Email is a communications multitool which leverages the whole human subconscious to effect its various uses: a human is supposed to know whether this is a "your boss demands that you do this" email or a "your friend wants you to look at her cute cat" email or "your uncle is ranting about fluoride in the water again" email. Most email killers do not and cannot eliminate this mental overhead. Graham only says "other people should be able to add to my todo list" -- he's not killing email, he's considering an email-aware todo list. That's very common. Skype is not an email killer precisely because it doesn't dream big enough: it is a realtime messaging protocol which hit it big because it worked with video. Trello is not an email killer precisely because it's for organizing groups. RSS is not an email killer because it only solves the limited problem of keeping aware of new content.
Email does all of these tasks -- poorly, but it does them. If you want to really kill email, you need to offer the core functionality effortlessly. Email II would understand "circles" of friends automatically, so that there is only an "inbox" for those people who are contacting you for the very first time. Like syndication, Email II would host the content on the publisher's web server to be downloaded whenever the client wants -- this has spam-deterrent effects, since the network doesn't take responsibility for the content. It would hopefully allow us to unify mailing lists. We can protect privacy with automatic cryptography; "chris::example.com" can stand for a public key which is stored on the example.com machines. The email killer needs to be good at segmenting messages so that we can say "This is the text of my invitation to a wedding, but it also comes with a standard-appointment-form where I describe where and when it is, so that it can be rapidly added to your 'upcoming dates' in the relevant social circle." (Since this must merge with dates and todo-lists, presumably example.com contains its own list of stuff which chris::example.com has stored for his own use.)
And I want to at this point admit defeat: because I think even those ideas are not daring enough. The email killer is probably going to have to do even more than all of that, and my own imagination becomes limited.
But I just never get around to learning elisp.
Where the "killing" begins and the extension begins is basically fuzzy.
You could create an "Email II" that had present day email as its transmission layer or which had some other transmission layer as it's base. There's a wide area of innovation still available here.
For example, the most imaginative thing we can do with long email threads appears to be to flatten them and render them as a list.
Not to mention filtering and categorizing: in gmail, you can't even check in a filter if someone is in your contacts -- your gmail contacts -- let alone whether they fall into a particular contact group.
Yes, email clients are "broken". It is "easy to see" that fixing them is the key to really useful communication.
The weird thing is that any time you get one of these "broken" mediums, its users nonetheless become adapted to it. Even the stupidest original behavior becomes a part of a common, even socially, understood medium and changing it thus becomes harder.
An old girlfriend of mine was not terribly computer literate but understood the trick of clicking on an email link in Internet Explorer, having an outlook express window come up and then copying the resulting email-address to her webmail account to send an email. Once she learned this trick, she was far less concerned about the round-about-clunkiness involved in the whole process than I would be. It was just "how computers worked" and a simpler process she didn't know would quite possibly confuse her. She probably wouldn't even know that Outlook Express was an email client itself, for example.
1) Categorize notifications. Use the common web services as a base, and then look for obvious signs of repeated messages of the same type.
2) Prioritize people who are in your contact list. In fact this functionality should be broken out as a separate app. Actually, the same app that we current only use for text messages. I could rant on this for days; why in the hell are apps separated by what protocol they use rather than what the use case is? Ridiculous!
This HN post shows how passionate people still are about email. I have to admit reading the comments has been like reading through my own thoughts for the past 2 years we've been working on this. I can't wait to share what we've done with all of you.
PS Email is indeed great. The protocols - not so much. Unfortunately most email clients are limited to using IMAP as the email API, which in some ways limits what they can do with email. Hotmail started as (and probably still is) just an html client for IMAP. So the UI is built around IMAP functions - get a list of headers, etc. Forget running sophisticated SQL queries against your inbox, the user experience is dictated by the API designers - never a good choice.
That's the key right there, I think. The email-killer is not some wild off-the-wall idea with a zany name that tries to pretend email never happened; it is email II. It is still email- just, the email of the future.
Come to think of it, you see this trend in a lot of tech history. The successor is a descendant, rather than usurper.
We've got to give Gmail the credit of Email II. Think about how much better Gmail was than what existed prior. Would you ever work at an institution that didn't use threading? Never!
Well, to begin with, users don't want to expend even a little bit of effort. Isn't that why everyone is trying to minimize friction in the sign-up process?
