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Reinventing Email (reinventingemail.com)
42 points by niico on Nov 15, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 41 comments

"Email is not a messaging protocol. It's a todo list."

Speak for yourself. My primary use case is to send and receive messages with others. If a message includes things to be done, I'll put them in a TODO list, like I'd do with any other messaging protocol.

The reason why reinventing email always fails is because email isn't broken.

I agree. I think email is broken for people in the manager schedule http://www.paulgraham.com/makersschedule.html

That's why we keep hearing how painful email is from people like PG (someone clearly in the manager schedule) but a lot of makers don't really appreciate the pain

I think the whole 'email is broken' thing should be phrased differently. I agree there is tons of pain. Maybe articulating it well IS the solution?

So I wonder what you guys think. What is the real problem? Who has this problem?

FWIW, the context of the quote is #2 of http://paulgraham.com/ambitious.html

(I post this because it took me two searches before I retrieved the URL).

The thought of making email more like a todo list is terrifying to me. I try to move valuable information and tasks out of email and into trusted systems that are designed specifically for those purposes as fast as possible. Testing out this guys hypothesis couldn't hurt, but I want nothing to do with it.

I think the reason why reinventing email always fails is that it is generally skin deep.

"move valuable information and tasks out of email and into trusted systems..."

If email is not a todo list, then how/why do tasks even get in there in the first place such that you need to move them out of there?

Because email is a general purpose messaging system. That can be anything from "hi, how are you?" to "can you pick up some eggs on the way home?"

Yes, my point is that there must be _some_ people that use email for communicating todos, else your inbox would not have todos in it. Maybe it's not HN readers, but the fact that HN readers actively move todos "out of email" mean that someone put them there in the first place. It's those people to which this product would be targeted.

An email that says "can you pick up some eggs on the way home?" is someone putting "pick up eggs" on your todo list via email. To me, it seems clear that for at least a few people email is a todo system. It's probably so for more people than we imagine.

I'm glad I'm not the only one that got annoyed reading that. If it'd been prefixed with "For me, Email..." then fine, I accept that.


Email is great because, at its heart, it's a super-simple Unix-ish concept: send text-based messages to another address. (Granted the history and implementation has grown quite gnarled, but that's not important for day-to-day UX.)

That simplicity is what makes it so compelling: you can twist email to be whatever you want. Some use it as a to-do list, some as a calendar, some for editing documents, some just for messaging. Everyone can use it in a different way because it's so simple and easy to understand.

One can certainly invent products that try to take one aspect of email and improve them, like a to-do list, but then it's not email anymore... it's a to-do/calendar app. Which isn't bad, but the point is--email isn't going anywhere.

>Pixel perfect + Retina + Cloud The trifecta of the mobile apps. Sync all your email and tasks with our cloud based mobile app.

The trifecta of buzzwords perhaps.

Thanks for contributing to the conversation with this dismissive, regurgitated comment. What have YOU done lately? Why dismiss something someone has worked hard on?

While constructive criticism would have been better, that line did jump out at me as being out of place in on the page. (Didn't say much? Has nothing to do with re-inventing email?)

I'm afraid this is not reinventing email. It's more of capturing one particular use pattern. You quote pg saying it's a Todo list, which it is, but then you outline a solution that doesn't really work for my version of that Todo paradigm. And then you move on to irrelevant details like pixel perfection and retina support. I strongly suspect this is not what pg's RFP was about.

Paul Graham may be a bit out of touch. I've asked around and confirmed that the people in my life, at least, are confused at the idea of using email as a to do list.

But he certainly knows how to get the tools that he wants made for him.

I've never used email any other way.

Really, you only use email as a TODO? You've never used email to discuss ideas? Catch up with an old friend? Have an argument? Flirt with someone you are attracted to? Anything that qualifies as a conversation?

I guess I think of conversations as things that are to be done.

Are they all getting 500 emails/day?

No they are not. And not very many people are.

agreed, email isn't a todo list at all.

This is just the new Outlook.com with a different font.

Which, isn't a bad thing, but not exactly bringing anything new to the table...

Nice work on the UI. But I think what he meant with "to-do list" is that he has no control of what people can put on his inbox, and that he has to waste time reading emails before he knows what that person wants. To solve something like this you'd have to have this problem in the first place, so talking to a lot of powerful people is what I'd do in the beginning (and that's why it's a hard problem to attack IMO).

I'm thinking of taking a stab at this idea too.

Reinventing email, for me, would start with what Facebook have achieved: if I want to send an email to my friend Jane, all I have to care about is her name, and all she has to care about is similar.

I still think this is one aspect of Facebook that is often overlooked; they make it incredibly easy to contact people you know. Email addresses are a nightmare to the average user by comparison.

For me, that's the beginning of where the revolution will lie.

