97 Comments

Summary:

With every birthday reminder, bill confirmation, new friend, direct message, password recovery, and mailing list, the content of our inboxes becomes less and less a means of communication and more and more a record of all we do online. But if inboxes don’t fundamentally change in order to adapt to their new role as the keeper of myriad transactions across the entire web, they’ll be obsolete.

My inbox is broken.

Not in an I-can’t-check-my-messages kind of way, but in a fundamental, inboxes-will-never-be-the-same-again kind of way.

Analysis of inbox traffic for 30 daysWith every birthday reminder, bill confirmation, new friend, direct message, password recovery, and mailing list, the content of our inboxes becomes less and less a means of communication and more and more a record of all we do online. Email is the lowest common denominator of digital identity. It’s our web keychain. It’s the catch-all of our online lives.

But if inboxes don’t fundamentally change in order to adapt to their new role as the keeper of myriad transactions across the entire web, they’ll be obsolete.

Have a look at your inbox. Chances are much of what’s in there isn’t just traditional email conversations between you and someone else. A few hours of unscientific inbox querying and a quick analysis with Mail Trends showed that less than half of my messages in the last month consisted of such simple correspondence. The other half were records of things I’d done, people who’d followed me on social networks, bookings I’d made, confirmations of sites I’d signed up for, and so on.

Companies like Xobni and Xoopit offer email analytics, as do some Firefox plug-ins, but everyone still assumes that what’s in an inbox is predominantly conversations with people. It’s not.

Inboxes need to get smarter. My perfect email client would:

  • Scan incoming messages and build a list of all the companies I’ve paid, and those with whom I have recurring payments, showing spending history.
  • Keep all my logins and password recoveries for online accounts in one place, safely encrypted.
  • Group and track mailing list digests, and give me controls to unsubscribe from them.
  • Show me all interactions with each of my friends in one place, regardless of whether they happened on email, Facebook, Friendfeed, or Twitter. OpenID holds promise here, but has yet to be properly integrated into inboxes.
  • Track and analyze transactions semantically, from upcoming travel to events I’m attending.

Today, I have to visit dozens of other sites and services to make sense of my online life. This is a waste: I already have a record of all these transactions in my inbox. I just need a better way to look at them.

Gmail offered a tantalizing glimpse of what inboxes could be, but stopped short of recognizing this shift from conversations to a digital record of our online lives. The inbox of the future looks more like logfile analysis and aggregation and less like an email platform. Today, you can hack some of this together with Greasemonkey scripts, clever Gmail filters, or add-ins from Gmail labs. But it’s not enough: We need an inbox that embraces its new role as the universal record of our online lives.

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  1. Matt Brezina Friday, April 24, 2009

    awesome article Alistair, and thanks for mentioning Xobni. I will offer that while deep under the hood, xobni is processing a lot of email analytics, the utility of our product has much more to do with organizing your inbox around people and companies; we help you quickly find information relating to both.

    Additionally, we have partnered with Facebook, Yahoo Mail, and LinkedIn to bring those communication channels into the inbox. There will be much more coming from us in that direction.

    As for semantic analysis of your transaction, travel, and event emails – that is part of our dream, and we hope to provide more of that soon.

    I hear your pain.

    Best,
    Matt Brezina
    Founder, Xobni

    1. If only Xobni wasn’t tied to Outlook. On one hand this makes sense since Outlook is broken and needed Xobni to make it useable again. On the other hand these are obvious innovations that shouldn’t be tied to a dead end software client, set them free!

      1. Newsflash for bloggers and twitterers: Outlook is, by far, the most used email client. And yes, the fact that it has some major deficiencies, especially around search, leads to major opportunities.

      2. Is Outlook used because of its features or because it is forced upon the corporate user? What do people use personally?

      3. Outlook sucks. The people who use it either are forced to use it by their employers or don’t know any better. The latter group is hopelessly lost anyway and not much will help them.

      4. Chalk it to clueless employers. I tried Outlook Express ’cause it came with Windows and talked to Hotmail. Microsoft fixed that — I ditched it years ago. At work, I’m stuck with shiny Outlook 2007 (check your calendar, yup?, ok…).

        Outlook not only cries out for plug-ins, it cries out for a replacement. Work doesn’t give me “admin”, so even plug-ins are … (God bless Evolution …)

      5. I like Outlook, as a suite. my Company forces me to use Lotus Notes on my work computer I transfer everything I can to personal Outlook, it has a superior Calendar, and the address book and journaling are great, the e-mail client might be weak, but in the grand scheme of usage e-mail is only a portion of what Outlook can be used for. I am glad Xobni chose outlook and not the likes of Thunder Bird or other.