I agree that e-mail, as a protocol, is a powerful tool that is often misunderstood. But we really need e-mail clients that allow us to keep track of a large number of threads without getting lost of feeling swamped. Gmail tries to do this to some extent, but it's far from perfect.
I know plenty of utterly non-technical users who have strong opinions about what are the uses of an email list versus the uses of a web forum versus the uses of a Facebook group page.
Which means, to me, that on the one hand, these folks would be interested in a new messaging approach if it was strongly distinguished from the functionality of email and on the other hand, these users quite likely wouldn't bother with something that seem too much like email. Essential, it seems like average people are up for multiple communications mediums but treat each medium as kind of a given, not something that's going to evolve.
I'd be interested in ways of dealing with this.
People have been thinking like that for a long time about a lot of things. They have strong opinions about when to use a car vs. truck vs. minivan, or when to take the bus vs. the subway. They also have strong opinions about the purpose of each room in their home and each piece of furniture in their office. This is OK because most of these things don't change very often, and when they do (e.g. a new subway route or a major renovation), the change is obvious. Today's technology, on the other hand, changes very quickly and in subtle ways. It's hard to catch up with all of that, so the inertia becomes more noticeable. I shared a Dropbox folder with my father a while ago, but he still sends me large files as email attachments.
E-mail is a pretty good group of protocols for distributing arbitrary messages between different locations on the Internet. It's easy to imagine how all sorts of messaging and social network products could be implemented as a specialized e-mail client with a good user experience. Their forms might be slightly different than they have now, but they'd serve approximately the same consumer purpose.
For example, you could build a social networking "client" with e-mail as a backend. Status updates, photos, etc. would be distributed to all your contacts via email, and the client would produce a "timeline" based on the data in its mailbox, without ever showing the user the original messages.
But you give up a lot of control that way, and it's harder to monetize. What developers want (and users too, to be honest) is a centralized service that they can control, mine data with, and sell products or show ads. A distributed protocol, while in some ways more powerful (and less dependent on a fallible central authority!), doesn't achieve the real business aims.
Email is most certainly not decentralized to anyone outside the IT world. They can, with extreme difficulty, move between providers, but they are still dependent on a provider.
Email decreases the volume of users that mediocre players can own (Google does email better than anyone else, so it gets a significant share of the market) but users are still going to be owned by someone.
You don't need significant upload bandwidth for email. Or download bandwidth either. (Unless you're expecting constant DDOS attacks.) Or emergency services. The HVAC might be a good idea.
You could have made your point a lot better by just saying that 99.9% of users will never set up a home server to do email. Which is the truth.
OP failed to mention setting up DKIM and SPF as well.
That's a bingo.
We need a transitory client that is better than the one we have today, but still is the only email client you use. It would do a better job of categorizing and prioritizing your messages. When the user gets used to this, they might be willing to accepting dropping general purpose email clients all together.
Two possibilities that occurred to me:
1) Your service just uses email as a backend messaging protocol, and provides a new "email@example.com" mailbox to all users. Advantage is that you can put all your logic in the client, and just run a mail server.
2) Better: include an email header along the lines of "Intended-For-Application: MyService", and encourage general-purpose email clients to auto-archive these messages out of the inbox.
But yeah, it's just the kernel of an idea, and there are tons of problems with it.
Option 2 includes such problems as:
A. A random selection of end-user's email services have spam filtering that some of your app's messages can't get around. To the end user who never actually sees the emails (because you simply use them as message passing items) this will simply seem like your shoddy service flaking out.
B. An end user's personal email service goes down, which has nothing to do with you but renders your service unusable to them, again as far as they are concerned, your service is simply shoddy and unreliable.
C. In the event that the end user's email service does go down, and they know about it, they are likely to turn to a secondary protocol to get in touch with people, only to find that your service also isn't working because it relies on the same protocol.
Frankly, I can see several problems with option 1 as well. Excessive bandwidth overhead from unnecessary headers, the spam problem inherent to email, all the parsing you'd have to do to extract data from the text body. I'm not really sure what the advantages of using email are if you're just going to be running a single mail server for all users of your service.
There are several social network projects built on top of XMPP, though, which is a lot less terrible.
Then don't build one as a business.
E-mail is incredibly underutilized as a technology.
One could make an argument the majority of instagram's (of course not the filters) functionality could be handled by e-mail, but the "perceived need" to use apps on the smartphone that you purchased for a large percentage of your monthly income but the experience of using the app is difficult to discount.
