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07/08/2012 by

How Hotmail Became A Viral Hit Once

Hotmail is probably one of the best examples of Viral Marketing on the Internet. Hotmail was started by Sabeer Bhatia and Jack Smith in july 1996. By the end of the month Hotmail had more than 20,000 subscribers. In January 1997 the one millionth subscriber signed up with Hotmail.

Today the number of Hotmail subscribers worldwide has exceeded 65 million. Microsoft has recently rebranded the service into The Hotmail site will still be there, and users won’t be forced to make the switch…yet. Big question is: Will become as viral as Hotmail once did?

To me Hotmail is a real icon. I have been using it since 1997 and to be quite honest: can’t really remember how I got it, but I do remember the reason why I started using it: it was entirely free :-)

I did some research last week, here’s my outcome on how Hotmail once became so immense popular:

Initially, each Hotmail message arrived in someone’s mailbox mentioning the words in the signature of each email: “Get your free email at Hotmail” at the bottom. By clicking on the word Hotmail, the recipient was taken to Hotmail’s home page where the free e-mail service was explained. Back in the nineties most computer users paid for Internet service which included one e-mail address. A big benefit of having a Hotmail e-mail address is the fact that subscribers can access their account from anywhere in the world, instead on their home computer. And the fact that there are no extra costs for each extra email address, Hotmail’s approach resulted in thousands of sign-ups each day.

So for Hotmail, this viral approach was extremely cost-effective and successful. While one of Hotmail’s competitor spent $20 million to attract less than half of Hotmail’s subscribers, it spent only $500,000 over a 2 year period to gain 12 million subscribers.

The success of this company is one of the main reasons why Microsoft acquired the company 1997 for an estimated $400 million, and shortly after, it was rebranded as “MSN Hotmail”. On July 31, 2012, after 16 years, Microsoft announced a preview of, a new service that will probably replace Hotmail in the near future.

Over 1 million people reserved email addresses in the hours after Microsoft announced This sounds very promising for the service, but I wonder if Microsoft can convince Hotmail junkies, like me, to switch.

Do you old Hotmail users appreciate the switch? And what about the Gmail evangelists here? Do you dedicated Google fanatics have any plans to try the new

Looking forward to your comments!

About the author

Laurens Bianchi is an online marketing professional from the Netherlands and has been blogging on ViralBlog since 2008. Currently Laurens is a Managing Partner and Commercial Director at ICON&Co. Within the company Laurens is responsible for online and social media consultancy.

You can connect with Laurens via ICON&Co, Twitter, LinkedIn.

Read Laurens’ articles on Viralblog.


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