    2. You are spot on in your analysis. A revolution is underway.

  2. I’ve been talking to friends and colleagues about such enhancements to email clients for a while, and its exciting to see your article on the same topic!
    You’re absolutely correct in saying that our email inboxes have become unstructured repositories of all kinds of information, and this presents the need and opportunity to perform all kinds of information analysis and ‘grooming’, to help users tag and structure their data. A feature I’d add to your list above, would be for email clients to keep track of things like “returned emails, email address change notifications, and new email id’s from existing names”, to intelligently distill out such info and help reflect the same in the address book (perhaps interactively).

    Take care,
    -v

  3. Eh–I’m not really buying this.

    First of all, you’re looking at a VERY specific segment. Very few people would have 21% of their inbox comprised of Twitter follows. More importantly, the type of person who would have 21% Twitter follows would know how to use Gmail filters. For me, all my Twitter notes are filtered to skip my inbox and go into the Twitter label. Facebook skips and goes to the Facebook label. I only sign up for accounts (bank, registrations, etc.) using a a junk version of my gmail (putting an extra period in the gmail address and filtering). My e-mail is my primary source of information–my inbox is clean, relevant, and efficient. I scroll through Facebook and Twitter notifications at my leisure. So, for people like me/us, e-mail is still relevant and doesn’t need to change.

    More importantly, for the 98% of e-mail users who don’t really use Twitter and don’t mind getting their Facebook notifications, e-mail is still great and doing its job.

    This isn’t to say the emergence of social networks shouldn’t be integrated more thoroughly into gmail. There really should be Facebook/MySpace/Twitter plugins to Gmail, which leverages APIs and has its own section. It would help with the clutter you mention, as well.

    1. courtney benson Sam Saturday, April 25, 2009

      Good feedback. I think we will see social networks integrating into gmail soon

    2. Agreed. The author is assuming that 90% of people online are internet savvy and who bounce around on different social networks. I turn off all email notifications from facebook, twitter, brightkite and myspace, that way I will check them in my off time and am not constantly stuck to my phone browsing at every available opportunity. If somebody needs to contact me instantly they can send me a (pushed) email notification if the app isn’t running.

      My inbox is always clear and everything is sorted into appropriate folders. No need for some kind of inbox revolution here.

      1. I know Pwb, I didn’t need you reaffirming it though.

      2. I agree. You sound like you use some form of GTD. Works for me: clean inbox, etc.

    3. yes…filters have been around for ages….but why can’t there be something better?

      take a look at personal finance packages like Mint, Quicken etc…
      they use collective intelligence to categorize your transactions and allow them to be visualized, browsed more efficiently…

      mail clients do this sort of thing with SPAM…

      …but how about applying the wisdom of the crowds to stuff that ISN’T SPAM…
      how many millions of users use facebook? why do I need to create a specific filter to deal with this? Can’t there be a client that can categorize all of your email BY DEFAULT (based on how most TYPICAL behave)…from there you can decide what to do with your already categorized email?

      Xobni and Xoopit sounded like they were putting some focus in these areas…so far it’s been a bit disappointing…and Xoopit actually adds to the SPAM! wtf?

      …of course I should just get off my ass and build this myself…but I know I’m pretty lazy, so here’s to hoping someone else will :)

      1. “why do I need to create a specific filter to deal with this? Can’t there be a client that can categorize all of your email BY DEFAULT (based on how most TYPICAL behave)…from there you can decide what to do with your already categorized email?”

        Simple…because over 90% of people wouldn’t know what’s going on and would end up confused/frustrated. Think about how much effort Google has made in explaining what tags are and why they’re better than folders, and people are still confused and not making the best use of them. To start auto-filtering things would be confusing and you’d never match the filtering preferences of many of your users correctly (i.e. some might want different folders for groups of friends, or want messages to stay unread, or flagging of different kinds of notifications from the same service, etc.)

        I think for the vast majority of people, filters and tags like those in Gmail are sufficient to managaing email, though many don’t know how to use them or set them up. It’s always tough to make things like that simple enough for the least technical users. This article is talking about solutions that probably affect less than 5% of email users, so it’s not surprising that there hasn’t been a lot of movement on it.

  4. kiyonari’s blog » Blog Archive » GigaOM:Why Email Clients Need to Change Friday, April 24, 2009
  5. Maybe you need to get smarter. There’s no good reason you “need” to receive Facebook notifications in your email inbox. Turn off the email alerts, dork!

  6. No, Thanks. Only my secretary can filter all this information.

  7. I absolutely use my Google Apps account as a searchable database of logins, passwords, account #’s, etc. More and more of that stuff is going into 1Password where it is encrypted and protected, but there is lots of reference stuff in my email. Fortunately, searching in gmail/google apps is really fast (much faster than on my laptop).

    Still, I’m looking for something better. Today I signed up to check out otherinbox.com which appears to be very close to what you are asking for. I became interested because of the co-founders is speaking at RailsConf on SproutCore and how Cocoa (Mac/iPhone) programming principles in SproutCore have helped him become a better developer.

