Email idea #435: find-the-questions

As my friend Simon Wex mentions in his latest post, I think there are interesting avenues that a desktop client can explore, an exploration which is harder to do in a web context. Simon being Simon, he even wrote some draft code to see if one idea we batted around (having an email client detect questions in email) idea held water.

Note that Simon says that there are features which he thinks server-side solutions wouldn’t reasonably be able to scale up to. I don’t think performance scaling is the issue, although it’s true that desktop and server side solutions scale differently. Being able to scale the pool of innovators is much more important, in my mind, than being able to scale a particular feature. And that’s where open source, and per-desktop experimentation levers like Thunderbird add-ons, become really interesting.

Finally, I suspect that it might feel somehow better to Simon to have analyses like “which questions from my girlfriend have I not answered yet?” computed locally, as opposed to by some sort of computer in the sky who compares all such questions, auto-suggest answers based on answers Simon gave to his previous girlfriend, or answers the current girlfriend got from her last boyfriend, or even just the most popular answer to said question…


  1. “or even just the most popular answer to said question…”

    That would be great, I’d never have to answer any questions 🙂


  2. Hello,
    I think that actually there are those little things that make life easier and little features that can make a difference. Or, at least, add some comfort to a user. Although some could be easy implemented and others harder, such tiny bits of functionality will alway get an “now that’s more like it!” out of a user.

    And if Leopard mail shows a feature like detecting phone numbers or interpreting tomorrow like a date related to that mail as a main thing, well, at least it shows some care for the customer (and soon may become a must have ..). But probably is more than that.

    Along with a more personal or human approach to the general communication, these are those things that bring “normal” actions to software, as opposed to computer/tech specific ones. By example the very title of the blog post indicated shows a friendlier “posted x days ago” instead of “”. Big effort? No, just big results.

    I wonder how many of this kind should be default functions and not extensions.


  3. I’m not sure I want to reuse the answers I gave my ex, but the overall idea is good, and you’re spot on that there are scaling advantages to the desktop, particularly around extensibility.


  4. We actually did stuff like that at Divmod a few years back (right before gmail was released, in fact). We parsed emails for all sorts of data: phone numbers, addresses, links, photos, dates (for appointments/meetings), etc. That code is all open source, so I’m not revealing any trade secrets 🙂

    There’s lots of really great opportunity for innovation in email… and there is great need for it. Email has stagnated and could benefit from the recent advances made in natural language processing and social media (i.e., how to get at the data we need and what users really want to read/remember and say/share).


  5. My vote is for some attention to the address book. The current one needs better robustness, stability, and some usability improvements, just more work…

    I am holding on to Palm Desktop just for my contacts, hoping that Thunderbird will improve the address book to the point where Palm Desktop can be replaced with Thunderbird functionality.

    Synchronization (of calendar and contacts) with PDAs and smartphones would certainly be a plus too.


  6. Uses like “which questions from my girlfriend have I not answered yet?” assume that the e-mail client works as a task manager. In the spirit of learning to walk before you learn to run, it would be good if the e-mail client could use emails as a proxy for a task, something that research has shown is a very common use of e-mail.


  7. With respect to this it’d be great for a tie-in to work/calendaring. When my boss sends an e-mail with an action item, it’d be great to be able to quickly highlight it as such and have TB remind me that this item needs attention, etc.


  8. Type your comment here. Yes, i make..
    Think you about the Informatione from Browsing away David, so whant be cut the Open Source Scene about Mozilla David, …. David, dont jump with kommerzials in the bed !! Be very careful what you do and Mozilla with data you simply do. Dont take easy the informations ad make money wit them, it was certainly not in think at mozilla programmed! Supporting Reactos or oter open Source, But, Dont, a say it again, dont support the commerzials in this form.. no private informations about private persons.. and do not think about if make so a algoryghm in any form in Mozilla ( i mean Browser and Mail) !! Dont do that, this is cutting the Scene again !
    (Sorry peoples for my bad english)



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