A todo list is one function of email. It's also an information sharing and socialization service. The right solution will contain specialized functions for these various uses. Note that a single email can fall into multiple categories. "Prep for 12/3 meeting" might contain information which should be added to a searchable library for future reference and create a to-do entry to ensure that the documents are read before the meeting.

The bigger challenge is that e-mail as a to-do list differs from a calendar in that the time and place of the to-do's is a bit more nebulous. For example, if you send someone an email with a link to your page and request feedback, you have a certain but inexact timeframe in mind. The secret to making this work is providing a heuristic ordering based on the sender's desires and the recipients priorities. The former can likely be specified with a few request classes or duration options. The latter would likely have to be learned from usage history, possibly with a VIP list used as a starting point.

This app is aesthetically stunning.

One thing I would note is that Paul Graham is probably not a good data point. Most email users actually do use it as a messaging protocol but there is definitely a niche of users (such as Paul) who encounter this to do list effect.

Maybe target them specifically, premium prices ect. But the assumption about what email is for needs to be validated.

Good luck guys.

I'm always the odd man out when people praise design here. To me the UI is boring and cliché. Flat and minimal principals don't work in every circumstance, as evidenced by the Rdio desktop app and others like it where you end up glancing past features because they aren't prominent enough (i.e. they look like every other element on the app). There needs to be depth and hierarchy as applications become more complex and elements need to stand out from each other.

Instead of trying to re-invent what email is, just make it easier to do what people use it for. Make it smart and intuitive. The problem I have with all of these designer showcases is that how it functions is ultimately more important than how it looks. Neither this nor Mail.app showed any functionality that wasn't available in some way or another from any other client I've used.

You might want to fix the glaring typo "Re:Inveting email" at the top of the page.

As someone aptly mentioned though, the problem is you are just redesigning the email inbox and giving it some quick reply buttons (ala the Gmail canned responses).

I suggest you take a look at AOL's Alto for an example of something that is trying to tackle something similar largely through UX design. http://thenextweb.com/apps/2012/10/18/aol-alto-email-applica...

All that being said, the design is cool. And you have a kickass domain name.

I kind of like this idea. Anything to change up how email is done. Outlook sort of has the right idea now, showing me conversations easily with lots of visual queues, but I rather like that demo from AOL that came along a few weeks ago.

What was it called? AOL built some sort of new email based client system? If anybody can share a link I'd be very grateful.

Edit: Found it, it's called Alto.

Check it out: http://www.highsnobiety.com/2012/10/21/aol-reinvents-email-u...

You cover only 3 new "features": Tasks + Quick Reply + Sync... how are these reinventive? Tools like rapportive, followupthen and even something simple like find big mail are actually reinventive. To be able to type in an email and get the users social information that I can check and follow up on while writing the email is powerful. To be able to get notifications X days/weeks/months creates the persona you are ON TOP of your game.

Just my 0.02 - I do like ur UI stuff btw :)

Paul English (cofounder of Kayak) tackles emails in a similar way to what you're proposing:

"I get about 400 to 500 e-mails a day, and I probably send about 120. At any given moment, I'll have only 10 items in my inbox. When an e-mail comes in, I read it and decide immediately: Delete, reply, or delegate?"


"Email is not a messaging protocol. It's a todo list."

that's ridiculous. I would expect more from someone who likely remembers uucp and what/how email was designed for.

Sigh. Mockups aren't a product.

If you want to reinvent email, start here: http://www.ietf.org/

So... what does it do?

It seems to somehow organize my emails as tasks, but how does that work in practice?

What happens when I get an email? Does it turn it into a task? Can other people still interact as usual with me by email without using this software? What about emails that really are not todo items?

step one in reinventing mail should take care of security (encryption) and trust (am I talking to the person I think I talk to). and these should be mandatory.

gorgeous UI. could you share the PSD? we'd love to use some of those UI elements on the next version of TaskUp. we're working on an email parsing feature at TaskUp (taskup.com) to extract those usage patterns of email into todo lists and already provide a mechanism of transforming emails into todos by just CCing track@taskup.com on any email. would that be something that you would use? how could we make it better?

Beautiful UI. My 2 cents, the problem with these solutions is that outside of engineering teams, assigning tasks to the creates disdain in teams.

You either reinvent messaging or reinvent todo-lists. "Reinventing" an implementation such as email is nonsensical thing to say.

Email is more than the tools we use. Its the nature of the communications - its permanence, the store-and-forward thing, the fidelity (text/mime/images etc), the namespace.

Messaging differs in one or more of these. Phone calls have lower latency (unless you don't answer) but higher fidelity - you can go back and forth in seconds.

Just like there's a gadget every $50 between a simple phone and a laptop, there's a communications tool from snail mail to phone call/voip filling every ecological niche.

So yes, I believe you can reinvent something that's the size and shape of email, including its latency and permanence but maybe with better fidelity or authenticity or whatnot.

did someone say Asana? :O

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