  8. Ouriel Ohayon Friday, April 24, 2009

    i could not agree more. Email starts to become unsmart. That s why we are trying to bring back some smartness to email with Topify.com and make notifications more meaningfull and actionnable

  9. email is being replaced by IM not twitter

  10. This problem was solved 19 years ago. You want procmail. http://procmail.org/

  11. I second Sam: Gmail filters will immediately remove 20% in the form of twitter follows…. likely much of the other unnecessary notifications you get as well….

  12. Sam makes a useful point – most people who have this problem are people who would setup filters in Gmail.

    But that’s not good enough. We need something more seamless. For instance, when you login to your email account you could be faced with an interface that shows:

    Inbox (20) (Normal Emails)
    Recent Transactions (30)
    Social Actions (30)
    Alerts & Updates (30)

    Maybe, maybe not…

  13. I’m using “Postbox” for some time and it pretty much gets the the job of integrating ma Gmail and social networking done.

  14. Hi Alistair,

    Great article! I couldn’t agree more – that’s what drove us to create OtherInbox. It automatically finds the messages in your inbox that aren’t from real people – all the messages you are complaining about – and creates a list of all your merchants and websites. We track receipts, shipping notices, and other info and build you a calendar on the fly with useful information. We automatically identify mailing lists and groups and put all of the messages into a separate folder for each mailing list. We currently have a way to manage all of our account logins and are planning on adding password management support in the future.

    Joshua Baer
    Founder of OtherInbox
    http://oib.com

  15. Check out an article I wrote about OtherInBox a couple of months ago – it does pretty much what you ask. I am a convert of their service (and not affiliated in any way to the company.)

    http://www.theproductivityparadox.com/blog/2008/10/10/update-to-my-experience-with-otherinbox/

    @arthur_alston

  16. I think your proposal leads to the wrong way. Instead, we should work on reducing the mis-use of email. We should

    * use NNTP/Usenet for “mailing lists” (gmane.org does this already)
    * use e.g. XMPP/Jabber for instant messaging (direct messages, …)
    * use OpenID for identity, which should remove the need for password reminders etc.
    * use WebCal/iCal for events/appointments

    Those are all protocols much more appropriate for their purpose than email.

    1. I agree with this comment, at least for the most part. But I still want one place to hold all this information. Maybe you don’t call that email, maybe we should call it a “messaging repository” or something.

      The problem isn’t that email is broken. The problem is that inboxes have very limited intelligence. Filters are nice, but they’re not intelligent.

  17. I use OtherInbox as well, and it does pretty much everything you wanted. I think the passwords are the only thing it isn’t already doing automatically, but with separate organized inboxes for everything, it’s simple enough to click the inbox for the website you want and just look at the first message.

    You should seriously try it out…I think it was made with people like you in mind.

    By the way, I’m a fan, not an employee or anything.

  18. Alistair Croll Saturday, April 25, 2009

    Thanks for the feedback (and pointers to other services.)

    @Sam — admittedly, I’m not a typical email user. I suspect that the contents of a mainstream inbox will look more and more like mine, however, because people are too lazy to turn off notifications. Similarly, enrollment in websites requires somewhere to confirm identity and somewhere to send recovered passwords; and my bank needs to tell me when a transfer has occurred. While this may not be the 50% of my inbox, it will be an important part of anyone’s inbox that needs to be analyzed differently.

    I really like your suggestion for plug-ins for email (that’s what I hoping for with Greasemonkey) and this could be done much as WordPress has a plug-in ecosystem — each social service would provide an email plug-in to handle/aggregate/protect its specific data.

    @Rob — yes, that’s the kind of thing I’m looking for. While I might set up filters (and frankly I’m too disorganized to do so properly) as this becomes a more mainstream problem it’s less likely that consumers in general will do so.

    Also, an interface like that looks surprisingly like a Facebook home page…

    @Welson — agreed, search is a crutch. Sometimes if I’m doing an expense report I find myself using Gmail search for the amount of the expense that’s in my credit card in order to find the original invoice. That will only work until I use up the namespace of three-digit numbers. Then I’m hosed. ;-)

    @Joshua, @arthur — appreciate the link. I didn’t know about you guys, and you’re definitely trying to tackle the problem. Will check it out.

    @Andreas — Yes, the email client of the future doesn’t need to stick to the IMAP/POP/SMTP stack. But I do firmly believe this: Much as Twitter is an API for human attention, email is the Syslog of web users. Most consumers want it all in one place, and that’s a new breed of email client.

    1. I think you’re overcomplicating the whole thing. Set up filters for the 10 most common annoyances and then consider if you need a better inbox.

      I’m speaking from experience: a lot of my incoming email is automatic, mostly from my own scripts that send newsletters or pre-compute some stuff for websites. I set up filters for the most common stuff, and my inbox is _much_ better now. I set up filters to tag those e-mails as “Scripts” or “Newsletters” and skip the inbox.

      Very simple, very effective.

