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What's In Your Inbox? 185

kenoa writes "In a recent blog entry, Gabor Cselle wrote about How Researchers are Reinventing the Mail Client. He highlights some ideas taken from research papers that will probably make it into the real world someday. From the article ' "[TaskMaster] All your emails, drafts, attachments, and bookmarks are mapped to "thrasks". Emails in the same thread are grouped automatically, but the user still has to assign other mails, links, and deadlines manually. [Bifrost] The idea here is that the people are the main indicators of whether an email is important. (...) Bifrost then reorganizes your inbox and displays your email in a number of predefined categories: Timely, VIP Platinum, VIP Gold, Personal, Small/Large distribution lists. [ReMail] Thread Arcs visualize relationships between email messages. Instead of wasting lots of space with a tree view that Thunderbird has, it displays the thread structure in a little image. (...) Contact Maps offer a different view of the address book: Senders from which you have received email are grouped by domain. Each person's name is shown with a different background color, depending on the time of the last email exchange." ' " Given that most of us probably read email essentially the same way as elm/pine did for us a decade ago, it sure would be swell to see updates to these metaphors.
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What's In Your Inbox?

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  • by yagu ( 721525 ) * <yayagu AT gmail DOT com> on Sunday July 09, 2006 @09:44AM (#15686688) Journal

    From the article, "Bifrost [6], a plug-in originally conceived at Lotus Research, that takes this approach. The idea here is that the people are the main indicators of whether an email is important. After installing Bifrost, you're asked to sort your contacts into five groups: Your own email addresses, "VIP Platinum" (extremely important people, e.g. your manager), "VIP Gold" (important people: friends and family), as well as small and large distribution mailing lists."

    First, I get a little chill when I hear Lotus, a pretty amazing suite of software but one of the most proprietary and obtuse universes at the same time. It's not the first thing I think of when considering "fixing" a broken e-mail metaphor.

    And is the e-mail metaphor that broken? Kudos to the author for yet another e-mail idea but people's ineffective management of correspondence is their own failing. A straightforward and simple e-mail (gmail is a fair example, not perfect, but pretty darned good) offers the best opportunity for effective communication, not some highly evolved and complex e-mail system.

    One system described in the article requires you define and categorize your contacts seemingly unaware this is the old "Object-Oriented" conundrum -- people, like Objects, don't categorize neatly and across bright lines. Strike one.

    The author does point out any new or other e-mail system should be easy to use. These systems don't look like that (not saying it isn't easy, but anything with lots of features and abstractions and any kind of learning curve (Lotus!) faces an uphill battle to adoption. Strike two.

    The ultimate end point seems obvious, from the article: "It seems like the ideal email organization tool would be like your personal, smart secretary: It knows what's important or interesting, and deals with stuff you don't want to be bothered with. That would be perfect. " Yeah, I'd like that. I haven't seen anything that comes close though and I'm a long way from trusting any software to make those kinds of decisions for me. I still check every single spam entry to ensure I'm not missing an important real e-mail, and still occasionally find a stray missive in the spam folder.

    Computers have notoriously failed to solve many human problems (how many of you work in the paperless office?) and probably appropriately so -- our management problems are too human to be completely solved by software. Give me a good clean simple and stable interface to manage my e-mails any day (gmail, Thunderbird, elm, PINE) and I'll take responsibility for the intelligence to manage it.

    (As an aside, one of the features I like most about gmail that has nudged me to adopt it almost exclusively is the great google indexing builtin... it's amazing how powerful the "free association" metaphor is in any information context whereby you need only remember snippets and keywords to instantly retrieve deeply "buried" e-mails -- something not easy to do with a stack of real paper mail. Ironically that power is obtained by permitting maximum entropy from the users' perspective.)

    • by sunya ( 101612 )
      If you are on a Mac the Daylite Productivity Suite [] is an interesting step forward. It has pretty neat mail integration. Disclaimer : I am in no way affiliated with MarketCircle.

    • I consider email to be a dying technology. Email is useful for contacting people whom you have an existing relationship with (and only if they have a stable, or several stable, email address). That's about it. For almost all other communications, RSS is a better solution. When spammers use email, email is being abused. When companies you do business with send you generic (ie: applicable to all customers) updates over email, email is being misused.
      • by andrewman327 ( 635952 ) on Sunday July 09, 2006 @12:52PM (#15687255) Homepage Journal
        I cannot disagree with you more. In the business world, e-mail is a vital means of communication. I have been told to e-mail requests and such to people instead of calling or meeting in person because it leaves more of a paper trail.

        When at home, GMail picks up almost all of my spam. Since I started posting more on /. with my e-mail address exposed, maybe one piece of spam has gotten to my inbox per day, which I easily delete. (Aside: I realize that I can hide my addy, but I like people to be able to contact me if they want to.) While I agree that e-mail is beng misused and that RSS feeds can be very handy, e-mail is anything but a "dying technology."

