> "The market that we're going for initially is sort of independent professionals and small businesses that tend to have personal accounts [and] maybe several work accounts,"
I'm glad they're only aiming at a small group of people who actually have problems with email. The weekly "re-invent email" posts are getting quite tiresome, the majority of people have absolutely no problem with email, email is an incredibly simple concept and it works for almost everyone.
I dunno, for most people in corp environment it is a total nightmare mish-mash of to-do list, calendar, notes, and assorted hate mail from their bosses.
In short, email is fucking awful and the bane of my existence. At one point I was getting north of 200 emails a day from people demanding meetings, todos, updates, and pieces of information. Please someone... reinvent it!
Email is not the bane of your existence, people using a communication platform to do things other than communicate is the bane of your existence. Your problem could be solved quite easily with changes to policy (which is just as likely to happen as your company moving away from email).
Nobody gets 200 emails per day all directly asking for something. If you do, as already said, that's a process and staffing issue, not email's fault.
The good thing about the old subject line of an email is that you usually can tell whether it's something you need to look at now or save for later, move to another folder, or delete. You can also quickly see whether you are the main target or just CC'd.
Speed reading can also assist in processing email. Sometimes you just know whether you need to read something thoroughly, or can glance over.
AS an FYI -- I was working on the largest merger between two US banks. 150-200 emails a day was a standard for many people making it almost impossible to digest all the information.
Speed reading, as you suggest, would not be a good solution to finding mission-critical information. As far as I know, no collaboration tool exists that could handle the complexity that we were dealing with. We tried quite a few, and pushed SharePoint to its limit.
I see it rather that way - for my case, I have few problems with email. Email is mostly ok, but it sucks to exchange files, and it is a pain to visualize thread. Also, the whole history shouldn't hang on each email. Fix that and you would have fixed email for me.
I agree with the small target group approach in any way.
You mean teaching email users correct etiquette to reply in context and cutting all irrelevant parts of the original message? Like, for example, http://tools.ietf.org/html/rfc1855 (1995)?
I have to agree that emailing has gotten worse since everyone and all has started using the internet and email. And then tools like Microsoft Outlook make it hard to quote in context and easy to reply above the original message. As a result almost no-one I have regular email contact with has a good email etiquette. If I compare my email conversations with programmers and computer scientists with that of my co-workers or family, the difference is huge. In the former case email is an efficient tool to communicate whereas in the latter case it becomes a pool of mis-communication fast.
Did you even read the article, or did you just come here to toot your own horn? All of your "advice" is exactly addressed by Fluent, e.g. built on top of Gmail, better search, better inbox navigation, and better attachment handling.
I have no idea how successful Fluent will be at all those things, but it's just peculiar when a site says "we're tackling problems x, y, and z" and you come along and say, "your ideas suck, try addressing problems x, y, and z instead."
Eg. I usually have Gmail open in other browsers in Windows even if I run Sparrow on the Mac, and it takes several minutes for Sparrow to notice that a message has already been read, which is super annoying.
The stream view is an interesting concept, but we've found that many people don't have a nice inbox of messages as shown in the preview. In fact, it's quite the opposite: messages from friends, family, and coworkers are often overwhelmed by notifications, newsletters, and mailing lists. However, your Amazon shipping and Twitter notifications aren't spam, you just don't want to see them in the same context.
I'm working on Glider (http://glider.io), a fix for the mess in your inbox. You already know which kinds of emails are important to you, so instead of obscuring that information, we think the best solution is to sort and display emails by sender and context.
You're completely right, and my apologies. We're not quite ready to take on more users at the moment - to clarify, the signup on the homepage doesn't give us access to your account, it simply registers your interest. We've been hard at work on the product, so we held off on working on the landing page, but we absolutely will have a demo along with more information in the near future.
I quite agree that it takes trust. We do have a demo up for a safe hands-on with the product (demo.fluent.io). We certainly take your privacy seriously. Here's a bit more on that: http://fluent.io/privacy.html
As an Australian (who hasn't lived there for decades) nothing gives me a case of cultural-cringe more than these sorts of articles from the Australian tech scene, which appear to be intended solely to pitch the "Australian"-ness of the individuals involved to the world.