  19. thegeniusfiles Saturday, April 25, 2009

    Gosh, I stopped using email clients a couple years ago. And the last year before that, I was solely using it for backup purposes. Then one day, it occured to me that I could just use another webmail account for that purpose. Since then, I have not looked back.
    I agree with the author that email has a lot of undeveloped potential. To my mind, Gmail Labs is the most ambitious large-scale project. You can see that they are exploring new ideas. To me, functionality is of course important, but interface is what enables functionality. Interfaces should be more fluid, dynamic, context-sensitive, and customizable.

  20. Roswell Real Estate Saturday, April 25, 2009

    We all need to “check” what is actually being delivered to our inboxes. Flooding your inbox with worthless face-book and Twitter junk usually will get you no where.

  21. interesting… I still would like to get rid of SPAM!

  22. peter.bravado Saturday, April 25, 2009

    otherinbox is a very good solution although i think its in the early stages and needs much more functionality, configurability and speed. haven’t seen better as a concept though. xobni seems limited to outlook.

  23. peter.bravado Saturday, April 25, 2009

    otherinbox is a very good solution although i think its in the early stages and needs much more functionality, configurability and speed. haven’t seen better as a concept though. xobni seems limited to outlook.

  24. snapl’s status on Saturday, 25-Apr-09 18:53:00 UTC – Identi.ca Saturday, April 25, 2009

    [...] http://ur1.ca/3p0l I believe what they’re looking for is termed "administrative assistant". Same with physical mailboxes. [...]

  25. Scott Kendall Saturday, April 25, 2009

    This post reminds me a lot of this infographic on snail mail: http://www.flickr.com/photos/threadsy/3474179018/
    Suspected that personal mail was just a small percentage of total mail, but 3.8%… ridiculous.

    Agree, there’s a lot of opportunity to harness all of these disparate types of email messages and intelligently display the aggregate information with new viewing paradigms. And BTW, don’t agree that IM replaces the need for email entirely. Instead it just splinters off the short-form synchronous personal communication use case which wasn’t well-suited to the email paradigm (long-form, asynch).

  26. Bold claims based on nothing. Yay blogging.

  27. My inbox (Outlook 2007) looks very much like Alistair’s when graphed out. I currently manage it with a ton of Outlook and Auto-Mate rules, but that management is awkward and time-consuming when it comes to ongoing management. Moreoever, the organization of my mail is limited to Outlook’s internal categorization and folder capabilities (with Gmail it would be effectively the same with tags and folders).

    What we need is a lifestreaming application, something that, at it’s heart, is an e-mail client, but collects and processes nearly any type of user-configurable, user-subscribable electronic data. Everything from RSS feed items to file attachments, URLs to phone call records, should be given equal treatment by the application. It should contain powerful rules and actions that can be performed on any type of content in order to categorize, tag, and otherwise organize that data, as well as relate pieces of data together regardless of their format or means of retrieval. And, the client should allow the user to pull in any content; it shouldn’t operate from a limited list of predefined services like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and so on. Too many new and interesting services are launched while application developers are celebrating and promoting their last big integration with a third-party service. The client should offer the user the ability to connect to a variety of data streams in common formats–RSS, ATOM, microformats, Twitter Oauth, FB Oauth, OpenID, etc.

    I use Xobni, and like it, but–and I’m sorry Matt–it’s analytics features are nearly useless while Xobni’s “Conversations” list is just mildly above useless. Much of that has to do with the fact that Xobni is yet another column that takes up space in an application already crowded with columns. If Xobni were a full-fledged view, replacing the main Inbox/mail folder views of Outlook, and if it managed conversations, it could be vastly more useable.

    I like Xobni’s ability to show me the photo, phone number, and other contact info of the author of an e-mail message I’m reading. That is very useful to me, particularly when Xobni pulls that data from my contacts folder as well as Facebook and LinkedIn. For that feature alone I love Xobni (and recommend it), but that’s the utility of Xobni in my opinion–as a contact integrator. It isn’t an e-mail manager or analytics aid.

    1. Try Gmail. It has great conversation threading, full author info on mouse-over, and tags are far more versatile and useful than folders — if you don’t know if a particular e-mail should go into the “Work”, “To Do”, or “[Client name]” folder, it should probably go into all three.

      1. Many of us simply can’t use Gmail for work purposes. It’s a complete non-starter.

        While I have a Gmail address, I don’t give it to clients and I don’t send business email through it. Plus, if someone sends me a proposal or an introduction through Gmail, it comes across the same way as AOL, Hotmail, Yahoo mail, etc. does: unprofessional.

        I know this feeling differs among people who work in tech fields, but for those of us who court business in other industries a lack of branded domain mail is bad form.

      2. Finch,
        You’re right: gmail/hotmail/yahoo accounts scream “SOHO/consultant/personal.” I love startups, but unless you are an individual “building the brand of you” (sooo FastCompany circa 2001), having a branded domain email account is a requirement. Fair? Maybe not. True? Yep.