        • by wonkobeeblebrox ( 983151 ) on Sunday July 09, 2006 @01:23PM (#15687336)
          Just becuase it is dying doesn't mean that it is going to end anytime soon. For example, Vice President Cheney said a few months agao that the Iraq insurgency was in its "final throes", and I don't see that dying down anytime in the foreseeable future....

          Email will never go away, but it is dying in that technically savvy system designers are moving away from email as the best/primary way to interact with customers. Customers may still want mass email today, but that will only last until their organizations adopt good RSS, integrated readers, which is starting to happen.

          I'll elaborate:
          1] if you were designing email today, you would not design it they way it currently is. Principally becuase of the spam issue, but also becuase things like distribution lists don't fit quite right into the email paradigm: for senders when email addresses are no longer active, for receivers having 40 billion unread emails when they return from vacations, etc. Add to that "HTML versus Text" versions and the filtering headaches that afflict everything but gmail....

          2] New techonologies, like RSS, that avoid the problems associated with email are seeing steady increased adoption. For me, I try to get everything I can out of my email box and into RSS: These include news alerts (the BBC, the Globe and Mail, the NY Times, the Washington Post, the USA Today) , NASA website articles / press releases, updates for programs that I regularly watch (PBS's NOW, NOVA, Frontline, etc), alerts from daily deal sites (woot, midnightbox, weeklycloseouts, etc), and more.

          3] RSS still leaves a "paper trail". I only posted in this thread originally because Safari informed me of a new /. entry via their RSS feed. I could click on that original RSS feed again right now.

          4] Personalized RSS is beginning to happen. Look at Travelocity's personalized RSS FareWatcherAndAlerting capability. That used to be over email and (for me) is now exclusively done over RSS

          Basically, any email which is not personalized directly to me I try to get out of my email box. When people start doing that en masse, then the techonology is dying (at least in-as-much-as the Iraq insurgency is in its "last throes"....)
          • by iangoldby ( 552781 ) on Sunday July 09, 2006 @02:13PM (#15687469) Homepage
            Email is dying... I try to get everything I can out of my email box and into RSS: These include news alerts, NASA website articles / press releases,...

            I think you must be quite unusual in having a significant proportion of your (potential) email coming from mass mailing lists. My guess is that for most people, 90% of their email usage is direct contact between two people. I find it hard to see how RSS and other subscription technologies can fit with my own pattern of email usage, which is exclusively individuals being able to contact me completely unsolicited, and me being able to do likewise.

            Yes, RSS is a better technology for receiving 'broadcast' information on an opt-in basis, but I've never used email for that sort of thing anyway. You might as well say that the telephone is a dying technology - as radio receivers become more common place, everyone will start throwing away their telephones and start listening to the news on the radio instead...
    • by TheSpoom ( 715771 ) *
      Amen. Don't fix what isn't broken in the first place.

      I use Thunderbird [], and with a bit of spam blocking (combining Thunderbird's built-in adaptive filter with my ISP's filter, which is probably SpamAssassin) I'm able to track my email quite effectively without having my email client graph it out for me.

      I will say though that one of the cool features I use is email colourization, where email matching a certain filter is highlighted in a different colour in your inbox (accessible through the Message Filters
    • I think you hit the nail on the head, even if you didn't quite realize it.

      The thing that needs improvement most about e-mail is not the visual metaphor, though there are tweaks coming in all the time to the 30 year old interface.

      The thing that needs improvement most about e-mail is the fucking spam everywhere. Like Usenet, E-mail has become a torrent of spam. Ask anyone off the street what they hate about their inbox, and they'll say that it's stuffed with penis enlargement advertisements.

      I tend to agree
    • (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mrraven ( 129238 )
      Bravo what I was going to say. I'd only add that Apple's also has excellent indexing via spotlight, threaded conversations, a good spam filter, spel chik :), and multiple mail accounts. That's all I need in a home mail client. Perhaps more would be useful in a corporate environment, but that's not where I use my computers. Will no one think of lusers? Thunderbird would probably do likewise BTW if you get a spotlight plugin for it. I use firefox and because I'm weird that way :)

  • by remembertomorrow ( 959064 ) on Sunday July 09, 2006 @09:49AM (#15686697)

    if they reinvented mail protocols instead. :/

    Plug up the source rather than keep trying to pump the flood waters out.

    • by Alfred, Lord Tennyso ( 975342 ) on Sunday July 09, 2006 @04:29PM (#15687866)
      "New protocols" are like "third parties" in politics: everybody wants an alternative, but there is no alternative which doesn't come with problems of its own.

      The mail protocol isn't really the problem, at least not in ways that can't be fixed. The real problem has to do with the fact that there are reasons to be able to receive unsolicited emails. Most info@ email addresses designed to be received unsolicited. Fan mail is also unsolicited. If you type my email address off a business card, that appears to the system as an unsolicted email.