Another point worth considering is that much of the functionality associated with Path is available in Facebook if you want to play around with settings, but for some reason Path still seems relevant.
Even if that's not the case, this is something the client should handle.
E-mail is not broken, but we'll continually try to convince ourselves that our inabilities to be collaborative and communicate properly is because we're not given the right medium to do so. This is bullshit. People who are terrible at communication will continue to be terrible at communication regardless of what tool they use.
The hammer isn't broken, the carpenter is. Fix the carpenter.
EDIT: I should add - I see many tools that try to replace e-mail aren't largely trying to fix the problems with communication, but rather they are trying to assign accountability. This is great for bosses (or "controllers"), but not necessarily great for everyone. I've simplified this too much and could go into way more detail if I had the time.
My point of writing this post was the illustrate that in the pursuit of ultimate convenience we sometimes loose sight of the importance doing committing to new behaviors or overcoming our own laziness.
And technology should not enable laziness, or replace effort, but rather elevate and extend and magnify existing effort.
It's worth doing some approximate cost/gain math now & again.... E.g., my core goal is to better communicate about important things with family/friends. To that end I have... spent about 30 hours of my spare time this month implementing a solution to save me 30 seconds per email, and about 1 hour actually writing 5 actual emails. QED.
Side note: in your message here (and twice in the blog post), you're using the verb "loose" (means "set free") when you mean "lose" (means "fail to retain").
Looking back, if I spent the same amount of time messaging and communicating with people that I spent building an app to facilitating future communication I would be much better off, thought more thoughts, and grown closer to more people.
(Also, thanks for keeping me honest with the "loose" typos, they've been corrected.
Experiments to find things better than email will mostly fail, but I think we still need more experiments. There must be something better than all that spam for a start.
Sending email is an act that incurs responsibility. WHY are we sending all this shit around? Email makes it clear. I have made a decision that you should spend your time reading and understanding this text. If that's rude, tell me and I'll stop.
This article strikes a chord because email is about communication instead of endless "sharing," broadcasting, forwarding, signalling.
I'm awash in a sea of tweets and notifications but when I see a familiar name as the sender of an actual goddamn email, then I feel reality existing again.
I have a friend who can't stop dreaming about hypothetical advances in social networking that will let us do all kinds of wonderful things, but it'll never be good enough, convenient enough — no technology will ever do the real work of social caring, no shiny app will ever let humans communicate in a way that's easy and non-messy.
There's some kind of consumerism-type ideology around social networks and apps that works like that of beauty magazines and television. TV is boring so Facebook is the new Friends.
It's all so happy, creative, wonderful. There should be a social network that says "fuck you" to all the cutesy glitter on the top of the Maslow pyramid — that's only about, say, "sharing" expressions of the dull lethargy that comes from exhausting oneself with work or work-seeking in a crisis economy.
Sorry for ranting, but this deeply-rooted nausea w/r/t the social web is something that doesn't come out clearly for me all the time, and when it does I feel like I should channel it to get some affect going, because everything is so tediously pastel and we need to change shit up.
I deactivated my Facebook account long ago because of this feeling. I think what it boils down to is that I don't think I should know so much stuff about my friends, family, co-workers, etc without having obtained that knowledge by directly interacting with them in meaningful ways over long periods of time. The Facebook model appears to let me know people better, but it's in a shallow, passive way and encourages me to conceptualize people as caricatures, assembled from a handful of their most obvious or outstanding personality traits. I realize this stuff has been around for a long time, but FB turbo-charges it, and I feel like it's an extremely poor way to "know" people.
The really messed up part is that while the effects Facebook seems to have are often anti-social (think of how many times you've been out with someone and they're too busy checking status updates on their phone to carry on a real, actual conversation), people are labelled anti-social for not participating.
Your certainly not the first person to point this out. 
I do not know but it is too much to read one newspaper a week. I have tried it recently, and for so long it seems to me that I have not dwelt in my native region. The sun, the clouds, the snow, the trees say not so much to me. You cannot serve two masters. It requires more than a day's devotion to know and to possess the wealth of a day.
(Henry David Thoreau, Life Without Principle, 1854)
To me it makes me wonder if the application or the popular belief of usage is the problem.
I'm in the minority, but Facebook literally depresses me (and by literally, I literally mean literally), and I quit long ago. All these words, and no communication. It's like I'm in a crowd, and the only thing I know about the other people in the crowd is what their Tshirts say.
