The future of the inbox

inboxzeroMy inbox is a horribly inefficient way to manage the requests that come into me.

On any given day, I receive all sorts of different emails — all of which require different forms of action.

Here are some of the types of emails I field daily:

  • Introduction requests
  • Notification emails from my bank
  • Invoices
  • Receipts
  • Facebook notifications for tagged posts or photos
  • Ideas for future product ideas from my team members
  • Travel plans/opportunities from friends
  • Possible times for that conference call next week
  • Notifications of new comments on blog posts
  • Product pitches for stories for Geek Estate Blog
  • Event details
  • Marketing messages
  • Questions from potential clients or blog readers

You get the point.

They all arrive in the same format, with some combination of text, images, styling, and attachments. I’m forced to respond to them in the same text based format, and manually interact with the services related to the needed follow up for a particular email separately.

There has to be a better way, right?

Tell me. Why can’t my inbox be smart enough to handle each of those emails differently and show me different follow up workflow depending on the required course of action?

Upon opening a receipt or an invoice, a Freshbooks module should immediately prompt me to tag it correctly — without visiting Freshbooks.com. A platform like LinkedIn could handle introductions seamlessly (is there something better?) All my work emails should be logged correctly against contacts using Highrise (or any other CRM). I should be able to create and assign tasks (cards) directly in Trello from an email. And all those marketing messages…should just be sucked into a black hole never to be seen again unless I specifically search for something.

What I’m getting at is that my inbox should be a platform. Not a silo of text and attachments and tags.

I suppose the opportunity screams Catch 22. Such an email platform is not interesting without modules for every platform you use. And modules aren’t worth building without a massive user base. The other barrier is complexity. Email is simple and expected. A platform would be more complex and different. The key is making the new inbox so damn simple and intuitive that anyone could figure it out in 10 seconds.

Executing on that? That’s where the rubber meets the road.

It seems Google is the only company in a position to implement such a system given it’s massive user base and developer community. Is anyone working on something along these lines?

Drew Meyers is the co-founder of Oh Hey World. Global nomad originating in Seattle. Ex-Zillow community builder. Social Entrepreneur. Microfinance advocate. Travel addict. Fan of Red Hot Chili Peppers and Kiva. Find him on Twitter @drewmeyers.

  • Bryce Ewing

    I know of one service that is going down this route:
    http://powerinbox.com/

    • http://ohheyworld.com/ Drew Meyers

      “Install PowerInbox and see interactive content in your emails from”

      All the partners seem to be media sites. I’m looking for workflow productivity…not more ways to view/consume content.

      • http://twitter.com/RedRussak Red Russak

        +1

  • Bryan Willman

    Well, if you are willing to pay for email, and use programming rules, there is a system that can do at least part of what you want.
    It’s called outlook, backed by exchange, perhaps with various workflow applets (that you’d rather not write)
    But google isn’t going to provide that to you for free.

    • http://ohheyworld.com/ Drew Meyers

      If the system was done right, I’d pay for it. I’d certainly pay for seamless trello and freshbooks integration.

  • Mike_Acker

    1. Get a copy of Thunderbird
    2. Write your processing rules

    if this seems too hard then you need a secretary.

    • http://ohheyworld.com/ Drew Meyers

      The opportunity is to have the necessary components built directly into the email platform. So as to actually interact with the needed service (such as freshbooks) as part of responding to an email. I’m not complaining about processing/filtering…that’s been solved already.

  • http://twitter.com/questionsall Carl Setzer

    A huge challenge towards implementation is trust. We’d need to trust these various actions would happen perfectly and seamlessly. Otherwise, the danger is redundant workflow.

  • http://twitter.com/scottporad Scott Porad

    I wrote a post a few years ago on how I handle this problem: http://www.scottporad.com/2011/05/24/how-to-handle-email-overload/. It doesn’t go all the way to handling things interactively, but it makes things more manageable.

  • http://twitter.com/wrlee Bill Lee

    Does TripIt reflect part of of what you’re thinking? I auto-fwd any travel confirmations to them and had set up a subscription to the calendar. Without any interaction, I have my travel itinerary available (I wrote about this a while ago at http://goo.gl/N4J3E).

    Some of the ideas incorporated into Microsoft’s new outlook.com seem (immature but) good, though they only address mailbox management.

    • http://twitter.com/iSwym Arvind Krishnan

      Yep, definitely a lot of value there. More seamless integration (where you don’t even have to forward) would be even better.

  • Forrest Corbett

    I use a mix of wildcards and tags in email addresses, then filters/rules to sort. No need for the email application or provider to have modules for each. I put the filters/rules on the server so each client gets the output of them. I can pretty much do all of what you ask for, today, with just about any email provider. And I’ve been doing it this way for 10+ years.

    • http://ohheyworld.com/ Drew Meyers

      So you can receive a receipt from square (or anywhere else) and categorize it in Freshbooks without ever leaving your inbox client?

      I’m not interested in organizing/filtering – I want real workflow built into my inbox that alleviates my need to go interact separately with the other services I use.

      • Forrest Corbett

        I don’t use Freshbooks so I can’t comment on that. For something like workflow based on email, then I would pick/build products that handle that or have an API to avoid email altogether as email isn’t really the appropriate medium for that sort of stuff.