      No matter what protocol you conceive, and "promiscuous" email address (that is, one that accepts email from anywhere) is going to be prone to spam. You can try to weed out the obvious ones, but no protocol can really reduce spam under those circumstances. And such things are usually better layered on top of the existing schemes; any new scheme you propose to replace it is going to be met on Slashdot with the form-letter "this is why your anti-spam idea won't work."

      If you're willing to limit your email consumption to very tight circles, all sorts of protocol changes will help. But if you really want to be able to communicate globally, no new protocol is going to save you.

      You just have to take a combination of approaches, many of which already exist in some form but don't have wide adoption: signed emails to whitelist in your friends, filters to weed out the obvious crap, moving the opt-in mass emails to RSS.

      The closest thing I can find to a radical change is postage-stamp emails, basically a trivial fee per email to move email from zero-cost to an insignificant cost, which becomes significant only to spammers. That, too, can be layered on top of SMTP, but there are so many other issues to be worked out first (micropayments, public-key infrastructure) that it, too, will be a long time coming.
    • What exactly should be re-invented ? Times and requirements change, one of the reasons tcp/ip (and SMTP) are still around and their many comtemporary protocols aren't is that they don't try to do any more than is absolutely necessary. Do one thing and do it well. tcp/ip it's networking, smtp it's routing email. Everything else can be built on top as required.

      If you want to prevent phishing and spam then every email address should be registered with a certificate authority, every email should be digitally s
  • Pine (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Remco_B ( 14435 ) on Sunday July 09, 2006 @09:49AM (#15686699)
    essentially the same way as elm/pine did for us a decade ago

    Pine still does that for me! I still use pine to read my e-mail and I like it that way.

    • To be honest with you, pine was considered a newbie mail client back in the day. It's like seeing someone use Pico as their default editor, real users would use MUTT and VIM. In a way this is like you saying that Pico is better than because you like it that way.
      • Re:Pine (Score:3, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward
        "back in the day" mutt did not exist. And elm was painful.
      • Re:Pine (Score:5, Insightful)

        by beh ( 4759 ) * on Sunday July 09, 2006 @10:29AM (#15686820)
        pine may have been geared at newbie users a long time ago - and it still does the job for newbies (though most newbies will probably not waste a second look at it, because it isn't "graphical" ("Yeah, man, Outlook *looks* sooo much better, so it has to be better!").

        But, I would tend to think, pine has grown with its users - it might not be quite as powerful as mutt can be, but mutt, at first glance, seems to be about as useful as emacs without any lisp packages; i.e. it may be powerful, but only after loads of configuration...

        pine to me has the advantage of being very efficient at what it does - pico isn't the greatest editor of all times (far from it), but it does the job well - and if I want a better editor in the odd editing sesssion, I call up the external editor (C-_) and use that for a particular email. Still, in most situations, using pico is perfectly adequate for editing an email - it's not that often I need regexp-search-and-replace, syntax highlighting or similar nonsense when writing an email message, after all.

        I would say, pine is still very easy to learn for newbies, but at the same time, it's incredibly powerful in that it is very efficient (most commands are reachable by a single key, the way I can define multiple inboxes (use procmail to sort incoming mail into various folders and just skim through them automatically by hitting TAB to get to the next message, ...).

        I've tried other mail readers, but none for too long - even to me there are some shortcomings to pine, but none turn out quite as badly as shortcomings in other mail-readers I've tried...
        • Re:Pine (Score:3, Informative)

          by pimpimpim ( 811140 )
          pine is indeed pretty decent. As a 16-year old it was my first mail client on a free local internet service, it was the only thing they offered. But now I still use it, it has very easy and fast search and sort abilities, even though I have about 8000 entries in my inbox, it can handle it in no time. One of the better features is the 'role' option, incoming mail from certain adresses can be default be replied to with a completely different header and signature. Still, for the user, everything is saved in t
        • I concur. IMHO, Pine does one thing and does it well. It was the recommended client back when I started at university in 1998, and I still prefer it (with lots of customization, maildir patch (comes with the gentoo ebuild), procmail, etc.).
        • simply because their license won't allow it to be distributed as a binary in any free distribution. So I'm trying mutt instead for a while.. it looks like it finally supports IMAP properly.
      • Re:Pine (Score:4, Insightful)

        by iabervon ( 1971 ) on Sunday July 09, 2006 @12:01PM (#15687057) Homepage Journal
        And how many people have really ever been power users of email clients? About the only advanced feature in sending email I've cared about is inserting files without word-wrapping them, while using word-wrapping for text written in the editor (which lets you send diffs to people such that they can read them and comment on them in a response, and also have them apply to the original files without fixing the whitespace). The sole newbieish thing that Pine seems to encourage is that it inserts a couple of blank lines at the top of the message when you reply, encouraging top-posting, which is widely considered bad form among the experts.

