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Rumors are indeed spreading at Internet speed today that Google’s announcement of a new e-mail service called “Gmail” is an elaborate April Fool’s Day prank by the company. WebProNews, I.T. Vibe, and other publications have questioned whether Google’s seemingly outlandish promise to provide each user with a gigabyte of free e-mail storage can possibly be true.

The unusually informal tone of the Google press release is also raising suspicions. Google cofounder Larry Page is quoted in the release as saying of a user who helped to inspire the service, “She kvetched about spending all her time filing messages or trying to find them. And when she’s not doing that, she has to delete email like crazy to stay under the obligatory four megabyte limit. So she asked, ‘Can’t you people fix this?’”

If it’s genuine, Google’s new service (purportedly being tested now by friends and family members of Google employees) adds some useful features to web-based e-mail, such as the ability to find old e-mail by searching rather than sorting. If it’s a hoax, it seems a particularly ill-conceived one, since it will leave media outlets feeling burned and potential users feeling disappointed.

Update 2:30 pm EST: In a Reuters story just posted on the Boston Globe web site and elsewhere, Google vice president of products Jonathan Rosenberg is quoted as saying that Gmail is not a hoax.

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