  28. I think Andreas has identified the ideal-world solution.

    But for the real world, surely the very first step is to have 2 e-mail accounts.

    Account 1 you use for real people. This is what IMAP-SMTP-POP3 was designed for.

    Account 2 you pimp with filters and tags and whatever else you need to deal with bots and admin. (With the Multiple Inbox addon I’ve now got a pretty smooth GTD machine up and running.)

  29. Marc Eisenstadt Saturday, April 25, 2009

    These self-report analyses are actually quite useful IMHO, especially when done as part of a longitudinal study, although inevitably people will arrive at wildly different conclusions (including the conclusion that you can already do the appropriate filtering with off-the-shelf tools, which is partly true).

    The landscape keeps changing, though, and you might therefore want to compare your breakdown with a more detailed (pre-Facebook, pre-Twitter) analysis I undertook based on a retrospective categorization of EIGHT YEARS of email (!!!) back in February 2005, particularly in ‘Table 3′ at http://getreal.corante.com/archives/2005/02/11/eight_years_of_email_stats_pass_1.php.

    My analysis back in 2005 raised similar issues, although I argued that I did NOT want bots or intelligent agents sorting my email. Generally, your own discipline is the answer. Reason? Any smart filtering/sorting tool may buy you several orders of magnitude ‘improvement’ (think how great ‘feed aggregators’ were when they first appeared), but the signal-to-noise ratio eventually plummets as the noise level skyrockets once again (consider all your unread aggregator feeds). See my related thoughts on the signal-to-noise problem here.

    -Marc

  30. Ouch no. This is where I prefer divergence over convergence. Here is what I feel:

    a) Fancy inboxes are fads. Give it a few months and the only thing you will mostly see is your main inbox. mail that gets autoarchived to other folders have a much lower frequency of check. I am talking about an average trend here.

    b) A compelling part of many social networking sites is the “UI environment” not just an element of receiving or sending messages. Moving SNS to your inbox takes away the experience.

    c) Email is still considered ‘primary’. other identities are secondary. Mixing the two makes for a heady cocktail.

  31. One interesting take on next generation email is at gtdinbox.com. I stopped using their tool a long time ago because it’s way too unstable. (It’s based on gmail and every time Google tweaks anything behind the scenes of gmail gtdinbox breaks.) But their core idea is important:

    ***Every email is either junk, reference information, or a badly formed task.***

    For me, a large part of that 50% “normal” slice is tasks: People asking me to do things, me reminding myself to do things, or me asking other people to do things. Although gtdinbox’s implementation is fragile, I very much like their approach.

  32. Whilst it is unlikely, surely online services should allow you to control what it will remind you about in its profile/settings area. In a common frame of reference: facebook, you can set it to email lots about what happens or just the rarities such as birthdays or messages (assuming you close friends prefer to email!) I must admit whilst getting 50% less emails a day makes me feel less popular I am more productive for not having to delete so many fb notifs.

  33. The Perfect Email client would… | Urban Onramps Saturday, April 25, 2009

    [...] PERFECT EMAIL CLIENT would, according to Alistair Croll, do the following: • Scan incoming messages and build a list of all the companies I’ve paid, [...]

  34. James Peterson Saturday, April 25, 2009

    Sorry, but this what Apple’s Mail program already does. Effortlessly.

  35. We have quite a few of the features you are looking for, we are gonna do a private beta release in two weeks. If you would like to try it out, frothmail.com, drop me an email. If you don’t mind not having IMAP support for two weeks you can try it out now with email forwarding.

    Sarvesh

  36. A lot of good points. I have to set up filters for practically everything (I use Eudora) just to stay sane, and it’s still a lot of monkeying around to make sense of it all.

  37. Filters? I think their proponents are missing the point. Sure, I can filter everything and put it in a nice hierarchy of folders. Or, I can leave everything in a single dropbox and continually search against it.
    But, either way, your information is still in a specific format: unstructured text in a folder. What you want is an integrated environment where unstructured text becomes structured, useful, tagged information. Emails populate contact lists, personal/business CRM applications; site registrations become links in a browser launch page; email site notifications get timelined; etc.
    I don’t think there’s a need to wait for some insanely clever script to automate the task though – I think there’s a need for putting this tagging, sorting, and structuring functionality into existing packages.

    1. Exactly!

      Email is either junk, badly formed reference information, or badly formed tasks.

      1. Sorry, I was too quick. There is the occasional ‘hi, how are’ email from a friend. I would classify this as ‘relationship mail’ which the recipient has to read in order to maintain/enhance human relationships.

        How many of those do you get? For me, it’s very, very few.

