Thursday, July 21, 2011

So What’s So Wrong About Email?

Everyone uses email, even if we asked them not to. I ask people to write issues into our issue tracking system. I ask people not to do attachments, instead upload them to our Google Docs and send links in the email to the document, even then people continue to attach documents, and when it comes to dealing with people outside of our organization, they don’t want to log into Basecamp account we provided, they claim they often cannot see Docs shared on the Google Docs…  Some people in my company think I am the search engine and send emails to me essentially the query to our KB or to the Google.

So what’s wrong with all these? Why can’t they use email for all of the above? It is super convenient to write about a product issue and send an email to someone whom you think can handle. Attachments are one of the best file transfer protocol there is, and I can push files to just about anyone without thinking about FTP or user accounts and passwords.

I am starting to think, can we get rid of the web, and we only use the email? It is an extreme thinking but can such a technology possible?

How would I go about to make this happen in a more realistic way? I think that the future email engines would contain a search engine front-end, a lot more statistics driven choice of automated answers, intelligent filters. This sounds awfully a lot like how Gmail works, for example, and I think they are doing a great job.

Email as the Search Engine:

I would like the search engine to already scan the KB or other places I designate based on the content I received and also the prior usage or response pattern, and suggests  possible responses I may have already written. I often get, “send me the server specifications PDF” email several times a quarter from the same person. I would like to tell the email system, next time this happens, just auto generate a reply. I then do not have to repeat myself.

I am experimenting with this using the “canned” response on Gmail but that’s not very smart yet, and it fires unnecessary responses.

Email as a File Version Control System:

If the email works a bit more like GiT and automatically aggregate the versions of different attachments that come by, and when I look for the attachments, it can give me a list of all versions, this will solve the problem of versions in attachments. This will also bring down the size of the in-box as duplicate files would be normalized.

Email as an Issue Tracking System

Gmail does this fairly well now, perhaps if I tag an email as an issue to track, then all of the related email messages will be visible by the team that I designate as a separate in-box where other people can respond, and workflow tag such as In Progress, Solved are also easy to put in. Assigning an issue is a snap then, I just forward the email to the person. 

Email as a Knowledgebase

May be I can tag some email as a knowledge and the next time I am writing on some topic, dynamic search would be performed to either suggest a response that I already wrote, or other similar email messages I have written in the past.

Most or all of the above can become possible without changing the existing email infrastructure. They are about how email servers are implemented, so it will not break the rest of the world, we do not have to change the behaviors of any of the people I am dealing with now.

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