Did they really have to editorialize and verb 'action' to make you sound cool? I think not. But, we have to 'sell the cool', right, SMH? I think this was a fail - it really makes you appear idiotic to say things like "action that email". Cringe++.
Besides that tender point, the idea of presenting ones email as a stream is an interesting - but not new - idea. I'd be rather more happy to see this idea, which in my opinion ought to be implemented as a GUI control for all mail clients possible, evolve into Mail.app and other mail clients.
The 'cultural cringe' isn't cringing at ocker culture, it refers to the ocker culture's fear of high culture. You see it in a more general sense when you hear Australians rabbit on about how people are 'so much more cultured' over in Europe... when people have pretty much the same values. It's like there's this mythological European utopia which we measure ourselves against. Interestingly, whenever you question someone exhibiting the cringe, they can never tell you which countries are better in -foo-.
Naturally the exception to this is an accessible human history, which Australia doesn't really have much of.
wikipedia puts it better: "Cultural cringe ... is an internalized inferiority complex which causes people in a country to dismiss their own culture as inferior to the cultures of other countries"http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cultural_cringe
Well, an interesting diversion from the point of this thread, but I consider myself an Australian with tinges of cultural cringe whenever I look back at the Beloved Country and see articles like this. I know the guys are no ockers, but nevertheless the "action"'ing thing is really sour.
Ah, I see what you're talking about now - it's the appeal to nervous patriotism: "Look, Aussies can perform on the world stage, too!", in an article that really has nothing to do with the nationality of the folks involved. I agree, the editors should be shot for letting such a crap heading through.
Check out the wikipedia link - it also has this gem: The cultural cringe can be expressed in the almost obsessive curiosity of Australians to know what foreigners think of Australia and its culture. A quick way to most Australians' hearts (unless they're counterculture hipsters) is to compliment the country... just make sure you sound sincere when you do it :)
(clarification: You're right to cringe at that, but it's the article displaying the concept known as "cultural cringe", not yourself)
I like it how it is because filters and sensible organising of inboxes is not hard.
Not interested in email streams at all. I'd prefer to keep streams for the kind of information that doesn't require action or response frequently per item. Emails often require action or attention, and it's far better they exist as subject line items in a date-ordered list for easy retrieval, sorting and archiving all at once.
Technologies that are no longer growing tend to result in cost-cutting, leading to engineers in the US and Europe getting laid off for offshoring. So "if it's not growing, it's dead" is actually a rather good approximation of the status quo.
The attachment feature alone is a something I would pay for; I deeply miss Xoopit an we'll-organize-your-attachments plugin which gave my inbox a life. I also like how you can view message and reply without having to go to a new page. The only problem I see is it's taking me away from my comfort zone (gmail).
What I'd really like to see is a P2P, encrypted, bittorrent-based mail system, basically something that works similar to bitcoin, but used for sending encrypted mail instead.
No central servers, just a single blockchain recording all encrypted messages on the network and shared over a bittorrent network, and an easy-to-use client that doesn't make normal people think too hard.
Encrypt a message with your recipient's public key, submit it to the network, it's accepted into the blockchain, and they decrypt it on the other end with their private key when the msg propagates to their client. Private (at least until computing power catches up with the encryption algorithm), decentralized email without ads, popups, etc.
Give it a nice Apple-ish/fluent.io-ish/sparrow-ish interface, transparent encrypting and decrypting, and some way of optionally associating email addresses with public keys so normal users don't have deal with intimidating hashes (optional only though, still want the ability to send directly to more anonymous public keys).
While you'd still need some method of preventing block chain forking, you wouldn't have to worry as much about double spending and transaction verification since you don't care whether someone sends the same message multiple times to different recipients (as you do with bitcoin).
One of the biggest problems would be dealing with exponentially increasing blockchain size. Bitcoin already has this problem and its transactions consist only of relatively terse amounts of data. With full emails (and attachments?) you'd have to implement a method of cropping and perhaps archiving the blockchain, or otherwise solving that problem, or it will quickly become unweildy and destroy the user experience (esp for people with slow connections).
