Failbox: The Broken State of Email Clients – Part 1

If you’re of a certain age, as I am, your first expose to email was probably in college or at work. Processing messages daily wasn’t difficult; the number of people that had access or reason to send you messages was low and messages arrived fairly infrequently.

So quaint and last century.

Today, I’m tracking 8 email accounts, multiple Twitter accounts, 1 phone, and a number of other accounts I check infrequently1. By a conservative guesstimate, I receive 400 incoming messages daily. I suspect this is lower than some of you and higher than others.

In this context, there’s no surprise Facebook, MySpace, etc have become a primary communication mechanisms for peer communication. The restricted context makes processing messages much easier if only by reducing the number of messages. Easy, like the scenario some of us started with.

Here’s a quick survey of popular email clients
Email Client (Initial Launch)
Apple’s (2001) direct descendant of NeXTMail (1991)
Hotmail (1996)
Microsoft Outlook (1997)
Yahoo Mail (1997)
Google Mail (2004)

While all of these applications have evolved and changed, their DNA is from a simpler time. A time with less email and no Twitter.

Spam has guaranteed receiving an email message is no longer a rare event, yet all of these clients insist on an unread indicator and its annoying little brother – the unread mail quantity indicator. All ordered reverse chronologically. Why a message has priority simply because it arrived last is baffling. Imagine lines at the IKEA managed via last-in-first-out. Riots would break out.

“My broader gripe is messaging fragmentation – creating a growing need for universal app to do mail, Twitter, Facebook, etc” – Julio Ojeda-Zapata

In Chris Anderson’s recent conversation with Russ Roberts, Chris Anderson digs into the economics of providing email clients for $0 (Yahoo, Google). It left me wondering if free is the innovation or if it’s preventing innovation.


“Personally, it feels like my Facebook stream is becoming an email inbox. I get a lot of messages, a few of them matter to me, and there are lots of business newsletters and promotions” – Jim Lastinger

1. Flickr, Facebook, Pownce, Skype.

2 thoughts on “Failbox: The Broken State of Email Clients – Part 1

  1. I remember having little emails at all! they were all important and relevant. Now its about 300 spam messages a day on gmail alone. You are right, they need to innovate in this space. Especially since most people are still using outlook with all its brokenness… The field is very still, not much innocation going on at all. Only thing I came accross in last few months was; kind of fixes outlook!

  2. Ditching the unread number works for reading RSS feeds, as it’s rather silly to think you could or should read all of that stuff. (An “importance” filter is a great prioritizing assistant.) But in the realm of e-mail, most people would, could or should (or even *must*) read all of it, especially that which actually came from a human and isn’t dumped in to a “bacn folder.”

    I’m all for a new way to “do e-mail,” especially something that effectively (not just *technically*) addresses Julio’s concern above. But I wonder if ditching the unread number isn’t a harder, perhaps inappropriate, sell in this area.

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