image downloaded from webdesignerdepot.com

Re-inventing the wheel… ehm… the Email

… no, I’m not doing it ;)

First of all: why I would like to rebuild the full Email ecosystem? The first reason is because it’s pretty much an impossible task, but also because I really hate it. And, c’mon, I cannot be the only one out there!

C’mooooon!

Take a look at the following video (sorry for the bad quality); Steve Jobs is introducing the new Mail (the spine of neXTSTEP 3!) — full video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gveTy4EmNyk

Of course, things have been changed a lot since ’92. I don’t have a mail software installed on my desktop computer anymore, I completely rely on the web version of GMail. It’s still easier for me (but these are personal considerations) to manage different accounts using the different tabs of my browser than relying on any of the mail software that I installed and tested so far.

Back in the days, I believed Slack when they were positioning themselves as the “email alternative” (articles from 2014 and 2015 for example): http://www.theverge.com/2014/8/12/5991005/slack-is-killing-email-yes-really and http://time.com/4092354/how-e-mail-killer-slack-will-change-the-future-of-work/) but still at fleka, and also for other public groups I subscribed to, we’re still using it mainly as a chat tool, more or less like we were doing with Skype — someone is actually still missing Skype, also if I don’t understand how that is possible…

That’s why I’m not sure that Slack really solved my email “issues”; I think that it improved the capability to chat with my teams, and that’s of course already awesome! But let’s look and face the real problem in the real life:

“Thank you! - Hello” replyTo mess!

Ok, I’m probably lazy and most probably it’s my fault but, guys, when I have 2 grouped emails with almost the same people (because someone is discussing one topic and someone else another one), and with 50+ emails for each group, how am I supposed to really get what’s really happening in these conversations? Because this is the key: these are not email messages anymore, these are live messages exchanged between a group of people (I’m looking at you too, Bcc recipients!), like in a chat, like on Slack.

But then, why people are not switching to a Slack-like solution, at least for their daily business needs? I tried to answer this question and I reduced the answers to only one: everyone is already used to it!

This reason could sound like the lazy, not realistic one; I tried to analyze other causes and they’re all plausible and possibly some of them are the direct causes of people still using emails this way, but I really believe that people don’t like to change, simple as that. Think about the consequences:
for a company, to change their behaviour regarding sending emails for their official enquiries and/or communications, would mean convincing the whole board and managers that what has been nicely working for the last 20+ years is really wrong in 2017, plus explaining to the clients that email is not the standard for all the communications, plus convincing the IT department that their beautiful Email servers infrastructure is simply a waste of money — Blasphemy is what you’re talking about, young Padawan!

There is a whole world around the emails that is really hard to forget. Protocols (IMAP, POP3, SMTP, ESPD — thank you Microsoft, …), users’ behaviours, operative systems’ integrations, browsers’ support, business running on server’s farm dedicated only to email communications like newsletters, marketing spam (c’mon, that is simply spam, no one cares all those emails you receive without subscribing!), etc..

It’s not about replacing one tool with another here, it’s about a whole macro-system that should be revolutionized. Good luck with that!

What can I do then, on my small desk? Well, I can at least try to understand what could be a modern solution of an old requirement, focusing mainly on companies’ needs before thos of the end users, and only as an academic exercise, skip all the hard work needed to switch the full system to something different than IMAP, POP3 and SMTP.

Let’s imagine that we don’t have any of that ;) — and that we can always intercept messages received on these protocols and forward them to any HTTP-kind-of request.

Let’s identify 5 key points that can make the email experience better:

1. Integration with third party apps

Sometimes it could be useful to integrate the data of your emails with other custom apps; for example building an Analytics tool around my emails, to retrieve from whom I received more email, what is the busiest hour and day, who didn’t reply yet, who is waiting for my reply and so on.

At the same time, it can be very useful to integrate the possibility to use your own email address to send emails, both for marketing and transactional purposes. Basically the same functionalities that Mailgun alike services already provide nowadays.

2. Block senders

Yes, you can mark an email as SPAM and the sender will “virtually” not reach you anymore (it goes in the SPAM folder actually) but what if we can selectively block specific users, like we’re already used to do on our social networks? We can also report that specific sender, because of SPAM activities or inappropriate content, and obtain to have it banned from the system, self-regulating the community itself, discouraging misbehaviours by nature. This means that when one account has been reported and confirmed to act against the community, it cannot send anymore SPAM, unless he registers as a new account; a few reports help the whole community.

3. Increase the interactivity

We’re not allowed to send animated .gif, emoticons, videos or audios in a natural and fluid way. In fact, we’re still only limited to bold/italic text, choose the color, the size, attaching images, limited to n bytes… but what we really need to do is simple:
- emphasize part of the text
- reply to specific portions of text;
- include any asset (images/videos/animations) into the flow of the text, not outside its context;
- link to external content;
- create and manage events, for example meetings, calls, etc.

Basically what we need is a WYSIWYG smart editor; Slack and Allo (by Google) are good examples of a nice way to exchanging smart messages.

4. Standards

If you ever had to send a newsletter, you know what I mean; Outlook, Gmail, different browsers, OSX Mail, Yahoo, … it’s a mess and there is no real standard you can rely on. 
Browsers on the other side are not a good example of standardization but at least the activity behind the standardization and specifications is a constant work in progress, while on the email client side it’s always a bet and these interfaces drastically limit the way how you can send your message.

Limiting, of course, is a good thing, but not when it doesn’t provide you with the minimum necessary tools you need to communicate in 2017 (we’re not in 1990 anymore).

5. Centralization

I admit: I use Slack, iMessage, Telegram, Viber, Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger, Google Hangouts, Allo, Skype. The majority of them rely on their own proprietary protocol; luckily the trend now is to switch to web protocols as well, starting the liberalization of the messages and the possibility for independent developers to build third party custom applications upon these services — please meet Franz and his creator Stefan Malzner!

Franz, for example, already let me be able to have my Gmail in one tab, but I think I would be happier if I could be service-agnostic and chat with my pals on Telegram or Viber without having to switch between applications or tabs.

Centralized chats concept

Oh… did I mention that all of this should be built with serverless technologies? ;)


About me: I’m the Chief Technology Officer at Fleka; former Professor at Istituto Europeo di Design in Milan; Pixel Art lover, posting experiments on Twitter; I write about technology related to business topics here on Medium and on my Linkedin Pulse. Check instead my Instagram profile for a sneak peek of my private life ;)

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