A Brief History of Hotmail, or An Example of Early Viral Marketing

TechCrunch has an interesting article up, titled PS: I Love You. Get Your Free Email at Hotmail, which is an excerpt from the new book Viral Loop: From Facebook To Twitter, How Today’s Smartest Businesses Grow Themselves.

The post covers the early days of the (ye olde) Hotmail service, well before Microsoft acquired the startup company, back when it was spelled “HoTMaiL.”

Smith wrote it down. He wasn’t sure about the “hot” part, but given everything else this seemed the best candidate. Then he noticed it contained the letters “HTML,” the acronym for “HyperText Markup Language,” the lingua franca of web pages.

The article largely focuses on the early attempt at virally marketing a website, which you’ve probably seen at one time or another. Back in 1996, and for years later, emails sent through Hotmail would have a little advertisement appended to the end, a single line reading “PS: I love you. Get your free e-mail at Hotmail.” This was back when email was fairly new to the general public, and it helped make HoTMaiL one of the leading webmail providers.

“Wait a second guys, don’t you get it?” Draper asked. A tag line at the bottom of each message would act as free advertising. “I can send you an e-mail and you can send it to all your friends and they get it and they can sign up and send it to their friends and pretty soon it takes off.”

It’s definitely worth a read, especially if you’re into the arcane lore and histories of the internet.