      2. I think what you mean is “Any e-mail that isn’t a ‘real’ e-mail is either junk, reference or a task.”

  38. My inbox is a mess, too. Xobni helps with that a lot (thanks, Matt). But the next version of Outlook needs to de-couple tasks, contacts and calendars from email, not provide greater convergence. Users should have very light, and fast access to their non-message-related content. If you have thousands of messages in Outlook, and for me that means just keeping 90 days worth of must-save business mail in there with the older messages stripped out and saved elsewhere by Tech-Hit’s Message Save Add-in, then accessing the non-communication function tools becomes a real issue. Further convergence of programs would only make matters worse.

    The next version of Outlook needs to be email-centric, much in the manner that Postbox (http://www.postbox-inc.com/) handles it. Sure, it needs to have links to email addresses in from user contacts, but if I’m sending an email, why should the program be hamstrung by integration with phone numbers, addresses, notes, tasks, etc. Maybe there can be a browser-based overview you can access by linked buttons from within each of the separate programs, but Microsoft needs to break email free from the other functions; they cause too much bloat. It also needs to get away from dependence on complex folder structures by adding tagging and auto-tagging functions, (not just categories). The Tagging function in FireFox is a great example of what I’d like to see. Maybe the way Microsoft can accomplish all this is through a “lite” version of Exchange that works the way SQL Express does. I suppose PST and OST files were fine from 1995 to about 2003, but they’re just the wrong way for crucial data to be stored in 2009 and going forward.

    Microsoft needs to re-think what Outlook does from the bottom up. As it stands, the program is a mess, but it’s the only program I can realistically use for business mail.

    1. I hate to be a fanboy, but Gmail is as fast with 2 GB of mail (9k messages) as it was the day I registered for it, it’s quite simple, has a bit of unobtrusive GCalendar and GDocs integration, keyboard shortcuts, and tags.

      1. GMail is not a professional platform. Period. It’s a non-starter for a lot of businesses. I know it’s shiny. I sync my Outlook Calendar to GCal. I run my Google reader through Feedly. But I don’t send anything to a client using GMail. Ever. It runs against everything else I do to build my brand. If someone I’m thinking about subcontracting with sends me a message from a GMail address, I take him/her a bit less seriously.

      2. I like gmail too. The reason I switched was searching in Outlook is painfully slow sometimes, and it’s blazing fast in gmail. I can search 8800 messages saved over 12 years in seconds with gmail.

        @Bob Finch – are you just complaining about the domain name in the email address? I use Google Apps for your Domain and everyone sees the same vanity domain email address that I’ve been using for 15 years. I use it for my consulting business too with it’s own domain name. And it’s free for up to 25 users. I’ll never go back to running my own email server for a small shop.

  39. Alistair Croll Sunday, April 26, 2009

    @Brett — you nailed it. Filters just move your flood of messages into other buckets; they don’t help you visualize it cleverly. For example, I get monthly bills from several SaaS services like Basecamp; I get one-time bills from godaddy for DNS registration; and I get annual renewals from Flickr. I’d like to see all of this data in a “spend report” similar to what something like Mint has. On the other hand, I get a bunch of travel mails for car, train, plane, and hotel bookings; I’d like to see those in one place. And I’d love a directory of every website I’ve ever signed up to, with the last time I refreshed my password.

    That’s the new inbox: Automatically filtering (perhaps with the help of crowds as @kdawg suggests), then analyzing and visualizing each class of data in a way that makes sense.

    Today, this may be a problem only a small slice of the world faces. And as @Scott points out, very little of our personal mail is “personal mail” (awesome graphic!) There’s no guarantee this will come from an email client — it could just as easily be a Tweetdeck or Seesmic Desktop, and it may indeed speak protocols beyond email.

  40. humm what about going in and turning off email notification on some of the places.. be a little selective about what you want a email about….

    1. @jonands73 Doesn’t that depend on how you want to use the web? If you’re happy to go to multiple places: your e-mail inbox, your Twitter page, your Facebook inbox, your RSS reader (we can now add to this list your OtherInbox inbox) and so on, then sure, you may not need notifications..

      But if your e-mail is the one thing you check regularly wouldn’t it be nice to have it as your communications central – the only place you have to check for all your communications? I think that is why some people prefer to use notifications. The problem Alistair was talking about is not “I have too many notifications” but rather that the notifications that come in, which we do need in this usage, comes in as if it were *just another e-mail*, whereas it needs special treatment.

      @andreas.wpv explained the idea of a communications central very clearly in his post http://andreas-wpv.blogspot.com/2009/02/does-facebook-privacy-and-copyright.html

  41. Top Posts « WordPress.com Sunday, April 26, 2009

    [...] Why Email Clients Need to Change My inbox is broken. Not in an I-can’t-check-my-messages kind of way, but in a fundamental, [...] [...]

