All Hail the Gmail

This morning, Google (s GOOG) turned on a new feature in Gmail: the ability to make and receive Google Voice phone calls. Google Voice is now tightly integrated with the address book, which has many waxing eloquent and predicting the death of Skype. Being a long-time VoIP watcher, I’m not as moved by it. Sure, it’s a very welcome addition, but I would have settled for better voice mail transcription and better quality of voice calls.

Nevertheless, the new feature launch made me realize that Gmail is the most viable launch pad for new Google services. From Google Talk to Google Buzz and now to Google Voice, Gmail has a mass audience and the momentum qualities to turn a new feature into a must-have service.  There are about 173 million Gmail accounts, while Yahoo Mail (s yhoo) has 284 million and Hotmail (s msft) has 360 million.

It’s part of my long-standing belief that inherently unsocial companies like Google should be using email as a way to become more social. With nearly 175 million users, Gmail is, in fact, the ideal platform for Google to become more social and, at the same time, start stealing attention away not only from Microsoft (s MSFT), but other communication and collaboration offerings. Why? Because today’s Gmail is much more than just email.

Google Talk (IM) + Google Voice (Phone) + Free SMS + Chat + Google Calendar + Google Documents + Gmail.

Google should add the ability to send and receive Twitter direct messages and interoperate with Facebook messaging, so we could have a full-blown communications platform. You can start and end your day in this hub without losing it once. Gmail leverages three of Google’s mainstay strengths: infrastructure, search and simplicity of user experience. If Google were smart, it would take a boatload of money and invest in making Gmail the center of all its forays into social and the enterprise (which would mean making Google Voice work with the Google Apps version of Gmail).

Using this platform, Google could then start to look at other opportunities. In her post How the Email Inbox Can Become an App Platform, Liz outlined how startups such as Gist, Rapportive and Etacts are using Gmail to help turn it into a social CRM. Others such as Yelp are offering add-ons to Gmail which allow you to preview restaurant reviews just by mouse-overs.

This isn’t the first time I’ve mused about this topic. Back in 2006, I wondered if email could become a collaboration tool. As one of our readers said:

The revolution for me in communication and collaboration has been Google’s Gmail. It looks kind of awkward at first, but once you start using it as your #1 email service and relying on it that you realize it really is a step up from everything before. With chat discussions saved and searchable, conversations grouped. And once you trust the search rather than worrying about archiving, tagging, deleting and folders or other ways to desperately organize your email then you can relax finally about it. Plus the killer app for me is fantastic, fast, completely synchronized mobile access.

I’ve often talked about rethinking the inbox and reinventing it to meet today’s needs. The slow evolution of Gmail is taking us to that future. I hope we get there before I have to resort to the idea of email bankruptcy. Now I have to go make some calls from my Gmail Voice!

Related Research from GigaOM Pro: Google’s Voice Possibilities.