Facebook email, a service you probably never used, is going to the app graveyard today.
Yahoo’s webmail has been down for as long as 48 hours, and restless users are speaking out.
These two great apps provide a premium experience at a deep discount, thanks to the Cyber Monday sales sprit.
Apple’s free OS update, Mavericks, has gone along fairly swimmingly — except for Gmail users who use the desktop Mail app for communications. But the bugs that caused improper syncing and general problems are now fixed, as TechCrunch reports that the Cupertino company’s latest patch will solve those woes. “Mail Update 1.0” is a patch, released today, that improves syncing with Gmail and works better with custom mail settings, along with miscellaneous stability fixes for the OS itself. The patch itself is bare-bones, but will do the trick to remedy those atrocious email-related migraines.
Less than a week after announcing their partnership, Lavabit and Silent Circle have taken to Kickstarter for their latest initiative, the Dark Mail Alliance, TechCrunch reports. The group is seeking exactly $196,608 to fund their Dark Mail protocol as well as a compatible client, and backers have already donated nearly $45,000 as of this writing. The campaign also sheds some light on what Dark Mail actually intends to be — a “newly developed messaging protocol… designed to provide end-to-end encryption of both the message itself and the email in transit.”
Want to see more information about an email sender in iOS Mail before you even read the message? That’s what LinkedIn Intro provides. However, to make the magic happen, you need to have all of your email routed through a LinkedIn server.
Communication technology is constantly evolving, and that has been especially true in the past decade where the social revolution has grabbed and twisted most communications paradigms, but at the same time seemed to leave some unchanged. In the past week I covered a lot of products and announcements that show this strange dichotomy.
Nassim Nicholas Taleb, the author of Black Swan, recently made the case for the longevity of well-established technologies, arguing that technology is aging in reverse. This is a variant of the Lindy Effect, well-explained by Benoit Mandelbrot, that older forms of information — such DNA and ideas — can be expected to persist longer than younger ones. I elaborated on Taleb’s argument, focusing on email. Given the age of email, I suggested we will be using email for at least another fifty years.
Perhaps it was unsurprising, then, to see a lot of activity on the email front.
- It appears that Google Apps is cutting into Microsoft’s enterprise software business, due to the cost differential, and the willingness of companies to switch from Outlook, Exchange, and Office.
- I looked at Squadmail, a tool trying to make email more social via shared email folders. I like the idea, but the implementation has a way to go.
- .Mail is one a wave of new startups attempting to link email with task management, implementing so-called ‘actionsteps’ into the email user experience.
.Mail nudged me to consider what a social email solution might look like, contrasted with today’s ‘naked’ email. Imagine a social tool in which an ongoing email thread — for example with a business customer or prospect — could be treated as a social object, like a document with several sections. Social email users could share that object with others in their workgroup, for example, annotating the thread, and assigning someone in the group to follow-up with the customer. In a sense this would be treating email as the lowest common communication channel — one that doesn’t require adoption of some new tool — while the workgroup would be communicating among themselves at the highest common communication channel: a social coordinative tool in which email is content, not context.
Instant messaging is one of the long-established communications technologies that set the stage for social back in the ’90s, with AOL ICQ and AIM, Microsoft Messenger, and Yahoo Messenger. But these tools have dropped into the background as newer and much more public modes of social communication — like Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr — crowded them out. This last week, Microsoft announced it would be turning off Microsoft Messenger on 15 March 2013, and transitioning users to Skype. Skype is really just another instant messenger tool, and not a breakthrough in a social way, but it is a much bigger brand.
There are a number of innovative trends going on in the world of social tools for business, and many seem to share key characteristics, like being small and simple: minimal implementations of a tightly defined use case. We saw several in the last week:
- Crushpath is a new social selling application, based around two key ideas. First, the visual metaphor of a path to close a deal with a client dominates the user experience for the sales team, and allows communication among the team and with the prospect to be arrayed along the path. Secondly, the tool provides the tools to easily create ‘pitch sites’ — web pages designed to make a sales pitch to a market of prospects, or tightly customized to pitch a specific prospect. Very innovative and intuitive approach.
- Transporter is a social — or more specifically, peer-to-peer — backup and sharing approach, based on a new hard drive connector that allows transporter units to mirror files. This sync-and-share solution does not require a server from the product’s manufacturers, aside from validation of identities, and so their business model deviates from offering like Carbonite and Dropbox: no monthly fees. You simply buy the device for a flat fee, and then you can store a backup of your family photos on your sister’s transporter-enabled hard drive, or mirror your business data onto a transporter in another building or country.
- Conceptboard is a new take on collaborative visual thinking, a virtual whiteboard with web conferencing built-in. I think of it as the antidote to Powerpoint presentations online, which can be incredibly boring. More importantly, I think tools like Conceptboard represent the shift from meetings as status reporting to actual working sessions, where people get things done collaboratively.
These innovative experiments suggest how we might see a gradual decrease in our reliance on email: not with a bang, but a whisper. New approaches to specific problems arise, like instant messaging’s real-time synchronous communication, or selling tools that better support communication about deal flow, or visual web conferencing solutions that allow users to express complex ideas graphically instead of using words, words, words. Over time, each of these advances will divert some proportion of the traffic streaming through our in boxes. Perhaps none so much as work media tools, the enterprise social networks that large businesses are adopting at a steady clip.