Perhaps clients store the blockchain a certain number of blocks back, and then beyond that they only store their own sent and received messages? Not sure...
The genius of bitcoin is that it is a solution to a difficult algorithmic problem in distributed systems  which can be repurposed for other implementations. It is already being repurposed for a distributed DNS  and distributed voting systems for elections , why not a distributed encrypted email system as well?
Just throwing this out there without really thinking it through thoroughly atm... Thoughts? Feasible? Probably the biggest problem is knowing that one day all your emails would essentially become public domain when hardware catches up...
When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a distributed decision problem...
But seriously, this would not scale. Using a central block chain as you suggest means that every node in the system receives a copy of every email. It's also trivial to DOS - just send tons of multi-megabyte messages to nonexistent receivers. The messages hang around in the block chain forever and the entire system dies.
Email is not a decision problem (unlike bitcoin, or potentially a DNS replacement). It is a delivery problem, and is local in nature. There are no global decisions to be made, unlike in bitcoin - there's just a sender and a receiver, and they need to find each other to exchange the message. Once they do, nobody else needs to know about any of this.
When you view things in that light, SMTP is a reasonable protocol for the job. It just lacks sender authentication, hence the spam problem, and is cleartext-by-default. It also relies on the DNS protocol for endpoint location, and is a 7bit protocol (making attachments needlessly inefficient). All of these things can be fixed without any kind of radical change to the protocol; just tack on a DHT (keyed on recipient public key hash?) for endpoint location, mandate 8bit-cleanliness, authenticate the sender somehow (this is a HUGE problem and one your hash chain system also fails to address), and mandate encryption.
If you want to also mask IP addresses as well, just toss in a standard mixnet, such as tor or I2P. This gives you endpoint location for free, as well.
As for sender authentication, mandating message signatures is an easy first step, but authenticating the sender key is a hard problem (key management always is). You need to have some kind of vetting process or spammers will just mint millions of keys; but at the same time people like to receive messages from people they haven't exchanged keys with. This here is the fundamental problem with spam, and not one that any purely technical solution can fix.
Email per se doesn't have centralised servers. You can run your own. The only registration issues (DNS) are related to addressing (your server needs to be able to find the destination to send the email).
Your proposal basically sends all email to everyone (encrypted), which avoid the need for a DNS entry.
That model already exists, it's NNTP (a.k.a USENET). This basically sends an email (RFC822 body) to all participating servers in an efficient 'flood fill'. (A usenet post is almost identical to an email body).
So PGP+NNTP gives you the protocol side of what you want today.
The issue will be that "sending all email to everyone" probably won't scale, for NNTP or your system.
You would lose interop with existing email infrastructure. the problem is that hosted email brings everything back to being too centralized (for eg. most of the email I send doesn't leave the google servers). Take a product that implements its own smtp server, nice PGP integration and a nice interface over it like the one in OP. users may be more likely to want something like that (I know I do - I can't wait to switch away from Gmail) rather than an entirely re-invented messaging system.
>You would lose interop with existing email infrastructure.
Yeah, when I mentioned the ability to associate email addresses with public keys, I wasn't very clear. I did't mean regular email addresses, but was actually thinking of bitmail-only email addresses. Perhaps ones based on Namecoin .bit domains.
But I wasn't suggesting interop with existing email infrastructure, this would be completely separate. In fact, the idea would be to disrupt and supplant the regular email we all know and love, at least for some use cases where privacy is paramount.
Everyone would have their bitmail client which they could use to send encrypted email, as well as their regular Gmail addresses and whatnot. Most people have multiple emails anyway, this would just be one more.
One nice thing about bitcoin, which would carry over to bitmail, is that despite the core technology (the official client) being completely outside and orthogonal to the current financial system, it's very easy to use for its fundamental purpose. Sending and receiving bitcoins is just simple. I envision the core bitmail client would work similarly and be similarly simple. No need for interop as long as there are specific optimal use cases for it (say, Arabs and others coordinating against oppressive regimes, stuff like that).
