Monday, February 11, 2013

Kill personal email, overhaul professional email

The advent of email revolutionized peer-to-peer communication over the last ~20 years (you can read email's evolution here or here or here). But it has been a problem child for a while. People are spending more and more time handling their inbox, but not being able to use it effectively. Many experts, such as Paul Graham here and MG Siegler at Techcrunch here), have already called for replacing / quitting email. Companies like Fluent are trying to tweak the UI and features to change the email experience.

I think we should fundamentally re-think the use cases for email. For personal communication, we should just kill email. For professional communication, we need a very simplified, but intelligent email service.

Personal email: Had it not been for the extremely limited functionality of Facebook messages (I am sure by design), I would have stopped using Gmail for personal communication a long time ago. With all information about our social network residing in Facebook, there is no reason why we should be using another service for P2P messaging. You can send messages (P2P or group), organize events, share pics, or initiate chat. Feeds can help you remember old lost friends and set the right context to talk to them. A missing feature is file sharing, for which a cloud storage based approach will be required.
With increasing mobile usage, users have limited screen estate; and they should just use a single social network app for all messaging.

Professional email (company email or otherwise): People still need email for professional reasons. But it needs to be changed dramatically to make it simple with limited features; and intelligent to help users manage clutter. Possible blueprint could be:
  1. Email as a communication thread
  2. No attachments: File sharing through a centralized storage / cloud
  3. Task list management: Features such as 'Send to task list', 'delegate'
  4. No 'mass announcement' mails: All 'mass emails' go to a central announcement board
  5. Minimum and maximum limits on email length: No 3 word - 'how are you?' messages and no 10 page long emails.
  6. 'Priority email' vs. 'rest' auto-classification
  7. Easy identification of an email's 'age': To make sure people can visually see emails they haven't responded to
  8. Contact management: Intelligent predictive in-built contact management system to help people manage their networks (e.g. Contactually)
  9. Daily / weekly email statistics with time spent on email: Make users aware of impact of their email behavior on their and others' productivity.
How about drastic changes in corporate email policies?
  • No email: Completely bypass email in favor of more social and integrated tools
  • All emails to all: Complete transparency
  • No push email: Not sure if blackberry is anymore a productivity enhancing tool.
There could be a future in which free email will cease to exist; instead people will pay for intelligent email services for professional purpose.

It is time to segment our digital communication channels now - social network for personal and email for professional. It will help us get some time back in our pocket to use the real communication channel: in-person!

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