E-mail innovator pitches self-deleting e-mails

OtherInBox CEO Joshua Baer proposes a standard that would let e-mail messages carry with them the date of their own deaths.

OtherInBox CEO Joshua Baer wants e-mail messages to carry with them the dates of their own deaths. Rafe Needleman/CNET

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif.--Joshua Baer, CEO of the e-mail company OtherInBox, agitated for a new addition to e-mail standards at the Inbox Love e-mail conference today. He's proposing a standard that would let e-mail messages carry with them the date of their own irrelevance.

E-mails could use the the "x-expires" header to tell the receiving in-box that they become outdated after a certain absolute date, or a certain time relative to when they're sent or received. Baer says this idea has been "bouncing around" for 10 years, but he's learned, "the best way to get a standard adopted is to work with individual companies first, and make it a de facto standard." That's what he's trying to do here.

This concept could help keep users' e-mail boxes cleaner and more relevant. Offers for discounts on Valentines' Day flowers could automatically vanish on February 15. Companies that blast out time-limited coupons (Groupon, LivingSocial) could serve users better by removing expired offers from in-boxes.

Other messages that become unnecessary after a period of time, such as notifications of activity in groups, shipping notices from online retailers, or system alerts (like mailbox-full alerts, one hopes), that often clutter up in-boxes could clean themselves out.

Baer hopes that the audience members at this conference, all of whom are in the e-mail business, start supporting his proposal. In the meantime, he says, his own e-mail organizing service (which I use and recommend) will start watching for and honoring expiration flags in e-mails it processes.

There's a Google group for the proposal. See also this Reporters' Roundtable with Baer: Does e-mail get the message .

About the author

Rafe Needleman reviews mobile apps and products for fun, and picks startups apart when he gets bored. He has evaluated thousands of new companies, most of which have since gone out of business.

 

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