Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Do You Keep Gmail Open in Your Browser?

Everyone who uses Gmail knows this: You keep Gmail open in your browser all day so you can check your email, send off messages, and search your email archives.

Why This is Unacceptable

Yes, I believe that Gmail is the future of email (I'm a little biased).

But this is far from the optimum. Keeping Gmail and Google Calendar open in your browser should not be how we'll do email in 10 years.

  1. It gets lost: Gmail being just an open tab in your browser means that it will get lost among many other tabs and browser windows that are open. As I'm writing this blog entry, I have 11 tabs open in Firefox.

  2. No notifications: Unless you install separate tools, Gmail can't notify you of new important messages that come in. I'm not a fan of push email as it increases hyperactivity, but some level of notification, especially for meetings approaching in Google Calendar would be useful.

  3. No integration into your workflow. Clicking mailto links doesn't work. There's no spot on your screen that says "email". There's no right-click send for documents.

Should Gmail Become Outlook?

Should the Gmail become a desktop client Outlook? No. I think that would be a step back, not forward. I imagine the ideal setup to be like Tweetie's desktop client. An icon sits in your desktop bar and gently lights up when new things arrive. (Update: Mailplane and Fluid have similar functionality, but only for the Mac).

Here's how I imagine the optimal desktop webmail experience:
  1. Always on: It's not a tab you launch in your browser. It starts when your computer starts and it's on while you're working.

  2. Smart notifications: Rather than showing a toast notification or playing a chime sound for each email that arrives, it would know about the relative importance of messages and infer from your behavior if it's OK to interrupt you. There's plenty of research about both importance and notifications that still needs to make it into the real world.

  3. Keeps a copy of all your messages: I think reMail demonstrates how powerful it is to have all your mail on your phone. If you have your mail on your phone, why can't you have it on your desktop? Offline Gmail is headed the right way. In my ideal client, its features would become standard.

Making real progress in email clients is hard. It's easy to add new widgets, helper utilities, notifiers, and spam bots. But it's hard to move the needle on the fundamental paradigms - how do we read, check, search, and organize. Moving Gmail away from the browser into an always-on background app seems comparatively easy. The things I mentioned could probably be done by a third party - it doesn't need to be Google. Please, let's get this done.

Email and Webmail Statistics

I just found this page which compiles some usage stats for webmail providers. Roughly:
  • Hotmail: 256.2 million
  • Yahoo: 254.6 million
  • Gmail: 91.6 million
  • AOL: 48.9 million
These number seem a bit off (Gmail is probably too low, Hotmail too high). The article goes into more detail on sources and estimates - I suggest you check it out.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Some Unconventional Ideas

There should be an X-Prize for high speed rail. I read recently that an ICE 3 train set costs 35 million dollars, but the tracks on which it runs costs billions (depending on distance). It's fun to talk and worry about the train sets - there's plenty of coverage of decisions between Alstom's TGV and Siemens' ICE sets. But no one writes about that we need cheaper tracks that are fast to build. There should be an X Prize for people to build the cheapest, safest, high-speed train tracks. Whoever gets 1 km of track to cost less than $100k total wins.

Cities should set immigration quotas and criteria. Immigrants always move to a specific city, not a country. It's more likely that someone will move from San Francisco to London (8645 kilometers) than from San Francisco to Merced (212 kilometers). Cities should be able to compete for the best talent directly, and set their own criteria. For example, London should be able to decide that it will allow 5000 non-EU foreigners to move to it this year, and all of them need to have a bachelor's degree. These choices would be made by the people who are actually affected (Londoners), not the whole population (UK != London). The UK/EU would still do the background and security checks.

Record Stores should sell digital songs. Remember the nineties where you'd have to go to a store to buy songs? With iTunes, that's over. In the physical world, discovering new music was fun. On iTunes, I barely ever buy from artists I don't already know. That's why the record stores that still exist should kick out all the CDs and offer a great, comfortable, physical environment to discover new music.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Ultracompact Web Product Guidelines

I just discovered this list of web product guidelines by Leah Culver. Not sure if I understand all of them ("a medium is not a grande"?). But I love how spot-on and compact some of these insights are ("one important item per page", "nobody changes the defaults", "use it yourself").

Culver's original blog post is here.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

More Time for Your Breakthrough

"Over the last century and a half, the average age of a Nobel Prize winner at the moment of his great breakthrough has risen more than five years, from 34 to almost 39 years old." (read more)

Friday, September 18, 2009

reMail V2.3

Please update to reMail V2.3. Here's the list of new features and bugfixes.