Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.


For me, e-mail has long been the Internet's killer application, but isn't it ready for a makeover or update?

Some things I would like to include:

-- Delayed sending of e-mail to hit people at the most appropriate time (sometimes to myself as a reminder)

-- Conversely, a smart filter that knows when to send me what sort of e-mail. This system would alert me by SMS when I had an urgent message and hold some messages until Monday if I checked my e-mail over the weekend.

What features would you add to e-mail?

Note: I may cross-post comments on the IHT blog and they may be reproduced in the paper for publication.



The things you describe are good ideas, but technically I think it makes more sense to implement them through the client rather than the protocol. Actually thinking about it, it might even make sense to implement some of these through a calendar. Perhaps an extension to the Mozilla Calendar when it eventually comes out, or to iCal if that program is extensibile.


You can do this already via Outlook. Thunderbird also has send later capabilities as well as most clients. Filtering is also included on the side of most full-fledged clients.

Conversations are better understood and more easily remembered if they are held within a space that provides additional context. I'd like to have context specific folders that senders are aware of and choose to send messages to.

The software is already available - For example, conferences in FirstClass and similar spaces in Groove, Colloquia and Sharepoint; and Eudora(?) and groups - but its difficult to get people to use them consistently.

Unfortunately, senders are generally unwilling to give more thought to how the email they send is received, perceived, understood and subsequently used by the recipient.

Well, starting with the obvious, I want a mail protocol that precludes the existence of spam.

As Joi mentioned, I want intelligent delivery that knows how, when and where to deliver messages based on their content. And no, I don't want this at the client level, I want it at the mailserver level. I don't want to have to leave a client open somewhere to handle a bunch of redirecting. In fact, I would really like a the ability to develop server side filters as a regular mail user. I know this is possible with Microsoft's Exchange Server but I'd like to see it on the more ubiquitous servers.

I'd like to see an amalgamation of mail, calendar and address book functions so that when someone emails me an appointment it automagically appears in my calendar. Replies to that email might also show up in the calendar as the agenda for the meeting.

I'd like to see more robust mobile email clients. Blackberry et al are headed in the right direction but not quite there yet. Sidekick II is even closer.

I'll come back when I think of more.


I would think having an ability to notice if who I am emailing is actually around;) If not it finds them and makes them respond and do my will.

I like the idea of routing but it would also be great if messages from certain folks our with cetain subjects self organized someway. I would love to be able to see when I email bob and why and what the progression of the dialoug was when I need to. It would be great as a visual map so I could see the connections between all the emails and people instead of trying to find the email to bob about the some project when I have 60 + emails to bob and lisa and jill about the same project. Ideally, I click my bob contact and see every conversations I have had with bob...IM, email, meeting whatever. And when a new email comes in a contact is created and associations begin...if it's someone I want to associate with of course.

Somehow maybe to know if they have forwarded my message on to others would be interesting too...we are just dreaming here right?

I would LOVE something along the lines of the "Knowledge Navigator" that predated the whole handheld craze (think Newton Messagepad + Internet + Magic Cap + Intelligent Agent + a lot of blue sky thinking).

I'd also like a system that seamlessly integrates all my various email accounts (old and new, active and inactive): I've worked on a dozen different computers over the last several jobs. Whether I should or not... I have all my emails from all those jobs and would like to have them at hand wherever/whenever.

Like Dean... an instant history would be nice too. But, on an enterprise level... tell me everything my company has ever said/sold/etc with Bob.

Oh, and I'd like it to be open source freeware :)

Smittie, that's not Joi's post. =)

I think e-mail needs more widespread adoption for authenticating message headers. Technologies like SPF are moving us in the right direction. Spoofing is so widespread, if we got that under control it would make filtering and trust much easier.


Yeah, I noticed that after I posted my response. That's me, "write first, then think."


Seamslessly traversing between e-mail and IM.
i.e., If I'm at my desk, e-mails from certain contacts should turn into instant messages. Or maybe a certain profile moves them to my mobile (though not as an SMS, IMO, that technology does not use a decent protocol yet - not enough headers, so it's hard to spam-filter).
and vice versa - If I receive an IM when I'm away, make it turn into an e-mail, where I can grab it elsewhere.

Come to think of it, most of this stuff is client side or indulgence. Truly the mark of a killer app is it's simplicity, longevity, and adaptability.

A few quick thoughts:

- something I implemented a few years ago when I had a Nextel phone, but haven't been able to replicate with later carriers, notification of emails ONLY when they came from certain people (family, active clients, investors)

- better/cleaner implementation of vcard like features (i.e. the ability to push out to people I correspond with my current, accurate information - as I want them to have it ideally - so again vendors might have only one number that goes to voicemail, while clients/investors/family might have my direct line/cell phone

- clean and simple ways to securely and reliably send messages FROM the mail server of my choice, not the specific network provider I happen to be using at the time. This fairly simple step would make it easier for users (especially roaming users like myself) to reliably send out emails without the problems of random out bound smtp servers. Yes, a vpn type solution would allow for this - but please show me where "simple" and/or "reliable and "vpn" belong in the same sentence (without a negative).

