For the sake of comparison, a review of discussion forums for users of Yahoo Mail and Windows Live Hotmail reveals far fewer reports of lost or disappearing inbox messages than for Gmail, even though those rival services have larger user bases.
Matt Cain, a Gartner vice president and lead email analyst, hasn't investigated reports of lost messages in Gmail, but said the problem hasn't been observed as a common one in Yahoo Mail or Hotmail, both of which have traditionally enjoyed a high degree of data integrity in their message repositories.
"I can't validate [that this is a problem with Gmail] but if it's true, it's coming at an unfortunate time for Google, because the company is aggressively pushing into the enterprise email space," Cain said, referring to the Gmail component of the Google Apps hosted collaboration and communication application suite, designed for organizations of all sizes, including large ones with its Premier edition.
A review of the Gmail Help forum reveals that reports of lost messages have become more common in the past year, with a higher volume of complaints occurring since July.
Another user who encountered this problem was Gary S Moore of Fort Worth, Texas, who had used Gmail without problems for two years until one day last month, when he noticed all his archived messages had vanished from his account, including more than 100 photos.
In Greenwood, Missouri, Monroe Johnson was also affected, when a portion of his stored messages disappeared in October. Johnson, like Sessum and Squazzo, doesn't believe an error on his part or a compromised account might be to blame.
"I doubt it. I have been working with computers since 1997," Johnson said. He's the only one who has access to his account, he said.
Like other interviewed users who contacted Google seeking help and technical support, Sessum only received a canned reply saying Google had determined that her problem wasn't due to a technical issue with Google systems and that she should change her Gmail password.
"I guess they are insinuating someone bothered to break into my Gmail account with the express purpose of deleting my incoming mail, while deciding to leave my chats and sent mail. Not likely," she said.
Sessum, who also uses the hosted Google Docs applications and other Google services, expected a more helpful answer from the company, considering the extent of her data loss.
"In many respects, I'm building my small business on the back of Google. And I believe that's what Google wants us to do. So it's imperative that they provide at least a little support when something goes wrong," said Sessum, who hosts her blog on Google's Blogger service.
Although consumer webmail services such as Gmail are generally free, the user expectation is that the data stored in them will not be corrupted, Gartner's Cain said.