You might have noticed if, for some reason, you have followed my work over the last couple of years, that I have a thing for 747s.
I can't really explain why that is. I suppose it's just that the jumbo jets are sort of a physical manifestation of adventure for me: When I see them flying overhead, I know they're off to some faraway place where I'd probably like to be going.
So when I heard about 3D Mailbox, an e-mail client that uses visual images as representations for e-mail messages, and the fact that the second version of the software uses an airport motif and 747s for messages, I knew I had to check it out.
Unfortunately, the software doesn't work on Macs, and I'm a Mac guy. So I wasn't able to play with it myself. But I had a good long talk with its developer, Robert Savage, who has built interesting projects I've enjoyed in the past, and I got the gist of the software.
It's actually very simple. As I mentioned above, the software employs 747s to represent messages. If, for example, you have a message from someone in France, you'd see an Air France 747 taxiing into the terminal (the in-box). Similarly, an Australian message would be seen as a Qantas jet. Messages with attachments are seen as UPS, DHL or FedEx planes.
If it's a message from someone in the U.S., 3D Mailbox randomly selects from one of 12 airlines' 747s.
There's even a separate terminal where Spam Air--spam messages--pull in.
And, of course, when you send a message, the planes take off on a separate runway.
All this time, as you're using the software, Savage explained, you can hear air traffic control chatter and the sound of planes taking off and landing that are included to bring a sense of verity to the experience.
Savage said that the software doesn't show a plane for every message. That would be far too unwieldy. Instead, it does it some minimal percentage of the time, all while keeping a normal-looking e-mail in-box and out-box for regular usage.
In fact, the airplane element has no real purpose other than to be a visual stimulant.
"It's not a game," said Savage, "in the way you have to do something to make your e-mail work. It doesn't get in the way of the process of how e-mail works. It just provides entertainment."
Some have scoffed at this notion of a visual e-mail client. TechCrunch, for example, bestowed the headline "Worst. App. Ever" on its posting about an earlier version of 3D Mailbox that uses a Miami beach scene as the visual motif for e-mail.
Having not used the software myself, I unfortunately can't comment. But personally, I like the concept of using the airplanes to represent e-mail. Much more so, I think, than some bawdy beach scene.
But what can I say? I just love 747s.