  42. I have been monitoring email in my blog, Death By Email, for a couple of years now. I am actually most impressed by what Yahoo! is working on. I wonder if people can take them seriously.

    http://www.deathbyemail.com/2008/12/is-the-future-of-email-at-yahoo.html

    1. Considering Yahoo Mail, I can’t take Yahoo seriously. Looks like they’re trying to recreate Outlook in a browser.

  43. links for 2009-04-26 « riverrun meaghn beta Sunday, April 26, 2009

    [...] Why Email Clients Need to Change With every birthday reminder, bill confirmation, new friend, direct message, password recovery, and mailing list, the content of our inboxes becomes less and less a means of communication and more and more a record of all we do online. Email is the lowest common denominator of digital identity. It’s our web keychain. It’s the catch-all of our online lives. [...]

  44. Towards Smarter Email Clients? :Marketing Promotion Optimization Sunday, April 26, 2009

    [...] of emails, like social network alerts, confirmations, mailing lists, and more. He argues we need a smarter management of all these types of emails. “Gmail offered a tantalizing glimpse of what inboxes could be, but stopped short of [...]

  45. Why Email Clients Need to Change | Alistair Croll | Voices | AllThingsD Monday, April 27, 2009

    [...] Read the rest of this post on the original site Tagged: Internet, Voices, digital, Alistair Croll, digital identity, email, GigaOm, inbox | permalink Sphere.Inline.search(“”, “http://voices.allthingsd.com/20090427/why-email-clients-need-to-change/”); « Previous Post [...]

  46. awesome post. Much of it is my thesis for Cc:Betty (http://www.ccbetty.com). There are several companies tackling these problems, although in different ways, from different perspectives.

    -MC

  47. Good article, the aggregation I do mainly by Google Reader. Maybe Google should integrate Reader and Gmail somehow. I don’t want my Twitter notifications and other social web messages in my inbox. It get’s cluttered with notes which content no more than a tiitle saying: “X is doing something at spot Y”! Those messages can be best read in an aggregate.

  48. CrossedBearings Monday, April 27, 2009

    Hmm,

    What you are sort of describing is sounds like ‘Identity2.0′. A user centric hub of accounts, memberships etc. Google it.

    1. “Identity 2.0″ is a perfect way to put it, though “Identity 1.0″ has yet to come out of beta–to wit: lifestreaming services like Chi.mp, Retaggr, and so on.

      Given the depth and breadth of this discussion, there are obvious needs here waiting to be filled. An entrpreneur would be wise to take this entire discussion (including the original post, of course) as a feature list for a new application.

  49. Here’s another take on the issue from the sender’s perspective: http://www.marketingprofs.com/9/questions-to-ask-before-you-hit-send-stern.asp?adref=znnpbsc4539.

    DOUG

  50. Well, when E-mail “clients” automatically prevent people from top-posting and using HTML mail, then maybe we’ll talk.

    1. I like top posting. Gmail hides the quoted text anyway, regardless if it’s above or below the message, and I can easily review the whole conversation if I need to. It also reformats HTML mail a bit to make it more readable.

      If your point is to force people into quoting and formatting email as _you_ like it, keep dreaming :) Although I had the same complaints as you do before I started using Gmail.

  51. Bookmarks Reading 26 April 2009 Through 27 April 2009 — I Am Pariah Monday, April 27, 2009

    [...] of a profile photo allows you to lightly innovate on Facebook’s sacred profile layout.Why Email Clients Need to Change – If inboxes don’t fundamentally change in order to adapt to their new role as the keeper of [...]

  52. McColley.net » Blog Archive » Remains of the Day: Microsoft Envisions the Future Edition [For What It's Worth] Monday, April 27, 2009

    [...] Why Email Clients Need to ChangeA smart look at how email could change for the better. [GigaOM] [...]

  53. Remains of the Day: Microsoft Envisions the Future Edition [For What It's Worth] · TechBlogger Monday, April 27, 2009

    [...] Why Email Clients Need to ChangeA smart look at how email could change for the better. [GigaOM] [...]

  54. infoyourway.com » Remains of the Day: Microsoft Envisions the Future Edition [For What It's Worth] Monday, April 27, 2009

    [...] Why Email Clients Need to ChangeA smart look at how email could change for the better. [GigaOM] [...]

  55. Remains of the Day: Microsoft Envisions the Future Edition [For What It's Worth] | project-elite.net Tuesday, April 28, 2009

    [...] Why Email Clients Need to ChangeA smart look at how email could change for the better. [GigaOM] [...]

  56. Remains of the Day: Microsoft Envisions the Future Edition [For What It's Worth] « Coolbeans Tuesday, April 28, 2009

    [...] Why Email Clients Need to ChangeA smart look at how email could change for the better. [GigaOM] [...]

  57. Love the CRM aspect. Your personal CRM.

    I use Outlook just because of this. It has a small business extension, the business contact manager. Fixes some of what you mention, but not all and definitely not convenient. And, being a MSFT tool, it crashes regularly. But at least it recovers without problems ;-)).