This is an amazing idea. I have been thinking how to do webmail + proper privacy for ages. By proper I mean it ought to completely cryptographically protect participants from any kind of orwellian search and seizure policy as well as just fix the inherent problems of plaintext storage in e-mail. I don't even think that hardware catching up to the main crypted spool is really an issue as we're well past the point where we can use encryption algorithms requiring computationally infeasible energy to decrypt by bruteforce, even granting absolutely unlimited compute resources.
The only problem I could see with this is one bitcoin will also eventually run into, but even moreso, which is scale. Average email size is going to be a lot larger than your average bitcoin transaction. That said there may be ways around it, perhaps using the usenet infrastructure as an underlying transport mechanism and piggybacking off that. It already has ridiculous amounts of data flowing through and being stored on it. Something to think on more, thanks for chiming in.
Yeah, the data size is a big problem, but the bitcoin dev team is working on a bitcoin-lite client to solve that problem. Their eventual solution might be repurposable for bitmail.
And here's another thought about that - just delete all messages from the blockchain after they're read, and only store them locally in the clients. As soon as the receiving client unencrypts the message, store it locally, then delete it completely from the blockchain. Unlike bitcoin, this wouldn't be an accounting ledger with the necessity of storing all transactions in perpetuum. All that needs to happen is the message get delivered to its recipient, once that is verified to have happened, it can be deleted. The clients can keep copies and organize them into conversations or whatever.
That wouldn't quite solve the issue of hardware eventually being able to brute force the encryption though, since an interested party could store a running record of everything put into and deleted from the blockchain. But it would have to be a very interested party to store that amount of data in the hopes of being able to decrypt it years or decades later.
Bitcoin wasn't really designed for deletions though, and that would also double the rate of blockchain diffs, so would have to think more about how or if that would work...
A small marketing firm I happen to admin the email servers for... sends 15 million marketing emails per month (all opt-in, CAN-SPAM / Australian Spam Act compliant). This alone is nearly 1.5TB of data. We only send marketing campaigns for about 8 national brands and about the same number of regional brands to a country of twenty something million people.
Now It might be suitable for a conversation or private chat room. It would work really well in an IRC / small group situation. But I can't imagine a single global system ever scaling past a few dozen people without some significant hardware.
As far as deleting things, the problem there is who is responsible for deleting and what if I don't? The number of bounces we get from campaigns from defunct mail boxes that have filled to quota is quite high. Who removes this email that no one reads? At the moment the storage problem is isolated, but a central chain makes it impossible.
The more I think about this makes me think you might get it to work with a block chain per domain... but then whats the point over simply setting up your own email server you trust and using encryption?
Actually if you go with the concept of pointers to messages detailed here http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3615862 you enormously cut down on the size needed to store those messages (one message with a million recipients is just one message + a million recipients, not one million copies). Also with regards to deletion you could leverage the economics to pay for size, for example a user with a 1tb mailbox store will have to pay more mailcoins than a user with a 200kb mailbox store.
The pointers method is used by most commercial mail archival software that I've seen (the kind big companies deploy for SabOX compliance).
The problems with Pointers & de-dupe is that at least marketing emails are personalised, each are sent independently often with at least a minimum of personalisation, for example calling you by your name (people are more likely to read it if it calls them by name). You can do de-dupe, but your limited to the efficiency and overhead of your block size. Compression would also take the storage required down to ~ 1/10th (excluding attachments), but I don't think thats still enough. Even if deduping and pointers gave you a 500x storage saving, the data size for a few days email is still so unfathomable that it won't work as a single global system.
As far as trying to solve it with economics, its been tried (as a method to stop spam) but the question is who has to pay who and for what? Every such scheme has failed because you end up missing one of the big groups of users as it becomes un-economical for their mail pattern to continue. If you make the senders pay, few comercial entities want to play, and few people will provide free email. If you have to pay to store then how do you stop being billed for someone flooding you.
I think if we throw away the direct similarity between the blockchain as a transaction log vs a spoolchain as a massive collective megaspool and instead go with the concept of a spoolchain being a log of pointers to storage bins which are the actual distributed storage for a destination group, we get rid of most of the problems with storage size.