        There's this general perception that people who stay newbies in their use of one sort of program are perpetually newbies in general. It's completely false. Someone could write a popular UNIX-like kernel, a C parser, compiler, and static checker, and a revolutionary version control system, and still be using Pine. In fact, the only person I know of with that resume is using Pine.
        • Re:Pine (Score:3, Insightful)

          by dozer ( 30790 )
          "encouraging top-posting, which is widely considered bad form among the experts."

          Tell me, please, who you would consider to be an expert on top-posting.

          Personally, I'm not a big fan of paging through 4 pages of quotes before I can read what you have to say. And I don't much like it when you trim other people's writing -- this necessarily changes their meaning, usually along the agenda of the person doing the trimming.

          Discussing top-posting appears to have a Vim vs. Emacs futility to it.
    • I switched from pine to cone[1] a while ago and I love it

      - Similar interface to pine
      - Integrated GPG support
      - handles IMAP and Maildir

      [1] []

  • what about TV? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 09, 2006 @09:50AM (#15686701)
    We still watch TV the same way as two decades ago. Since the main principle doesn't change, the interaction cannot have drastical alterations.
    • Re:what about TV? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by InfiniteWisdom ( 530090 ) on Sunday July 09, 2006 @09:53AM (#15686711) Homepage
      Really? You had DVRs, video-on-demand an such a two decades ago?
      • Re:what about TV? (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Eternauta3k ( 680157 )
        I don't have them now
      • Really? You had DVRs, video-on-demand an such a two decades ago?

        Yep. Sure did. Except back then we called them VHS or Betamax.

        My family must be one of seven who figured out how to use the timed record function on a vcr ( considering how hard it seemed to be for some people ). Sure, skipping commercials required the use of the fast forward button, and "on demand" video was more akin to finding a tape.

        DVRs and video on demand are hardly revolutionay; rather they seem evolutionary... just better ways to do

    • Re:what about TV? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by joelsanda ( 619660 ) on Sunday July 09, 2006 @12:01PM (#15687056) Homepage
      Right on. Some of the comments here about the distractability factor of email, particularly in a work environment. Turn off email for a few hours. If it's that important someone will find you (IM, Phone, Cell, or walk over if that's possible). A lot of /.ers are too busy looking for the digital panacea they don't know the power of the Quit command, at least for a few hours.
    • by Sloppy ( 14984 ) on Sunday July 09, 2006 @01:54PM (#15687408) Homepage Journal
      Since the main principle doesn't change, the interaction cannot have drastical alterations.

      That's what I would think, too. But when I talk to people (particularly, corporate people) about their email, they say some really weird things. They think they need MS Outlook, because they think they need MS Exchange. If I tell them that Postscript is just as good as MS Exchange, they start using all these groupware buzzwords and concepts that are alien to me. Apparently, there is some kind of weird relationship between email and calendars(?) that I personally haven't used or seen, but that is part of some peoples' everyday lives.

      What I'm getting at, is that the main principle behind email has changed, or it's different for different people. The article seems really weird to me, because after my spam filter, my email volume is quite low and I just don't see how I would ever need a complex interface for reading 2 or 3 emails per day. But some people are getting hundreds per day, and it's not just mailing lists and spam -- it's their "real" email, stuff they actually need to read. Wow. I guess I sorta understand why they may need some special help to deal with it.

  • by NCTRNAL ( 780392 ) on Sunday July 09, 2006 @09:52AM (#15686709) Homepage
    PORN, then I file it away, and more PORN comes in, then more, then more. Then I get a little tired and take a nap. Then, I wake up to more PORN. It's a dirty, endless cycle.
  • Trust (Score:4, Insightful)

    by nbannerman ( 974715 ) on Sunday July 09, 2006 @09:55AM (#15686716)
    Personally, I am quite happy managing my inbox myself. I judge for myself how important an email is likely to be, based on previous correspondance with that person. Important people get their own folders, and the email is routed to that location via filtering. Simple.

    I'm always wary of solutions that claim to understand something and display it for me in the 'correct' order. I think I'm likely to know what is important and devise a solution that is personal to me.

    There is also the fact that my needs from a particular email source may change during the week. If I'm shopping for new servers one week, I'll definately make a point of viewing mailshots from my suppliers. Next week, when I'm after a printing solution, a different group of suppliers will take preference.

    Still, I despite my reservations, I might give one of these a try; they do sound interesting to play around with. But to mess with an old quote, you can pry my Inbox from my cold dead fingers ;)
    • Re:Trust (Score:3, Informative)

      by value_added ( 719364 )
      Personally, I am quite happy managing my inbox myself. I judge for myself how important an email is likely to be, based on previous correspondance with that person. Important people get their own folders, and the email is routed to that location via filtering. Simple.

      Indeed. My guess is that the ever-increasing need for the New And Improved(TM) has to do with people not wanting to take the time or trouble to use (and/or learn) their computers.

