Email is being pulled in all sorts of directions. Here are places in which there will be lots of movement in the next years. They're ranked them by how much they'll affect you as a user.
- Email vs. Facebook: Until recently, all my electronic communication took place in email. Now it's moving away, being replaced by more casual media, like IM, your Facebook wall, Twitter, or SMS. In the future, email could be where snail mail is today: A medium to receive advertising and official stuff.
But there's an alternate world in which your email client could once again becomes your hub, by pulling in data from all these sources and displaying it in a sensible fashion.
- Folders vs. Tasks vs. People: 10 years from now, will you still be organizing your email in folders that you manually create? Or will your email be automatically organized around tasks, or even better, around people who are important to you and their profiles? It's clear that the "move to folders, sort by arrival time" system is broken - what will step into its place?
- Is search good enough? With the arrival of fast full-text indexes, email search sucks a little bit less than it used to. But there's still no PageRank-type magic to help you find those emails you're looking for. Hopefully, there will be smarter email search that learns from my search patterns (e.g. you might search twice a week for the same email that contains a password you can't remember) or understands the meaning behind your queries.
- Does email need Artificial Intelligence? In the AI / machine learning / natural language community, there's been tons of research on making email smarter. We've looked into automatically summarizing email, predicting whether it needs a reply, generating a reply automatically, and clustering or automatically foldering emails to your heart's desire. Most of this stuff already works reasonably well, but no one has bothered to implement it in a consumer product. AI-based spam filtering is the norm today. Five years from now, are we going to be using intelligent email agents? Or are consumers not going to trust these helpers?
- Little guys vs. the big guys: Email is hot again. Companies like Xobni, Xoopit, Zenbe, or Orgoo are being started, some with serious funding. On the other hand, established players like Microsoft, Google, and Yahoo are launching new features and opening up access to their data. Big players have traditionally been making slow incremental progress. It will be interesting to see if they can evolve their products more quickly and bring them to users faster than the little guys ever could.
This entry was inspired by discussions at the AAAI Enhanced Messaging Workshop in Chicago.