I communicate by email with most of the people I knew on Facebook, and I'm very happy with that communication channel. Because it's actual communication, rather than mere display.
This is also why HN is my preferred news source. Besides the focused yet eclectic aggregation, the comments are actual communication, not just "regulars" on a typical newspaper's comment forum insulting each other. It's been said many times, but I get as much or more from the comments as I do from the articles, not least because I have to engage my brain to comment.
I see the value perhaps in Facebook as a a glorified catalog of your interests and liked content, as a canonical record of your browsing.
The content I like best in my Facebook news feed are links to content on the web.
There is this one girl I barely know, who regularly posts the coolest and most obscure old music videos from the 50s and 60s. To me she is the ideal Facebook friend.
EDIT: All email needs is the ability to display information like the web can. Properly formatted and threaded.
I don't use Twitter, but saying it's just email/listserv is rather silly. Also, it's only a mutli-billion dollar business by investment; it doesn't generate even 1bn in revenue.
I think the problem is the cure is much worse than the disease. The cures of using social network tools is often an enclosed, controlled network such as Twitter or Facebook, which puts control of the network in the hands of few.
Instead of trying to replace email, I think we should "fix" it rather than trying to replace it. Some advocate using Web/REST/HTTP to replace email; I think email isn't that doomed.
Remember, the popularity of email is because anybody can start an email service. Nobody can just use Facebook or Twitter; you have to have the approval of an inner circle authority. Imagine if every Web site required MPAA or RIAA control, and they prevented even non-infringing material online using SOPA!
If by that you are trying to imply that email needs more awful HTML junk and
other "features", stop. Now. That would finally destroy email, not fix it.
TLDR --- Email is great. It's so simple that even non-techies get it.
In the olden days, these were posted or hand distributed. Then over time they moved to being emailed out as PDF attachments, still formatted to perfect beauty as the old printed copies. Now more and more, the attachment is forgone and the data is just typed directly into the body of the email. Sure it doesn't have the glitz of a pristine PDF with the production font and header, but with one glance I can see the numbers I want to see from my iPhone.
I find it funny that it took us until mobile devices to get to the point where we are using email as intended, instead of as a vector for attaching PDFs.
In other words, it's not at all clear to me how additional features would help decrease email's signal-to-noise problems when users themselves choose to create the noise.
This is a great insight. Building the platform is sometimes only half the battle -- getting users to produce the content that makes the product interesting , valuable (and eventually profitable) seems like the challenge these days. Because the further entrenched people become to the platform that houses their "content", the more loyal they become. Facebook is the most obvious example, and a lot of Facebook communications read like watered-down email OK for public consumption.
The main usage problem is abuse of this communication channel. While our email addresses should be public so that anyone in the world may contact us, we are forced to use hidden emails to protect ourselves. This Is the reason of the success of messaging system limited to friends. There is much less abuse.
The problem was known with fax, and will happen with phones if the phone call price drops to zero.
I don't think the Wave people understood this; if they had, Wave might have turned out differently.
Asana, on the other hand, made a big deal out of this.
Email will be one of the services the comm environment integrates, so it's more of an extension than a replacement.
Having to deal with threads and multiple topics in single email messages for most users often results in a degradation of the conversation, quickly.
- No proof that people are who they say they are, we have PGP/GPG but no one uses it.
- Related to the above, I can't control who can send me email, people use different email addresses and any address can be faked anyway.
- No accepted way to post short messages, people still post long email with big disclaimers and/or adverts at the bottom
- Poor email client support for sending/receiving large numbers of pictures, with thumbnails and full versions
- Lack of any real semantic support tags, share a single link, geo information etc.
- No way to public display of your timeline (i.e. twitter)
- No obvious way to have all contact's photos against emails [seems to be coming in now somehow, not sure how really]
- Inability to remove content you accidentally sent
- User expectations that email works in a certain way and doesn't need to change.
Do you have that proof with any other communication medium? You have some level of authentication provided by the service provider, sure (e.g. with the phone), but it's far from perfect and unspoofable.
> Same problem with phone calls, letters, faxes. Doesn't mean those systems are broken.
There are other protocols for this. I think it's fine that email doesn't solve everything.
> - Poor email client support for sending/receiving large numbers of pictures, with thumbnails and full versions
Sounds like a client problem.