      Someone make this easier, because thinking is too hard. Just g
    • Re:Trust (Score:3, Insightful)

      by QuantumFTL ( 197300 ) *
      Yeah, many of these algorithms have unacceptably large classification error - all it takes it to not see a SINGLE REALLY IMPORTANT EMAIL, and that program goes right back to the digital netherworld from which it came.

      The "conversation" view provided by gmail (and some others, but not as well IMHO) has really changed how I use email, however. It reduces the marginal cost of sending small, almost Instant Message-like emails, as additional entries to a conversation do not add to the clutter of my inbox, and
      • The "conversation" view provided by gmail (and some others, but not as well IMHO) has really changed how I use email, however.

        Agreed. I disliked it at first, but now I don't know how I ever lived without it. Interestingly, the integrated chat would be a lot more useful on something like Hotmail. Because Gmail makes it so easy to send short messages, I don't really use the chat feature at all. Also, tangentially related, being able to have part of my inbox on my home page, which is Google (so combini
  • email (Score:4, Informative)

    by digitalhermit ( 113459 ) on Sunday July 09, 2006 @09:56AM (#15686719) Homepage
    Given that most of us probably read email essentially the same way as elm/pine did for us a decade ago, it sure would be swell to see updates to these metaphors.

    Maybe the actual process of reading mail hasn't changed much, but there are lots of differences now. Years ago I used to have an "email station". It would download the mail (via fetchmail/pop) and save it locally. As a consequence, I read mail from that PC. Now, all my mail is accessible from anywhere because it's IMAP and web-enabled. This means that I check my mail more frequently and from just about anywhere (coffeeshops, work, kitchen table).

    There are aspects of different clients (Notes, Squirrelmail, Thunderbird, gmail) that I use. The ability to schedule appointments and tasks via invitations is useful to me. It's not standardized though so getting it to work with multiple clients often requires manual entry. Personally I would like to see more PDF based emails. There are multiple downsides to it and it's arguably "evil", but in my case it would be useful. Also, automatic saves of drafts in web-based clients would be useful. Gmail does this, I think, but on most others if you disconnect during the compose then you lose the draft.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Thing is, something marked important by the sender might not be so important to me I'd rather that when email is displayed by priority that it is displayed by who I find important rather then what the email is send as.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 09, 2006 @10:03AM (#15686735)
    All email clients are still blinded by the paper metaphore, you put a message into a folder. Messages and folders are not physical objects. A message can be in many folders and a folder can be defined in ways other than what I manually place in it. So,

    Let me define folders via searches. For example, a folder that contains all unread email more than 7 days old. Or a folder that contains all email that contains the phrase "Slashdot effect" and is less than 90 days old. Also allow generic searches or folder patterns. A generic folder defines a search pattern. A search pattern defines a variable. Inside the generic folder are search folders for every value the variable takes on. For example a generic folder on "any recipient" would contain folders for every recipient.

    There is nothing about the above that requires any research. It could have been implemented years ago, but it hasn't happened. Yes, I know that there are plenty of open source email programs and I should implement it myself. I already code 60 or 70 hours a week. I don't have time to do every project I can think up.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      You mean like Evolution's Virtual Folders []?
    • by fideli ( 861469 )
      You might want to check out the Smart Folders that come with Apple Mail []. Not the fastest solution for me on my iBook, and the queries that you can perform are very basic, but it has some of the features that you've discussed, like "a folder that contains all email that contains the phrase "Slashdot effect" and is less than 90 days old".
    • Pretty well everything you want is in on OSX.


    • by klokop ( 614549 )
      In Mozilla Thunderbird searches can be saved as a folder.
    • You might like Nelson Email Organizer, which does something similar.
    • by Feztaa ( 633745 )
      For example a generic folder on "any recipient" would contain folders for every recipient.

      Thunderbird has something similar to this though it's not quite as flexible. It's called "group by sort".

      What you do is, for example, go into your inbox and sort by sender name. Then go to View -> Sort by -> Group by sort. What you'll find is that your inbox now has a collapsible "tree" view of all the people who have sent you mail. They act kinda like subfolders but not really. And I find it limited because it'l
  • Maybe instead of re-inventing the wheel, maybe just updating the email protocol to do its own base-level encryption? So that all email is encrypted ? So the no-one needs to worry about it.
    • Haven't you been using SSL with your IMAP, or SMTP? It seems to work okay.
      • My ISP (cogeco) doesn't seem to allow me to connect through ssl.
      • "Haven't you been using SSL with your IMAP, or SMTP?"

        Of course you realize that this usually only covers the first hop: to and from your local mail server. As such, it really only protects your local username and password; the content of your email is still available in clear text before it arrives and after it departs your local mail server.

        If you're serious about encrypted email, check out SMIME. If you're running a modern email client (Eudora, Outlook, etc.), it's probably already built in.

