on KLAY 1180 AM at 11 a.m. and Nov. 23, on KVTI 90.9 FM at 10 p.m. It will also be available at starting Saturday.

Dana Greenlee is co-host/producer of the WebTalkGuys Radio Show, a Tacoma-based nationally syndicated radio and webcast show featuring technology news and interviews.