There’s an excellent discussion on Facebook – Declaring email bankrupcy about email overload and how the message is getting less and less relevant.
Is email broken? I think most people would agree that the situation with email is at best uncomfortable, and at worst downright unusable for some people. I have been using email for about 20 years now, as I had an email account (via packet radio) way before the web was around (the Internet predates the web, anyone remember Gopher?). And at Universities we’ve had good email for a long time. I am lucky, as here at UWE we now have several levels of spam filtering that can be deployed, and I have my own at the client level as well. That means I see very little of the spam that some people get. I also use Gmail, and the spam filtering in that is excellent. But, for the majority of people, its a downright mess. Looking at my inbox this morning, I have received one email that contains something that is actually relevant to me. Its not an email to me, just to a group of people, and I am cc’ed in for informational purposes. So this morning I haven’t received any email that is actually to me and nobody else. In my junk mail folder I have 40 junk mails. Remember before it gets to me it has been blacklist and greylist filtered as well as had bayesian analysis applied to it. So there’s probably the same amount again has been rejected before I get it. So that is, what, 1.25% of my email is useful. So 98.75% is spam. Well, when its gets to 99%, I’m outta here. I wont bother with it at all. So what are the alternatives?
Well, I’ve been giving this some thought and I think I have a mechanism that would work, but it would need some development and agreement. And for me to describe it means you have to take a leap of faith, and turn the problem, and some technology, on its head. The technology that is here to save us, the web. And I dont mean webmail. I’m talking about blogs. Or rather, blogging software, such as WordPress or Typepad or ….(insert favourite blogging platform/software here. So, how is it going to help. Right. What we have in blogs is a robust, distributed system of messaging, its just not fully developed yet. The comment system with its associated RSS feed mechanism is just ripe for being stripped out of the blog and used as a messaging system. Stick with me on this one. Turn blogging on its head. You write a post, and its generally available. It doesnt have to be, you could restrict the view of that post to a subset, those people or oragnisations that you have a trust relationship with. Then there’s a comment. Think of a comment as being a post to you. The person who is posting has to have either logged in, or has somehow gone through a mechanism that deters spammers (at least they do on my blogs). Using Captcha and Akismet I deal with all spam. Nobody can post until a level of trust has been reached. I can make that comment visible to just me or to a group of people. That is instantly more flexible than email. And I can reply to that comment, or post. And make that visible. Or not. Up to me. Person who send it needs an RSS mechanism to see when I have replied, but that is not rocket science to implement. If people want to send me a message, they have to establish trust FIRST. Before they get to send me anything. And I can revoke that trust at any time. And If I need something more immediate it is possible to plug in some kind of IM or Twitter to this.
Now to do all this at present I need a domain, or a sub-domain to host my blog/blogmail system, but most people have such a thing now so we know it can scale. This system gives ME the control, it distributes email away from centralised heavily spammed systems and also requires little or no software for the person sending. They need a web browser at least, with RSS built in. Maybe to tidy it all up we need to agree on some protocols, or someone might even come up with a microformat to deal with this. I really believe that this is a viable alternative to email, we just need the commitment to build prototypes and test the theory and work out best practices. They we can finally say goodbye to the man in Nigeria who wants to send me 1.2 million and the other idiots that are trying to sell me stuff.
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