        • And thats the problem. Its not built into all e-mail clients. You can't send an e-mail with smime or pgp and assume the other end can read it. We need a new RFC thats adopted by everyone who makes mail clients. (including web based)

          • SMIME and OpenPGP are both standards. What makes you think that a new standard is going to be adopted any faster?

            The barrier to wide spread encryption is key management. Key management is hard and there is no perfect solution. A full fledged PKI is would be easiest for most users and could provide sealess encryption. But who manages the PKI? Will a government be able to recover the key with a search warrent? There are some serious privacy problems to overcome. PGP/GPG gives users full control over their key
          • We need a new RFC thats adopted by everyone who makes mail clients.

            LOL. First of all, RFCs aren't magic - just because everyone "adopts" an RFC doesn't mean that everyone will implement it in the same way.

            Second, SMIME and PGP (and "Zip with certificates" and even SSL and SSH negotiation) all solve the problem of "how are we going to send sensitive information over the Internet" with public/private key technology. I'm not sure what another RFC would bring to the table here (if you agree that public/p

  • Given that most of us probably read email essentially the same way as elm/pine did for us a decade ago, it sure would be swell to see updates to these metaphors.

    I'm *still* using PINE, you insensitive clod!

    Seriously. I just started using Evolution this week, but I'm having a hard time figuring out how to sync my Nokia 3650 with pretty much any Linux-based PIM, so I don't yet think it will do more for me than PINE.
  • Paradigm Shift (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Distinguished Hero ( 618385 ) on Sunday July 09, 2006 @10:12AM (#15686770) Homepage
    Timely, VIP Platinum, VIP Gold, Personal, Small/Large distribution lists.
    VIP Gold, VIP Platinum? What savant was in charge of coming up with the names?
  • by gvc ( 167165 ) on Sunday July 09, 2006 @10:41AM (#15686852)
    I am unconvinced that automatic sorting/threading methods are superior to chronological order for the vast majority of email users. Sure, I may want to be able to bring up "views" of my email that group it by thread or topic or whatever. And it is great idea to be able to tie in related data like bookmarks and files (chronology here is also a powerful search key).

    But I think that only a very small number of people would trust an automated tool to determinine the order in which they see messages when they first arrive.

    I rarely receive more than 100 messages in a day and I think that's at the high end of typical. It is not very onerous to look at the subject lines of these 100 messages, to triage them and decide if and when to read and respond to them. Maybe some very simple interface (click to remind me to deal with this later) would help but I'm pretty sure that anything more sophisticated than that would be way too intrusive. It would interfere rather than aid in my seeing the overall picture of my incoming email. I definitely don't want my email disappearing into some deep structure that I have to navigate in order to find it.
  • I must say, of all the suggestions that the were there, the one by far that appealed most to me was the threading visualization [] in ReMail. That thing was awesome! Especially if you are on a mailinglist or two that easily fills your mailbox with lots of threaded emails. While I like the tree structure of threads, this could be a great companion too it. What would be perfect would be for in the general inbox the it showed the messages threaded and then in every individual email it would show the connection to

    • Re:ReMail (Score:4, Insightful)

      by SilentTristero ( 99253 ) on Sunday July 09, 2006 @11:15AM (#15686942)
      If you ask me (not that anyone did) Tbird's threading view would be a lot more useful if a collapsed thread showed the *latest* message rather than the *earliest*. I'd like to be able to scan my unread mailing list threads quickly to see what's new, not the msgs I already saw! As it is I almost never use thread view.
      • Well, it does underline threads in which you have new messages. I don't think I would like that the latest one is the first because that would break the whole threading logic, who replies to whom. In any case, without threading my mailbox would be completely unmanagable since I subscribe to the wikipedia mailinglist which gets atleast 50 messages a day (and no, I don't read them all :P)
        • > don't think I would like that the latest one is the first

          What I want is when the thread is closed, to see the latest, or at least the first unread msg in the thread (maybe that's even better). I can open it and see it all threaded in the proper order, that's as it should be. But why show me an old msg I've already read as the "closed thread" default?

          But hey, it's a minor thing really.
          • Yeah, it's a good point you make. It really should be an option, even though personally I think I would prefer it the standard way. But you never know....
      • I cannot agree more! As far as I know there is no single graphical email client that would give you the option to sort messages in a thread in a "latest first" order. You could easily do that years ago in mutt, you could easily do that in slrn, why can't you do that in evolution or thunderbird?
    • I agree with much of what you wrote, I'd take it even further: why do we fixate on the threads/tree model?

      In extended discussions involving several people, I often see the same person send multiple mails in rapid succession, in reply to different mails by others, even if the separate discussion threads are actually talking about the same subject. I'd like to see a simple system for replying to and quoting from multiple messages in the same mail, so that you can bring together multiple discussion threads w

  • by Pedrito ( 94783 ) on Sunday July 09, 2006 @11:26AM (#15686969)
    It's not the e-mail client metaphor that's a problem, as others have pointed out. If there's a single problem with e-mail, I think we can all agree that it's SPAM. I mean, hey, that's great that people are trying out some new ideas for clients, but I think the current client metaphor works for 99% of the people out there. I find that Outlook combined with Google Desktop works great for my ability to organize my e-mails. I don't need anything beyond that.

