The future of e-mail could be open source

E-mail needs to change, and open source may be best situated to do it. Analysis of my in-box reveals where I'm going, what I want to buy (and what I have bought).

E-mail is no longer about channeling conversations between people, as Alistair Croll suggests. Instead, it has become a record of what we do online and, as such, our in-box must fundamentally change or face extinction.

It's a provocative argument. I suspect that it's also true.

Croll writes:

Today, I have to visit dozens of other sites and services to make sense of my online life. This is a waste: I already have a record of all these transactions in my in-box. I just need a better way to look at them.

Gmail offered a tantalizing glimpse of what in-boxes could be, but it stopped short of recognizing this shift from conversations to a digital record of our online lives. The in-box of the future looks more like log file analysis and aggregation, and less like an e-mail platform.

Amen. I've actually been wondering for years why an e-commerce company hasn't arisen from analysis of the in-box: to know where I'm going, what I want to buy (and what I have bought), and more, all a company would need is a glimpse into my in-box. For real value, I'd give that access in a heartbeat.

Appetizingly, Microsoft is unlikely to be able to transform e-mail with Outlook and the Exchange Server: it is already too deep into its Innovator's Dilemma investment in the old world of e-mail. Plus, its Outlook/Exchange architecture is too calcified to dramatically shift e-mail's focus.

Google could do it with Gmail, or Yahoo could with Zimbra and Yahoo Mail. Done right, I'd put my money on Yahoo or some other open-source e-mail offering because this sort of thing is tailor-made for the community efforts of open source. Let one company or community create the core, and then invite an add-on community to build around it.

Maybe Mozilla should be doing this with Thunderbird? Certainly, someone should.

Follow me on Twitter @mjasay.

Tech Culture
About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.


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