Monday, February 20, 2017

E-mail Arithmetic

Without question, e-mail has revolutionized the world. It has changed the way we communicate, work, and interact with each other. It has accelerated innovation and collaboration and has helped to cross-breed ideas from all over the world almost instantaneously. Over time it has come a long way. We are no longer given a random string of letters and numbers or limited to only accessing our e-mails through an ISP portal. We can choose a username that reflects our own personal brand and that best reflects our personal or business needs; most of us can access our e-mail through any web browser; and the technology itself has evolved so that e-mails are also a media-rich experience. No longer are we limited to just text. We can embed images, sounds and videos to further supplement our digital messages.

But, alas, e-mail as we know it is far from perfect.

I have several pet peeves but the one I'm going to focus on is the mailing list. These lists can be either opt-in or simply created by an admin to provide an easy way to communicate with a bunch of people at once without having to search for individual e-mail addresses. While this has made it very convenient for mass communication, it also funnels the message into one stream and it can be difficult to branch off into sub-conversations or even private ones.

What usually happens is that in addition to saving the address of the mailing list, we also need to save everyone's personal e-mail address. All of these extra addresses lead to confusion that can ultimately lead to someone receiving an e-mail they weren't supposed to see or even worse, a time sensitive e-mail not getting to someone.

I believe the solution lies in the ability to introduce a tagging function to enterprise e-mail solutions. Similar tagging or labeling is already available through GMail and other services but its convenience is only worth it for those who go through the hassle of organizing all of their contacts into their respective buckets (I'm one of those OCD types). Moving forward we need a solution that is faster and can provide communication flexibility. If I had a million dollars, this is how I would do it .

v.1 New User tagging - The new system would work on an enterprise platform and allow for the migration of old accounts while adding new ones. When a user is added to the system, they will all get the option of being tagged by the admin. These tags will reflect specific departments or responsibilities within the company. So, for example, if a QA Engineer was hired in the Boston office, they might receive the tags of "first name", "last name", "QA", "Software", and "Boston". So, using this initial tagging system, the arithmetic for v.1 would therefore be very straightforward. For example, if I wanted to contact all of the software engineers in the company, we could write out the e-mail address The e-mail system would be smart enough to know that any user that has been tagged with "software" should get this e-mail.

v.2 Advanced Arithmetic - Once the initial tagging is in place, the next goal is to be able to manipulate these tags so that you can reach super-groups and sub-groups. For example, if we wanted to throw a surprise party for John of the software group, we would be able to type in or "Software" minus "John". In other words, we subtracted John from the software group to come up with a unique dynamic list. Or, lets pretend that Marcella from HR should also be invited. We can then say This includes Marcella with the rest of the group.

v.3 Self-Management - In the third version of the system, a web-based interface will be introduced that will allow users to manage their online identity. Some tags could only be managed by the admin but others could be added by the user. So, maybe you would like to create tags for "softball", "foodies" or some other social group, you can do that here.

The admin aspect of "Self-Management" would include options for certain power users not to be removed from certain groups or the ability to black list someone from specific sub groups. For example, if upper management wanted to create a "" sub-group, the "board" tag could be identified as one that only the admin can add or remove.

v.4 Smart Labeling - In the next version of the system, the software starts to learn the users and develop tags based on content and or contacts. By analyzing e-mail content, the system could then suggest possible interest tags. This type of solution would require indexing but if a user is uncomfortable with that, they can opt-out.

If I had a million dollars, that's how I would redo the email mailing list experience.