Eg. I am firstname.lastname@example.org, I want a storage bin for this account. A storage bin could then be either someone who just has email@example.com (say on a massive scale, the u shard for the provider.com domain) or someone who has the entire storage bin for provider.com, or someone who has the entire storage bin for .com
Couple this with open access to the storage bins from any and all (the more the better, the heavier replicated they are the easier / faster end users have access to their mail) and an economic incentive to participate in storage propagation (mailcoin? n mailcoins per n mb of storage, charge mailcoins for access to the storage bin, whatever model makes the most economic sense) and we might be onto something. It also handles deletion and allows users to "un-send" mail by deleting the mail from the storage bin it exists within. The blockchain in bitcoin does not allow for transaction deletion operations, but that does not by any means rule out the possibility of deleting the position in a storage bin where the spoolchain in mailcoin points to.
Problem: instead of having to sniff my servers' connections, an attacker (say, a government) can just download the blockchain - which is easily accessible - to have a list of everyone who has sent me email and everyone I've sent email to.
Besides, what's the point of the blockchain there anyway? Why not just have a distributed naming system (like namecoin) for the addresses and then simply integrate an MTA with the client, allowing simple P2P between users?
Good idea, but I personally don't want to have to download and process terabytes (petabytes?) of data every day in order to be able to read a few kilobytes of my own email.
Maybe in a few decades time when it's normal for people to have static IPv6 allocations and permanently online machines in their homes, it will be trivial for people to run their own mail systems using existing protocols.
The best thing Gmail has going for it are the shortcuts. They're the best feature for ripping through an email backlog. I hope anybody working on an email client includes shortcuts for everything. Once you get used to them, it's painful touching your mouse.
Marginally faster. There's only so fast you can make email because you still need to comprehend it. And BTW, comprehension + shortcuts is the killer feature of Gmail. Having a nice GUI facilitates comprehension which allows you to act faster. There are many reasons why an individual might prefer mutt, but "Much MUCH faster than gmail" is overstating the case quite a bit.
Is it my imagination or is this a lot like the vision for Mozilla Raindrop. I was quite disappointed that they started talking about it and then stopped work on it almost at the same time. The ability to pump all of your messaging into a single client and have it prioritise what was important seemed a no-brainer to me.
I'd love to have rss/tweets/fb/g+ updates alongside emails for people I care about rather than maintaining increasingly complex methods of keeping up to date with each in different apps
To me, this looks like webmail to read webmail. Pretty though. I doubt I'll use it, as it's another entity to trust with my privacy. If it was a replacement for Gmail entirely I'd consider it.
I'm still searching for a decent desktop email client, something that looks like this and works on both Windows 7 and Mac OSX. It's a shame that this is a web app, it doesn't solve any problem that I have.
Slick interface and the instant search makes me want to use the product.
But I like and trust email because it is stagnate. How is this different than Buzz (dead) or my other 'streams' like G+/Facebook/Twitter? I don't want my email to be a stream, because if I miss one, that could be devastating. I don't want email to evolve, because it is the only thing I can trust that won't become realtime.
If the mail is still hosted at google, hosted in the USA with all the government snooping and extreme paranoia and everyone is out to get us attitude, with the NSA, CIA and whatever other corporate/government crime syndicate reading it, then it fails to fix the biggest flaw in gmail. And that is the lack of privacy.
"Email has "stagnated" and three Australians who quit Google say they have built a product that will change the way we interact with email and allow us to get through our bulging inboxes "20 per cent faster"."
It reminds me of a similar service, ZeroMail  (also from Australia). The UI for Fluent is intuitive, and a nice break from Gmail (esp. with Gmail's new look).
Given the influx of e-mails I get a day from listservs, friends, business contacts, customers and random services (Groupon et al.), I see this already busy interface getting cluttered very fast. That said, I only tried the demo and would be interested to see what it looks like on my actual inbox with real people.
Thanks - that explains it. Although I object to just using the headline of the page (as I think the ex-wave is more relevant than the 'aussies' bit - but I guess there is novelty for the rest of the world).
With Gmail's "new" interface, I am finding it more and more cumbersome to navigate around. I practically run my business through Gmail - so it's great to see another stab at this interface to make things more meaningful and practical. Goodluck with Fluent.