Udell on Meta-Mail

Jon Udell writes:

We spend a lot of time, in email, enacting protocols that could be (to some degree) formalized. There’s a delicate balance to be struck here, of course. Most business processes mediated by email have both formal aspects (you ask me to perform a task by a certain date) and informal aspects (we negotiate, and realize something else we hadn’t thought of should take precedence). The conversational nature of email is its irreplaceable strength. That’s why we keep on re-inventing email within special-purpose applications. And it’s why I’ve long argued that our general-purpose email software has to be more programmable, and has to have robust support for extensible metadata. Here’s the conclusion I came to back in 1998: “Messaging is at the center of all groupware activities. We need to be able to deeply customize our messaging environments. There are two ways this can happen: enrich the browser’s user interface and local data store, or componentize the messaging client.

Six years later, both strategies are in play. If the Alchemy idea finds its way into Gmail as I suspect it will, we’ll finally get to see what webmail might really be capable of. And if Chandler pans out, we’ll similarly get to see what a full-strength messaging client built for scripted extensibility can do. The question is what we make of these capabilities.

Of course if email (the protocol) were sufficiently enriched with task-related metadata, and if email (the application) could be customized to handle the prioritization and visualization that Phil envisions, the distinction between “in email” and “outside email” might cease to matter.

What Phil Windley envisions: “I think the answer to this problem lies in creating a task dashboard and having the various applications, including email, post control messages to the dashboard so that I have a single place to manage the various messages that are coming to me, albeit outside email. I’m envisioning something more flexible that a simple dashboard. I want a rule engine, easy graphics, templates, and so on so that I can customize it to the way I want to work. There’s lots to think about here.”

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.