See title? Can I ask a question about recommendations for, say, Gmail alternatives?

Can I ask for recommended websites? seems to deal with a similar issue, but it doesn't specifically discuss webmail.

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    Yes it is. Webmail desktop-client application are on topic and web-app too if you ask for specifics needs and precise requirement. Just have look on email's question already asked.. Feb 25, 2014 at 9:44
  • Right. Then we probably need a webmail tag synonym for email.
    – landroni
    Feb 25, 2014 at 9:50
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    Have a look of these discussions (1 and 2) about email tagging. Feb 25, 2014 at 9:57
  • @landroni I think we came to a conclusion, see my edited answer. Mar 3, 2015 at 9:09
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    @AngeloFuchs Thank you so much for trying to disentangle this. From what I see, it seems that such questions, properly formulated, are mostly on topic.
    – landroni
    Mar 3, 2015 at 15:08

2 Answers 2


The answer is: It depends on the wording of the question - What are you looking to replace of GMail?

GMail consists of several parts:

  1. The software that runs on the Google Server and handles the mail. If you are looking for a different Engine to host it yourself - thats on-topic, ask: "Mail Engine to run on [system]."
  2. The Interface / Frontend to that Engine. The Mail User Agent (MUA) that interacts with you and hands the Mail to an Engine. If you are looking for this ask for "Clients that interacts with Mail Servers"? They can be web based, but don't have to be. A relevant criteria of a generic Client is that it interacts with more than one mail service providers (that is it uses POP3 or IMAP or something the like).
  3. The combination of services provided to you by Google. Thats off-topic. Its a service, not a software. A "replacement for GMail" can't be a software because GMail is embedded in the company Google and that is more then just a Mail handling piece of code.
  4. The service of hosting mail for you, that would be off-topic too.

The basic rules for asking good questions of course still also apply.

Longer answer to the client part: A replacement for GMail that looks for (Web-)Apps that handle Mail for you would be on-topic. You would need to specify what requirements you have for it to apply. If none of the requirements is: "I want to have an address that is not bound to the provider." then Yahoo Mail, Hotmail, etc. would be valid answers, they too can connect to POP3 and IMAP so they can connect to the GMail Mailservers (when I used Yahoo for that ~10 years ago I needed to pay them for this, don't know how its today). They are not websites that let you look at stuff, they are webapps that lets you create stuff.

I wrote a set of criteria to distinguish the two that I would apply here as well, because the website of a Webmail provider is different from the Webapp he serves.


  • + is designed to be interacted with
  • + possibility to create content (your E-Mail)
  • - possibility to transport (own) content out of the site - Most Mailhosters don't allow this
  • - usually no ability to import content to manipulate it
  • + Your content is your own, other people cannot change it (not even moderators) 1
  • + Your content is private to you
  • + Given you had the program of the hoster yourself and would run it on your own server without any data from the original source, the program would still be useful.

So at 5/7 I would conclude web based clients for generic mail servers are webapps.