> - Lack of any real semantic support tags, share a single link, geo information etc.
This is a problem with open protocols. Not everyone wants to share the same things you do.
You want #6 because many people are trying to share you thoughts with everyone, and the post is titled "All you need is e-mail, e-mail. E-mail is all you need."
It works better for sharing content, but I don't usually want to see all content that a particular person wants to share. Other mechanisms work better for getting a list of content to consume: RSS offers all the content from a particular source, and sites like HN and reddit show recent content that a particular community finds interesting.
The only thing I see twitter as good for is disseminating facts to a large audience when a non-internet-capable phone is the the only communication tool available. It has served that function a number of times during war, natural disasters and other breakdowns of civil infrastructure. Even so, I'd rather consume someone else's aggregation of the facts rather than track down which users to follow myself and unfollow them after the event is over. That's what reporters (including bloggers) are for.
Email certainly has some issues but it is also infinitely flexible and powerful and drives a lot of our day to day interaction with the internet. I am surprised that there is such a drive to re-invent email when a few specialized tools that add value to email will solve many use cases without re-inventing the wheel.
Email is terrible to achieve this. You will end up with lots of emails and multiple versions of the same documents...
That is why I wish someone fix email! :)
Tools like Basecamp and Trello do a good job with project management, but they aren't a 100% substitute for all the various functions of email. I sometimes think that a hybrid between email and a forum/bulletin board would be the best way to manage complex communication, instead of convoluted cc lists...
The problem is people doing task management/version control with the wrong tool. So how do you get managers (in my case the are called professors) to use proper tools? They already know how to use email and they are convinced that it is sufficient.
Maybe a simplified bug/issue tracker for task management?
Maybe something like Dropbox or Time Machine for version control?
The problem is where these habits collide, the way I receive an email from you doesn't match how I'd construct and send an email, therefore whatever I receive is going to cause me a problem.
Isn't this a spam-filter problem? How does a bad spam-filter imply that e-mail's unreliable?
Did you even __attempt__ to configure your spam-filter(s)?
Twitter is a poor way of doing it, and Facebook is just email + shallow egotistical dopamine hacks.
How can you track this down? There is no way to even know if your email made it to a person's inbox (like a kind of forced "received receipt" -- I don't care if they read it yet).
This is easily explained if you were hosting your own Postfix or something. There are a significant number of hoops that legitimate email senders must jump through in order to ensure their email goes through properly. DKIM signing, SPF records, rDNS, etc. These are some of the ways for gmail and apple identify you as a legit sender as opposed to a spammer.
> I'm not talking about a legitimate message being marked as spam and tucked away in some folder, but not even delivered and my email server isn't notified of this shenanigans
In general, ISPs won't want to let spammers know they're are bulking email. That's why you aren't told.
It makes sense that they wouldn't notify you if they tanked your email because they think it's "super spam" or something. It is frustrating though. Especially since I'm talking about very low volume emails (not a newsletter or anything). Do you know why some emails are silently dropped while others are marked as junk and allowed to pass through?
Yes, definitely... at least for commercial sending. SendGrid, SES, Mailgun, Mailchimp - there are a lot of solutions for outbound commercial / bulk and they're reasonably priced and easy to use. They take care of all of the nuts and bolts.
For personal email, I started seeing this change a long time ago and stopped hosting my own at least ten years ago (around the time 1/2 of my DSL got consumed by spam bandwidth). At this juncture, I keep all of my domains on Gmail.
> Do you know why some emails are silently dropped while others are marked as junk and allowed to pass through?
Probably depends on spam score as to whether it gets bulk foldered or killed immediately, and the ISP.
And that's still not a problem of email. That's a problem of your
employer's competence. They should have an archive. Everything else
you mention are client problems.
works like previous messaging systems such as email and Usenet, but instead of sending a message along with its entire thread of previous messages, or requiring all responses to be stored in each user's inbox for context, message documents that contain complete threads of multimedia messages (blips) are perpetually stored on a central server. These documents are shared with collaborators who can be added or removed from the document at any point during a document's existence.
And I could add much more to my wish list. If only someone, with lots of brains and financial resources would come up with something like this and push it to gain wide acceptance then we would forget about the horror that email is very quickly...
For some more info: http://bit.ly/1aAMNd
I'm convinced that the world could be a different place now if Google had done just a few things differently with Wave ...