    What I do need is FAR better SPAM control. I use SpamBayes, and it works fairly well, but it would be really nice if SPAM were handled at the server level (and I suppose, to some degree, it probably is by my ISP, but not nearly enough to take the entire load off of me).

    I look forward to the day Slashdot posts the article titled: "Solution to SPAM problem found." I'm not holding my breath, though.
    • Phishing too btw. The signing and checking needs to be transparent, completely automatic. Mail can then easily be checked at every server and dropped if it's unsigned or from a source of ill repute.

      Technically it's not a massive problem to do this. Socially it is extremely difficult because nobody uses digital signing yet. We need to start at the client level, automatic signing and checking of every email.

    • I don't agree. I get thousands of spams a day but spam filtering is so good that it's not a problem anymore.

      What is a problem is getting 10-20 personal emails a day, 50-100 mailing lists messages from lists that I actually want to read and sometimes participate in, and another 100-200 messages from lists that I read only occasionally but want to skim for important topics.
  • I worked on a project (PS2/XBox/NGC/PC game) with a team of about 150. 20 or so were programmers and I was a lead programmer. I got about 200 emails a day. The company used MS Exchange and despite what people say it does a fairly good job.

    However with that volume of email it takes a long time to see which emails need an instant response and which can wait. When your in the middle of programming, getting 200 interruptions a day kills you.

    After looking for ways to improve things with tools, different clients,
  • by dpbsmith ( 263124 ) on Sunday July 09, 2006 @11:38AM (#15686997) Homepage
    When I try to help out "layperson" friends with email problems, the biggest problem is not how their email client works. The problem is that the average layperson at this point receives email in more than one way... and is totally unaware of what they are using or how it works.

    "How do you get your email?"

    "It just shows up in my inbox."

    "OK, let me ask this. Do you get your email with an email client program like Outlook Express, or do you get it on your Web browser, like Internet Explorer?"

    "I have just plain Outlook."

    "OK, you probably got it as part of Microsoft Word."

    "Is Outlook Express better? It sounds like it's faster, should I be using Outlook Express instead of Outlook?"

    "No, it doesn't matter. Outlook Express and Outlook are both email clients. They do the same thing, Outlook Express comes free as part of Windows, Outlook is part of Office and is fancier."

    "Actually, I wanted to ask you why Outlook just pops up sometimes."

    "Does it pop up when you click on a "mail" link in a website?"

    "Yes. Well, actually, I think it's 'Outlook Express,' but the icon on my desktop just says 'Outlook.'"

    "OK, Outlook probably got installed as a desktop icon when you installed Microsoft Word, but Outlook Express is probably popping up because you still have it selected as the default mail client in Internet Explorer. Now: when you read your email, are you using Outlook? or Outlook Express?"

    "It's Verizon."

    "You mean Verizon is your internet service provider?"

    "Yes, Verizon DSL."

    "The screen you are looking at when you are using email. Does it say 'Outlook' or does it say 'Internet Explorer?'

    "It says 'Verizon Central.' Then I log in and get my email."

    "Do you ever use Outlook or Outlook Express?"

    "They just pop up sometimes. I never know what to do so I just close the window."

    "OK. Let me see if I've got this straight. You turn on your computer, you log in to your account, and you click on the blue E. Now you're in your web browser, and you could go to Google or Yahoo or something like that..."

    "Oh, sometimes I get my email from Yahoo."

    "Do you have a free Yahoo email account?"

    "Yes, I set it up when I had that Earthlink dial-up account. But when I got Verizon DSL I started to use Verizon, too. One of the things I wanted to ask you was how to set up my email so I can get it all in one place."

    "Well, first things first. You're in your Web browser, you can go places like Google and Yahoo, and one of the places you go is to Yahoo Mail, and another place you go is to Verizon's 'netmail?'"


    "And you don't send or receive email from Outlook or Outlook Express, the only time you've seen them is when they pop up by themselves because you clicked on a link?"


    • I also have to chime in -- this is exactly what happens to me daily. As part of my job I often migrate customer data from an old computer to a new one. Part of that often entails figuring out which mail client they used and integrating its data (saved mail, addresses) into the current software on their new machine. Quite frequently people *tell* me they use a specific mail app when in fact they don't, and they really just have their browser's home page set to Hotmail. They don't understand that there is any
  • I think those proposals are too complicated.

