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The long and ultimately disappointing wait for Inbox

Mailbox Waiting List
When Inbox was first announced I got excited and jumped at the chance to try it out. So did 500,000 other people apparently, because that is how many people were lined up in front of me waiting to use the product when I first downloaded it and fired it up.

After several weeks of patiently waiting, and by "patiently waiting" I mean I opened up Mailbox at least 2 or 3 times a day to inspect my place in line, I finally got the green light and gained access.

All that waiting though served only to raise my expectations around "a whole new inbox." So when I finally first tried Inbox, I was disappointed. But not because it failed to meet my expectations, but because it didn't exceed them.

You see, email doesn't need a new or slicker way to categorize and filter incoming messages. That is a relatively solved problem, or at least everyone who uses email has ultimately adopted a systemology for processing email that works for them -- even if their personal system is imperfect and ultimately leaves them perpetually with 1453 unread messages.

What I want is a smarter email client. Not a prettier one. I want an email client that:

  • Makes mailing list management easier.
  • Helps me to unsubscribe to unwanted email.
  • Consolidates and organizes social channel notifications.
  • Finds and recognizes events that should be on my calendar.
  • Processes, saves and makes searchable all of my receipts and order confirmations.

As well as handling all of the other email I get on a daily basis that generally falls to the bottom of my priority list, but takes up my time or attention nonetheless.

Tempo.ai Screenshot
What I want to some extent is the email equivalent of tempo.ai, a calendaring app that uses natural language processing to enhance my calendar in delightful and surprising ways... like somehow figuring out where my meeting is going to be when I never told it, or making available to me a complete profile of the person I am meeting with even though all I said in my event was, "Lunch with Jack." In these and other ways my calendar is useful again, beyond simply regurgitating back to me a list of upcoming events I entered into it. It is responsive. It is intelligent.

I keep waiting for a new email client to surprise me, but they don't. Email doesn't have a UI problem, nor does it have a methodology problem per-se. Email clients have failed in that they haven't done anything innovative with the most important part of email: the data. While the rest of the web has embraced things like microformats, feeds, browser extensions like Greasemonkey, and a plethora of other tools that do interesting things with data, all we seem to be able to do with email is hot link phone numbers and URLs.

I think we can do better than that.

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