Mozilla tries to build the ultimate in-box: Raindrop

The e-mail team behind Mozilla's Thunderbird has begun building what it hopes will be a universal communicator for e-mail, Twitter, Facebook, and more.

Mozilla's Thunderbird team has been working on software called Raindrop that aims to unify communications channels such as e-mail, Facebook, and Twitter into a single interface with enough built-in smarts to separate the important messages from the routine.

"E-mail used to house the bulk of the conversations that took place on the internet, but that's no longer the case today. In today's world people use a combination of Twitter, IM, Skype, Facebook, Google Docs, e-mail, etc., to communicate. For many of us this means that we have to keep an eye on an ever-growing number of places we might get new messages," the Raindrop developers said in a blog post about the technology. "We hope to lead and spur the development of extensible applications that help users easily and enjoyably manage their conversations, notifications, and messages across a variety of online services."

A key part of the effort will be to spotlight messages that are important.

"Raindrop intelligently separates the personal messages from the bulk," said developer Bryan Clark. Among other things, it will automatically recognize messages from e-mail lists and from sources such as Facebook or Amazon that send numerous updates, filing them accordingly.

Given Mozilla's two main projects, Firefox and Thunderbird, there's one particular interesting aspect to Raindrop: It's a Web application, not downloadable software. "Our flagship applications will be built entirely for any modern web browser that supports Open Web technologies," the developers said. However, the group expects to support front-end software, including applications for mobile devices, that can use the Web-based service.

The vision has been knocking around Mozilla for some time. David Ascher said in a 2007 interview as he was taking over as chief executive of the Mozilla Messaging subsidiary, "People end up subscribing to more and more channels of communications. It makes it hard to keep track of what's going on if they have to check six different inboxes, search across a variety of systems." He said the group wanted to address the issue.

About the author

Stephen Shankland has been a reporter at CNET since 1998 and covers browsers, Web development, digital photography and new technology. In the past he has been CNET's beat reporter for Google, Yahoo, Linux, open-source software, servers and supercomputers. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces.


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