I’ve been seeing a lot of posts on the webz lately about how we can fix email. I have to say, I think it’s a bit short-sighted.
These are very smart people, with real observations. The problem is, their observations are misplaced.
What email is
Email is a distributed, asynchronous messaging protocol. It does this well. It does this very well. So well, I’m getting a boner thinking about it. You send a message and it either goes where it’s supposed to, or you get an error message back. That’s it, that’s email. It’s simple. It works.
There’s no company controlling all messages and imposing their will on the ecosystem as a whole. There’s no single point of failure. It’s beautifully distributed and functions near-perfectly.
So why does it suck so much? It doesn’t. It’s awesome. The problem is the way people view it. Most of the perceived suckiness comes from its simplicity. It doesn’t manage your TODOs. It doesn’t have built-in calendaring. It doesn’t give you oral pleasure (personally I think this should be built into the spec though). So why don’t we build all these great things into it if they don’t exist? We could add TODOs and calendaring and dick-sucking to email!!
Because that’s a terrible idea. People are viewing email as an application; one that has limited features and needs to be extended so it supports more than just stupid messages.
This is wrong.
We need to view email as a framework, not an application. It is used for sending messages. That’s it. It does this reliably and predictably.
Replacing email with “smarter” features will inevitably leave people out. I understand the desire to have email just be one huge TODO list. But sometimes I just want to send a fucking message, not “make a TODO.” Boom, I just “broke” the new email.
Email works because it does nothing but messaging.
How do we fix it then?
We fix it by building smart clients. Let’s take a look at some of our email-smart friends.
Outlook has built-in calendaring. BUT WAIT!!!!! Calendaring isn’t part of email!!1 No, it’s not.
Gmail has labels. You can categorize your messages by using tags essentially. Also, based on usage patterns, Gmail can give weight to certain messages. That’s not part of email either!! No, my friend, it’s not.
Xobni also has built incredible contact-management and intelligence features on top of email. How do they know it’s time to take your daily shit before you do? Defecation scheduling is NOT part of the email spec!!
How have these companies made so much fucking money off of adding features to email that are not part of email?
It’s all in the client
They do it by building smart clients! As I said, you can send any message your heart desires using email. You can send JSON messages with a TODO payload and attach a plaintext fallback. If both clients understand it, then BAM! Instant TODO list protocol. There, you just fixed email. Easy, no? Why, with the right client, you could fly a fucking space shuttle with email. That’s right, dude, a fucking space shuttle.
If your client can create a message and send it, and the receiving client can decode it, you can build any protocol you want on top of email.
That’s it. Use your imaginations. I’ll say it one more time:
There’s nothing to fix
Repeat after me: “There’s nothing to fix!” If you have a problem with email, fork a client or build your own! Nobody’s stopping you from “fixing” email. Many people have made a lot of cash by “fixing” email.
We don’t have to sit in fluorescent-lit, university buildings deliberating for hours on end about how to change the spec to fit everyone’s new needs. We don’t need 100 stupid startups “disrupting” the “broken” email system with their new protocols, that will inevitably end up being a proprietary, non-distributed, “ad hoc, informally-specified, bug-ridden, slow implementation of half of” the current email system.
Please don’t try to fix email, you’re just going to fuck it up!! Trust me, you can’t do any better. Instead, let’s build all of our awesome new features on top of an already beautifully-working system by making smarter clients.