To make collaboration effective, Email needs to become more useful. Here are 10 ideas. These involve the use of the standard mail client, so that no download on the client side is necessary, and can be built on software available freely in the public domain.
- IMAP Mail: IMAP is a much more powerful mail protocol than the widely prevalent POP. IMAP stores messages on the server (with a copy on the client, allowing for offline use). Mail can be accessed via a Mail Client or a Web Browser, thus allowing for truly universal access. Using IMAP-based mail can serve as the platform for two features (Filters and Folders) which can enable collaboration:
- Filters: IMAP supports Sieve for writing both server-side and client-side filters. Filter can be used to determine the action to be taken before the messages reach the Inbox. For example, as a starting point, one can create folders for “Internal Email” (all email from others in the company, filtered based on the domain name), “External Email” (all email where my address shows up in either the To or the Cc fields and that is not from within my company), “Lists” (email lists which I subscribe to), “Delete” (for spam messages). This way, the Inbox will contain messages which I periodically need to see but with non-critical messages. The overhead here is that I need to check multiple folders.
- Directly Addressable, Shared Folders: IMAP allows for folders to be shared, and for emails to be sent directly to a folder. Thus, the project leader can create a folder which is shared by everyone on the project. The project leader can control the access permissions on the folder.
All email addressed to this folder (eg. rajesh.ProjectName@indaworld.co.in) is
routed directly into this folder and instantly available to all other members of the group. This way, one get the latest status at any time by just checking a single folder. A person coming on board the project team at any time can get the entire correspondence in a single place.
- Message Metadata: It would also be useful to attach details to a message like DocumentType, ActionRequired, etc. This would then allow for finer search and classification. The big question of course is how to attach metadata without altering the Mail Client. One way is to define a simple scripting language (on the lines of BASIC) which the user can write as part of the message itself (a template can be created and inserted as part of the signature). These commands are for use by the server (along the lines of a Form with a “For Office Use Only” portion). For incoming messages, this form could be attached by the Mail Server itself at the top or bottom of each mail.
- Dynamic Email: With the ability to control and extend the Mail Server, one can think of even updating emails in place. For example, like in Outlook, there can be a folder called “Calendar” with a single message, which has the schedule for the day. As new events are added, the server can directly update the user’s calendar. The user can make updates by either filling out a form or sending an email (so I can even update my desktop calendar from a cellphone). This idea can be extended to getting reports on various internal functions. Rather than getting a new message daily, the same message can be updated “in place” so that there is less clutter in my mailbox, and I can get the latest status whenever I want.