    I have a plugin for facebook and twitter, this is quite helpful too, and I call several mail accounts across the web, without being concerned about privacy issues. I even have a backup of the most important mails, quite helpful I think.

    So, that’s a so-so tool with some nice features, but I would love to see more, especially more of the pay / bill stuff you mention, more convenience and more integration of ‘social net’ activities, like mentioned here, where I ask for a new communication platform:

    http://andreas-wpv.blogspot.com/2009/02/does-facebook-privacy-and-copyright.html .

  58. links for 2009-04-28 | BlueWave Media Tuesday, April 28, 2009

    [...] Why Email Clients Need to Change Have a look at your inbox. Chances are much of what’s in there isn’t just traditional email conversations between you and someone else. A few hours of unscientific inbox querying and a quick analysis with Mail Trends showed that less than half of my messages in the last month consisted of such simple correspondence. The other half were records of things I’d done, people who’d followed me on social networks, bookings I’d made, confirmations of sites I’d signed up for, and so on. (tags: email productivity gtd gmail gigaom inbox) [...]

  59. Hi, I am working on this research with Alistair at Bitcurrent.

    Great to see that there are so many tools out there already working on this problem.

    We’re looking at doing a round-up post of the space including all the services & tools we’ve found already as well as those in these comments – GTDInbox, Postbox, cc.betty, OtherInbox, Mail Trends, Xobni, Xoopit are the ones in the list so far.

    If there are any more we’ve missed, or you can point us to demos or other materials that would be helpful, please let me know, alex at bitcurrent dot com.

    @Sarvesh we’d be interested in looking at frothmail but can’t find your contact details. Please get in touch.

    Thanks
    Alex

    1. Hey Alex,

      I’ve sent you a linked in invite with my email id.

      Thanks,
      Sarvesh

  60. You need an OtherInbox for all that “other crap”.

    http://www.OtherInbox.com/

  61. Great article, truly love you ideas. I hope someone actually takes notice and follows through.

  62. Alistair,

    Your breakdown of activity offers great insight. You should take a look at NutshellMail to help remove your Twitter and Facebook notification clutter. With NutshellMail, you can disable your one-off notifications and instead receive consolidated updates of all your activity on a schedule you choose. I get my updates every three hours and they provide a snapshot of all my Twitter activity, including new followers, quitters, direct messages, @replies, (search term tracking coming soon). The best part is that NutshellMail lets you update your status, send dms, retweets, replies as well as follow and unfollow commands via email. The Facebook feature updates you on new messages, friend requests, birthdays, invites and status updates from your friends. It also lets you update your status via email and will soon enable you to reply to friends comments via email.

    NutshellMail is free and you can learn more at http://nutshellmail.com.

    I am one of the co-founders and would be happy to answer any questions you may have.

    Cheers,
    Mark

  63. Leslie Poston Saturday, May 2, 2009

    I love all of your ideas for the perfect email client, but man I hope it looks and acts nothing like Gmail. I can’t stand Gmail. I refuse to use it unless forced by the need to share a Google Doc or some such and forward all mail OUT of it to Thunderbird.

  64. Dare Obasanjo aka Carnage4Life – RSS readers modeled after email clients are fundamentally broken Tuesday, May 5, 2009

    [...] Given that a significant percentage of the time, the stuff in my email inbox is messages that were sent directly to me that need some form of response or acknowledgment this model is somewhat sound although as many have pointed out there is a lot of room for improvement. [...]

  65. RSS readers modeled after email clients are fundamentally broken – News ums Netz Friday, May 22, 2009

    [...] Given that a significant percentage of the time, the stuff in my email inbox is messages that were sent directly to me that need some form of response or acknowledgment this model is somewhat sound although as many have pointed out there is a lot of room for improvement. [...]

  66. Gerry Novak Tuesday, May 26, 2009

    And my e-mail Magazine subscriptions should all be saved to a seperate PST/offline file. When I search my emails for Symantec, I want to ONLY find correspondance to/from them, NOT every article that mentions them. (I have a rule in outlook that does this now, but only after years of frustration of keeping ALL of my old e-mails in the same file, making a nightmare of searching for things like Symantec +License +Key)

  67. Aaron Johnson – Links: 6-3-2009 Thursday, June 4, 2009

    [...] Why Email Clients Need to Change Quote: ".. But if inboxes don’t fundamentally change in order to adapt to their new role as the keeper of myriad transactions across the entire web, they’ll be obsolete." (categories: email data ideas inbox filtering communication ) [...]

  68. Great insights. The way we use email is evolving -has evolved – and the big players out there – outlook, thunderbird, even gmail – haven’t quite figured out how to grow with us.
    Rather than deal with a lot of small apps/plug-ins, I think Postbox – new client based on Thunderbird – offers the right kind of holistic solution – with search for example, tagging, and multiple mailbox management. I’ve been using it for at least 7 months and it’s been doing well keeping up with my business/life.

    http://www.postbox-inc.com

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