My bet is that some solution building on the concept of social email will accelerate our transition away from email, although email will be supported for decades to come. At first, email will continue as a major conduit for communication and coordination, but over time, its use will decrease, like surface mail has. Less and less business-critical communication travels by postal mail everyday, and at some point in the not too distant future you can imagine the last phone bill or sales catalog being delivered to your door. The web has eclipsed the post office, and in the same way, some more open and more social paradigm will eclipse email, as well. We may be seeing the start of that new set of communication principles in these innovative new tools, but I don’t think we have seen more than the barest lineaments of its final form.
We get all kinds of email, and not just spam and everything else. Some email is just notifications, like a library book is now available for pickup, or one of your coworkers has switched from ‘no’ to ‘maybe’ on a calendar invitation, or a task is now overdue in your team’s task management solution. Some mail is really subscriptions, like newsletters or emails telling you that the newest issue of Brooklyn Hipster Gazette is ready for downloading. Some mail has attachments, and a lot of mail can’t be responded to right away but you don’t want to forget to deal with it in a timely fashion.
The naked experience of Gmail, or other average email clients, does not really help to deal with these different sorts of email differentially: the average email client doesn’t distinguish. It’s all the same with them. Oh yes, they’ve provided ways to filter based on who the email comes from, or the like. But that only solves the smallest bit of the problem.
And since it looks like we are going to be using email for a long time (as I wrote about yesterday in Why we will be using email for at least another 50 years), it would be great if there were a bit more innovation in email.
For several years, I have been using task management tools that closely integrate with Gmail, providing at least one part of the puzzle. Todoist is such an app. It is a solo task manager — supporting no sharing of tasks — but works as an appliance (a Chrome plugin) on top of Gmail. When I am reading an email that I need to defer a response to I can click on ‘Add email as task’ and Todoist pulls the id of that email from Gmail, as shown below:
Note that the ‘@’ sign is used to indicate tags in Todoist, useful in searches. So, for example, I could search for all library tasks — like returning books — before heading over there.
After clicking on the ‘Add task’ button, the task looks like this:
The tags are shown in green (here just one) at the left hand side, then the email icon, the link based on the subject of the email, and then the text I added. Clicking the link leads to the email be reopened, even if it has been archived, which helps me keep my inbox cleared out.
There are many other features of Todoist worth reflecting on, but it is just this one feature that I am focused on. Indeed, it is that feature that makes it an invaluable tool for me. I formerly used Remember The Milk, which has a similar integration with Gmail, but for a variety of other reasons I switched to Todoist, despite the fact that it is single user and Remember The Milk supports task sharing.
At any rate, I can’t imagine going back to a naked email client which does not have this notion of some sort of task system integrated with emails.
There is a new project in the works that seems to be headed in that direction, called .Mail. This development effort grew out of a conceptual design undertaken by Tobias Van Schneider, which is now accepting sign ups for the beta. Along with a clean reconsideration of the aesthetics of email — which includes pulling out emails that are just notifiers and making them notifications, and dealing with attachments in a smart way — .Mail will be incorporating Action Steps:
Here you see Action Steps, a prioritization approach, based on clicking the left most region of the email header. As the small print says,
First thing in the morning, you organize and prioritize your unread emails. Sort out what’s important and what’s not. When you mouse over the email, those 3 red squares slide in fromt he left side and give you the option to add this email to your “Next Steps” list. Depending on which square you click, you give this email a [different] priority.
And What About Sharing?
In essence, .Mail is implementing a more integrated version of what I am doing today with Todoist and Gmail (leaving aside the notifications and clever management of attachments, for a moment). But what about coordinating with others in your workgroup? Imagine I get an email in .Mail with a cc to David Card, my colleague at GigaOM Research, who is also using .Mail. Perhaps I’d like to ask David a question before responding to the email. What I’d like to do is treat the email as an object and then have a private comment thread with David about the email.
Today the typical pattern is to create a second email exchange to discuss the first email, which has a number of problems: the first email is either out of context, or gets embedded in second by forwarding or by pasting as text. All these options are bad, really.
Besides, David and I talk all the time, and we share tasks frequently. So I don’t want to communicate with him in the email lowest common denominator form factor.
Or taking it a step farther, imagine that I want to punt on the email, and assign the response to David. In a naked email world, I’d indicate that through another email. But in a hypothetical next gen version of .Mail, I could simply assign the response to David, after attaching a comment, and perhaps an attachment for him to review. Note again that the comments and attachment in this scenario are meta data on the email thread, but not emails themselves.
I haven’t seen the .Mail beta yet, and I am spinning a great deal of wheat where it might wind up being chaff. However, I think that the key idea I am outlining — treating email as a social object, to be shared, commented on, and attached implicitly or implicitly to tasks — has real legs.
So, yes, we will still be using email for decades to come, and some people may continue to use naked email clients, but I am betting that social email will become the dominant approach in the near future, especially in the business context. It preserves the best of the naked email model: namely, anybody with an email account can email anyone else with an email account. And at the same time, social email opens the door for additional, side channel communication and coordination around the subjects embedded in the email text with your coworkers.
Up until iOS 6, I’d considered Apple’s mobile Mail app merely adequate for my needs. Now, it’s moved into not-half-bad territory. Here’s a rundown of my experiences using the new features of the Mail app, which will be available to everyone when iOS 6 rolls out Wednesday.
Miss Nev (as in “never miss a package”), the winning hack of Dwolla and Etsy’s eCommerce Hack Day in New York, plans to launch a platform that lets local businesses receive packages for customers in exchange for purchases or payment.