Goodnight Hotmail, You Sweet Prince

A eulogy for no one’s favorite email service.


Photo courtesy of Fylkesarkivet i Sogn og Fjordane

Friends, family, fellow former Hotmail users, we gather here today not to mourn the death of Hotmail — a highly mediocre personal electronic mail platform that was officially pronounced dead on May 3, 2013 — but, rather, as cliché as it sounds, to praise its life.

Hotmail — founded as “HoTMaiL” in July of 1996 by two genius dudes named Sabeer Bhatia and Jack Smith, subsequently acquired by Microsoft for a boatload of jack, and rebranded as “MSN Hotmail” — was, dare I say, a pioneer, no, a trailblazer, in the world of web-based emailing, rescuing us from the shackles of shit-even-for-1996 services like Prodigy and AOL. To me — to us — back then, Hotmail was, without hyperbole, a gosh-darn savior. We could theoretically email whomever we wanted whenever we wanted without real limitations and irritations, as long as we could scrounge up an internet connection, a login, and a password. Sure, Hotmail, you weren’t perfect (your interface was clunky, your spam detection left something to be desired, and you were relatively free of any bells and whistles like labels and folders and the like), but you were better, and, in ’96, better was good enough for us. I don’t think I’m speaking out of line here when I say that we loved you from the very beginning.

But something happened, Hotmail. You mistook our love as unconditional. You failed to innovate. You failed to make our lives easier. You, for lack of a more fitting phrase, let yourself go — in the functionality department as well as the looks department, continuing to dress in the drab blues and beiges of so many fat ladies’ housecoats. You weren’t reciprocating our love. You grew complacent. And as a result of your complacency, in the Spring of 2004 when many of us began receiving those precious Gmail beta invites, we examined our relationships with you, Hotmail, and the majority of us decided that it was time to move on. To move on to an email platform that cared about how it looked and cared about how it performed. To an email platform that cared about us and cared about our needs. To an email program that reciprocated. I was one of those folks, Hotmail. I was one of those who abandoned you for Gmail. I — not unlike the majority of you here today, I’m assuming — thought it was for the best.

There’s zero doubt that Gmail was then, and is today, a vastly superior way to communicate electronically in every imaginable way. Huge storage capacity. Huge attachment capacity. Almost-perfect spam filters. An incredibly logical and helpful way to organize not only your contacts but your messages, too, with filters and labels and such. To me, in its current iteration, Gmail feels as close to infallible as we’re going to get. But is this kind of utter reliability in electronic communication — in an age where electronic communication is king — what we as a society really need? Is it what we really want? I’m standing here in front of you today saying an emphatic, “No, it most certainly is not.”

Total reliability, to me, is a vastly overrated notion and, in the case of Gmail, total reliability is damaging. Damaging to our lifestyles. Damaging to our very freedom. Who among us doesn’t yearn for the days of yore when emails could actually get lost, and excuses for not doing what you were supposed to be doing or not being where you were supposed to be were, like, completely legit? With Gmail, you can find me at any time of any day and make me do whatever you want me to do whenever you want me to do it and, if I fail to, I’m up Shit’s Creek without a paddle. Emails no longer get lost, get erroneously caught in spam filters, or are rendered undeliverable because they contain more than 12 KB of attached information. They get delivered. Every single freakin’ time.

Damnit, I may not have been advanced enough in my thinking to see it then but, as I stand here in front of you today, I can very clearly see it now. Hotmail was my crutch, my rock, my excuse, my alibi — and now it’s gone and I mourn it. I mourn it and the freedom it gave me. I know, I know, I promised not to mourn, but I’m only human and damn is this a sad revelation.

But there is a bright side here for those of us smart enough and ballsy enough to recognize it. All three of you — raise your hands you bold, brilliant bastards — who were still current Hotmail users as of Hotmail’s time of death have been given the option to migrate to an account which, one can only hope, is as gloriously backward and Luddite-tastic as our dearly departed friend Hotmail was. You’re the smart ones, you three. You have been living your lives in blissful alibi-having ignorance and now, like it or not, you’re the new trailblazers. So blaze away. And, for the rest of us who don’t have the sack to dump Gmail and join you (or rejoin you as it were) on your soon-to-be blazed trail, we’ll be at that seven o’clock dinner with the in-laws at the Olive Garden because, of course, we got the fucking email.

Mike Zuckerman is an LA-based advertising copywriter and has written several short pieces for places like McSweeney’s and The Higgs Weldon. He’d someday like to be able to quit his day job, and you (yes, you!) can perhaps help him in this regard.