Whoa: It's 2012, and the World's Most Popular Email Service Is ... Hotmail

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Up until a few minutes ago, if you asked me what the world's most popular email service is, I'd have answered right away: "Gmail." Then I'd have thought about it for a second, and said, "Hmm, actually ... maybe Yahoo." Even after thinking about it for longer, though -- even, probably, had you given me all the Google-free time in the world -- I don't think I'd have guessed the right answer.

Which is Hotmail.

And it's Hotmail, actually, by a pretty wide margin. In an article about yesterday's assigned-email debacle at Facebook, the Wall Street Journal cited world email data from comScore. "According to the most recent available data from comScore," the story notes, "Microsoft's Hotmail was the most popular Internet-based email service globally as of May, with about 325 million unique visitors. Yahoo's service ranked second, with roughly 298 million users, while Google's Gmail garnered about 289 million users."

And now that I know the answer, and everything ... yeah, that makes sense. Hotmail has been around for nearly sixteen years: it was launched in July 1996 (under the original name of "HoTMaiL"). Yahoo is just slightly younger: It was launched in October of 1997. Gmail, by comparison, was launched in 2004 -- meaning that it's almost exactly half the age of Hotmail.

But Gmail needn't, necessarily, worry: in terms of adoption-over-time, Google's service is actually much more catchy than Microsoft's or Yahoo's. It's almost caught up, at this point, to its much-more-established competitors. Also, though each email service is likely hosting hefty percentages of out-of-use accounts, it's likelier that Hotmail and Yahoo, given their age, are hosting more of them -- accounts established by early adopters who then moved on to Gmail or other services. 

So those are the caveats. And yet the numbers speak for themselves. Hotmail hosts about 35 million more accounts, worldwide, than Gmail does. In terms of overall world penetration -- and here's a phrase I never thought I'd have the occasion to use -- Hotmail rules.

Via @jenny8lee

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Megan Garber is a staff writer at The Atlantic.

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