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.

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