1 Technically, the owner of the database that hosts your data could, but its not meant that way.

  • The other answer seems to contradict yours. Comments?
    – landroni
    Feb 27, 2015 at 11:12
  • @landroni See my edit. Feb 27, 2015 at 13:18
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    Gmail is not a webapp. It fails your criteria. So I don't understand why you consider that a replacement for Gmail would be on-topic. Gmail's webapp is neither here nor there: it's specialized to Gmail's web service. An alternate way of interacting with Gmail's web service would be on-topic, but that isn't “an alternative for Gmail”, it's “a MUA that interacts with Gmail”. Feb 28, 2015 at 17:39
  • @Gilles GMail is a webapp that handles Mail. Mail is the content, the data. GMail is the application that handles it. I can write Mails from GMail to any other mailer, I don't visit GMail primarily for consumption of content but to read mail directed at me and create new content (mail). Its personal to me and if I had the GMail program myself and would host it on my own server it would still maintain its usefulness. It meets 5 of 7 of the criteria I set up for webapps, so yes - GMail is a webapp and so is a replacement for it - any other web mailer. Mar 2, 2015 at 8:49
  • @AngeloFuchs I agree and disagree at the same time. It all depends on how the question is phrased: if it's asking for an "alternative front-end to GMail", it would be on-topic. If it's asking for an alternative to the GMail service, it's not. // Btw: GMail perfectly allows to "transport (own) content out of the site" by different means: Either by mirroring it via IMAP, or by getting a dump of your entire Google account.
    – Izzy Mod
    Mar 2, 2015 at 10:42
  • @Izzy the ability to transport the content makes GMail even more of an application and even less of a hoster or a Website. At this point I'm just curious how this meta turns out as I seem to have a point of view thats different to the other one - yet I can't seem to understand why. Could you list the criteria that makes you decide the way you do? Mar 2, 2015 at 12:30
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    If you ask me, I'd restrict software to what you can install on your own machine. We've got a big "gray area" when it comes to web services: while hosting requests are clearly off-topic, I'm always confused when a service is on-topic and when not – so I usually keep my mouth shut on that. Gmail is such a dark gray spot, as it's about hosting your mail (when talking about the service) – hence my reasoning: hosting requests are off-topic. An alternative frontend to a hosting service is not.
    – Izzy Mod
    Mar 2, 2015 at 12:58
  • @Izzy Thanks that makes it more clear. Mar 2, 2015 at 13:27
  • @AngeloFuchs No, Gmail is not a webapp. Technically, Gmail consists of both a service (the part that runs on Google's servers) and a webapp (the part that runs in your browser), but the webapp's sole role is to access the Gmail service, so you can't substitute the service part while keeping the webapp part. You can't run Google's server-side software on your computer, so it isn't software, it's a service. Service recommendations are off-topic. I have no idea why you seem to think that Gmail is an application — it isn't, since you can't run it on your computer. Mar 2, 2015 at 17:20
  • @Gilles Thank you. I can now understand your thinking. My definition of what GMail is, differs from yours and thus we came to different conclusions. To me GMail is a software that runs on a server. Its function is to handle mail. You can subside the function of handling mail with a different software that has different characteristics. Yahoo Mail is an example that too is software that runs on a server. [1/2] Mar 2, 2015 at 21:39
  • @Gilles [2/2] Both share the interface for the user: A WebApp. Its part of the software and while you can't combine one Webapp with the backend of the other, they still are software. I have a server. I could run that software (if I had it), it would handle mail and thus fulfill its function. As Izzy correctly pointed out, it strongly depends on the formulation of the question. I'll edit my answer accordingly. Mar 2, 2015 at 21:40
  • Yahoo Mail is not a Gmail. It is a different service that provides an email address, storage of email received at this address, and several interfaces (at least web and IMAP) to read and send email using this address. A question where the answer would be Gmail, Yahoo mail, Outlook Online, … is a question about a hosted service and is thus off-topic. A question where the answer would be Courier, Zimbra, Exchange, … is a question about software that you can run on your server plus an associated application that you can run in your browser and is thus on-topic. Mar 2, 2015 at 23:34
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    Your revised answer is a bit confusing, but I think it's now in line with our stance on software vs hosting. Mar 2, 2015 at 23:35

Webmail engines — the software you run on the server — is on-topic.

Webmail providers — companies who run the server — are off-topic.

This is a case among others of Are hosting recommendation requests on-topic?

  • I disagree and just added details to my answer below. Could you have a look? Feb 27, 2015 at 13:18
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    Short variant of my comment on your answer, @AngeloFuchs: You're looking for an alternative hoster of your mails with Google (off-topic: hosting recommendation); you're looking for an alternative frontend to access your mail, or a software you can run on your sever to replace Gmail altogether: on-topic, as it asks for software. So I agree with Gilles here.
    – Izzy Mod
    Mar 2, 2015 at 14:08
  • @Izzy Arright. I edited my answer to contain this information as well (As I feel Gilles answer as being to short. At least one person - I - didn't understand it correctly) Mar 2, 2015 at 21:57
  • Short it is indeed, @AngeloFuchs – I guess Gilles is getting tired of this ever-repeating topic (as I am, as explained). We've been over this more than once – but still the topic is confusing, not only to me I guess. I wish we'd left the entire webapps/service/hosting area off-topic altogether – would be easier to define "borders" then :)
    – Izzy Mod
    Mar 2, 2015 at 22:40

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