- smart and proactive search and recall. Why does it take an additional plugin (Lookout) to get just passable search against my email archives? Ideally my email client should come with very robust and highly flexible email search, search that might, for example, point out that I've sent the same message before (and perhaps prompt me if I want to save that message as a template for future use etc)

- another really simple feature, but perhaps email should get smarter about the combination problem of line wrapping/length and long form URLs. How many people have had to do various complex hacks/editing in notepad type tools to get long URL's someone sent them to work?


Point one would be privacy! All the above features are meaningless if the spam people can abuse them.

I would LOVE an appointment to pop up in my calendar but not if it is an appointment for a loan, fake watch or some meds.

So for me my list would be:
1- privacy to block spam
2- split real emails from im style short messages
3- calendar integration which will give us an outlook alternative
4- clients with build in archiving functions

To move towards less spoofing and spam, I like the email certificate approach allowing users to assert their identity. Trust of correspondence is achieved, and comes with the bonus of optionally encrypting between trusted recipients. I'd like to see identity trust and security focused on more in email clients, and better communicated to users that the ability is there. I've been using thawte's personal email certificate to sign email, and have been generally happy with the support most email clients have for security and encryption.

Longer-term, is it unrealistic to consider servers only accepting email from senders who've sigend their communication? Add that ability to prevent spoofing and the current model of blacklisting becomes far more effective.

Default encryption so only the addressed recipient and noone else can decypher the contents.

Email has long been a very crappy way to communicate. It would have needed at least these improvements from the beginning:

1. now when you send email you don't know if the receiving party ever gets it, and if he does does he read it, if he does does he understand it. We cannot do much about the latest ;) but including a system of servers-and-clients that acknowledge and track the successful delivery of emails would be a huge improvement.

2. Now there's like 40 different email formats: no unified standard and a zillion different clients to read them (this is especially trouble some for attachements, like files etc). the new glorious email would need good open standardization and a better way to handle attached files.

3. email would badly need a good system of "access control" to communication. In a way this would act like a service model: you as a user can provide a 'service' of communicating to you. This communication right can be introduced forward to other people, also in a chain so that your business associates for example can pass along your contact information and the service/right to communicate to you. If at any point somebody spams you from the serviced people you would be able to revoke their service and receive no longer communications from them. This revoking should be possible also to entire tree-structures, so that if one "bad apple" distributed your communication-rights to a zillion spammers, you can revoke and collapse the whole tree. In a way this would be a retractable business card: you can take the "card" away if someone is missusing the rights it grants.

One software company in finland at one time implemented all this, but failed to commercialize the solution (becuase of no available funding) I think it would still have huge potential, as it very accurately represents the way people would like to communicate and be in control of their communications.

The time is ripe for email tagging. At sites like LiveJournal, Flickr and you can tag your posts, photos, bookmarks, etc. with keywords. Now it's email's turn.

I can move emails into different folders, but then I have to remember which folder to go to when I want something.

I can save a search as a virtual folder, but it's hard to catch everything without human discretion. An email about rehearsals might not contain the word theatre at all, but I still want to see it in my "theatre" view/folder/search/category.

If we could tag emails, we could add information that would aid findability later on. I reckon we'll see tagging come to email in some form this year. If not to stand-alone email clients, then to web-based services like Gmail.

I wrote a little more about email tagging in a recent journal entry; this comment is an excerpt.

I would always be guaranteed a notice if someone does not recieve an email-not just sometimes.

Integration with my voicemail. I'd love a folder in my email app that had all my voicemails as attachments. The "from" would either be the phone number, or (if its in my contact file) the person's name, along with date and time.

That way, I could reply via email, check voicemail on planes and other non-cell-phone destinations, and check voicemail non-sequentially.


I do most of that already with VirtualPBX.


Default encryption so only the addressed recipient and noone else can decypher the contents

I read your post and decided to write down in my blog one idea I had on mind time ago. I think having your email ordered by priority is essential. I thought about voting one's email. To your consideration, I invite you to read my full post.

I read about a company sometime last year that offered to save emails that you sent for up to 20 years. That way you can receive it later...provided you are still alive and then you will know what it is you were doing at the time it was composed.

What would I like to see? about email to letter service? My mom doesn't have a fax or pc. Can I send an email and have it show up in her mail box?

I'm a big fan of using Wikis for communications relating to a particular project. That way, when someone adds to the conversation, I just get an e-mail alert, and then read it at my own convenience.

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