E-mail Application Idea Not related to work at The Liquid Information Company  comment


Email is fast becoming pervasive, yet we are still using what amounts to GUI'ed up terminal e-mail applications. E-mail applications need to offer more flexibility in how they sort and display messages, they need to be more integrated into our work environment and they need to synchronize

This is a series of thoughts unrelated to how I designed The Liquid Information email and newsgroup service, which you get an account with at www.liquidinformation.com To make one point absolutely clear though, I do not advocating any enhancements to the protocols beyond HTML mail. The features should be on the server and the client, not in the message structure.


"Unfortunately, the fact is that e-mail is pretty crude stuff. It's likely to stay that way, to be honest, for quite some time. Its strength is that it is easy to understand, shows the user immediate benefits and has wide cross platform support. At the end of the day, however, it does little more than pass unstructured, plain text from one address to another. We might also observe that the greatest impact comes from simple technology, widely implemented. Simple e-mail will become the great groupware enabling technology. " Tim Keen
Groupware in the 21st Century


Displaying Messages



THE THREADED E-MAIL VIEW. Here you may follow the thread of the discussion by clicking on the triangle/arrow/upside down pyramid next to the Subject on the left. Click and it goes to the next Email in the list. Click and hold and it gives you a pop-up list of all the Emails in the thread.

GOING TO THE NEXT EMAIL BY DATE works similarly; just click on the arrow on the right of the date.

THE CONTROLS ARE ARRANGED around the message to keep them where they would be natural and to keep the top uncluttered. Although you can go to the next chronological message by clicking on the date, you may also click on the "Next New Message" on the bottom, as that is where your mouse would be when you get to the end of scrolling though the message. This button would gray out when it's reached the end of un-read messages.

"Reply" and "Forward" are located under the name of the sender, which is where signatures are usually located.




While we are still on the subject of filtering and displaying messages: Adding notes to individual recipients of a multi cc e-mail should be possible don't you think? Sometimes you need to get a standard block of text out to a wide group of people. A quick individual note on each one, or a cover letter could be quite handy though.

Why can't mail actions which are concerned with filing happen after, not before, I've read my e-mail?...





Integrate e-mail more into the fabric of our information environment.


Take most of the cluttered interface away, give us the functionality through the Finders pull-down menu. What was so bad about PowerTalk? Maybe it was just too ambitious, trying to be all kinds of messaging to all kinds of media and users.

Except when you'd like to pour through your addresses or this weeks received mail, the e-mail application's just a big hairy monster. Put it in a cage and let it out only when necessary (PowerTalk went a distance towards this, hooks should be available for any e-mail app to do it though). Most of the time, a tiny little pull down menu will do the trick. As fantasized about below:


A MAIL ICON WHICH IS ALIVE! We've got mail! From Ed and Paul even!

THE PULL DOWN. Most of what you might need from an e-mail application should be accessible through the pull down menu.







Synchronization between the office machine, your laptop and your home machine of sent and received mail can quickly become a problem. How about including a limited version of the main e-mail program which cannot delete mail from the server and which forwards all your out going mail to you, with special characters in the subject, to the email applications understand that it should file it, sans funny characters in the out folder on your main e-mail app.





Some specific thoughts on Claris Emailer


Claris Emailer offers a simple and powerful introduction to e-mail yet it also offers advanced features for the savvy user.


But all is not well in e-mail land. Some of the features are great use of technology, but falls just a wee bit short of providing the user with the optimal messaging environment.


First of all there's the wonderful voice alert where your Mac speaks who you've just received mail from and what it's regarding. All through intelligent use of AppleScript and Apple excellent built in speech synthesizer. To make this feature really work for the user though, it needs a bit more flexibility.

For example; if you get 30 messages downloaded, it will speak all of them! That takes a while. A preference option for setting that it will speak all as it does now if there are certain number of messages or less, would be useful. If there are more, it will just speak who you've got messages from. If there's a whole bunch, it will only speak that you've got mail.

The user should be able to set how many messages makes it read all and so forth.

Secondly, when you're doing a manual download, it's perfectly reasonable to expect that you don't want to have it read anything to you, after all you just asked it to check for you and you're staring at the screen.

Voice it would seem is a great thing for scheduled e-mail checks.


Then there's the useful feature that you can send and receive mail with one easy key press. Great, but it too could use some minor modifications. First of all, reverse the order; do the checking for mail first, then send. Just in case someone just sent you an e-mail and you should take it's contents into account before sending the one you have scheduled, to that person. Extending that, a preference setting allowing you to automatically cancels out going messages to people you just received mail from on the same transfer session could be useful.


An AppleScript which forwards all new, unread mail to the sender (only if the sender of the e-mail is the owner of this copy of Emailer) might benefit users who need to get mail from their office remotely, even though the office machine has downloaded mail on a schedule automatically.


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