    All you really need for good task/E-mail based management is tagging and a connection with your scheduler. Several E-mail clients already offer that.
  • Missing: meta-data (Score:3, Interesting)

    by gilroy ( 155262 ) on Sunday July 09, 2006 @12:34PM (#15687189) Homepage Journal
    The missing thing is the ability to easily add meta-data to emails, etc. I don't care what flag the sender sets; I should be able to one-key categorize something as important, not important, whatever. Likewise I want to be able to add stick-note like comments for myself but add them to other people's messages. I'd like to be able to categorize an email not just by the sender's name or email address, but by the hat the sender was wearing (i.e., friend, coworker, godparent of my kid, whatever).

        You can do some of this with folders but so far it seems pretty clunky to me.

            Of course, none of this seems poised to take over the world, considering how hard it is to get people just to use descriptive subject lines.
    • At the risk of a one note tune here, OS X's allows saving e-mail as smart folders using about any criteria an e-mail has including subject, sender, any word within the e-mail, the date sent, and attachment type. In many ways smart folders are better than tags as everything is saved under the smart folder and available instantly as opposed to a tag which leaves the content in the unsorted heap. I've been using Tiger for a year now and at first I HATED spotlight for it's SLOOOOW indexing, but I'm j
  • Automatic signing of all outgoing email. Automatic checking of signatures on all incoming emails.

    If it isn't signed, it's spam or a phishing attempt.
    • by alech ( 208219 )
      Automatic signing of all outgoing email. Automatic checking of signatures on all incoming emails. If it isn't signed, it's spam or a phishing attempt.
      Oh, and who produces the global PKI for that? Signing might work on SPAM (if the signature has to be different for every recipient), as it comes with a computing penalty, but phishing? Just because there is a signature does not mean I know who the person is or whether he can be trusted.
      • But you do know who you can trust. Phishing is exactly the type of thing digital signatures were designed to prevent. You know the mail doesn't come from the bank/whatever because it isn't signed by them, the From address is a fake, the key retrieved from the PKI servers for that address will not match the signature. That's the whole point of digital signatures. They guarantee that X sent an email and that it hasn't been tampered with in transit.

        Postbank in Germany btw, is the first bank to introduce digita
    • Utterly pointless. The botnet spam initiator running on your machine will just automatically sign outgoing mail with your signature.
  • by SpectralDesign ( 921309 ) on Sunday July 09, 2006 @01:45PM (#15687388)
    As far as I'm concerned, the only thing really missing from today's email clients is an intuitive means to export/backup/import email by the message, box, or in it's entirity. Well, heck with intuitive, how about existant?
  • I see people managing their e-mails as if they are a collection to be kept for months or years. What a waste.

    An e-mail is nothing more than a conversation. (If it's a spec or document, put it on a Wiki, not in an e-mail.)

    I have 2 folders: Inbox and Deleted Items.

    When a message arrives, I read it and either

    1. delete it immediately,
    2. respond and delete it
    3. Leave it in my Inbox, indicating action I still need to take.

    This is 1-key filing -- the "Delete" key. It's super fast!

    I don't delete

    • I had one friend who drove me crazy by having 20-something email accounts, all routed this way and that into a series of goofy relays and so forth. He claimed it was "better organization" and that I didn't understand "his system".

      I had a client who refused to learn how to bookmark, and instead would email herself with links to various websites. My spam filters were constantly eating her one-line, link-only messages.

      Personally, I delete about 90% of the emails I get, and tend to hang on to stuff with p
  • I would already be glad if Thunderbird at least had features for associating deadlines with alarms, arbitrary notes and tags to emails.
  • Why is it that there is no simple phishing filter for paypal that ensure that the domain of all the links in the email go to
  • I think my inbox is too general-purpose for any changes to really affect it much. I get work email, email from friends, email about things I'm interested in, random news, spam, emails from parents and relatives - all of them require different action and different sorting. All of them tend to follow their own evolutionary path throughout my inbox as conversations progess, too.

    The Tasking system talked about in the first part of that piece would only be useful for my work email. It basically looks like a way
  • In stitches. On the floor. Laughing uncontrollably. Only a geek who has not seen another person in 6 months who wasn't a cubicle neighbor could convince himself that translating the mail client into Klingon will make it easier for people to use.

  • I get mails from Nigeria offering me lots of cash to pay my Valium and Viagra tablets with I get for cheap if I buy them by hunderds. Furtheron I use UW-IMAP and soon Cyrus IMAP [] for mail storage. The efficience is in the immediate box sorting and the use of the SIEVE [] filtering which will drop the load on the client side; the server side will filter the corresponding mails to their boxes. Some users can be in the same "group" to send mail directly to a map you have given access to; if not any.

    I've got 2 fold
  • GMail provided conversations and labels, two extremely powerful means of organizing your email. Why isn't that on the Re-inventing the Mail Client list? ReMail has similar concepts called grouped threads and collections, but GMail got there first.

    Speaking of ReMail... I think Thread Arcs look amazingly powerful, especially with some of the interactivity/highlighting that can be done.

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