Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Coming out: I love e-mail!

There are times when you realise you're not quite as socially connected as Scott Beale, and there are times when... no, wait, I will never be as socially connected as Scott Beale. But I can still identify with him when he says "I hate social network messaging systems." The messaging systems, mind. So, interesting to see he's come up with a manual autoresponder (same link, but I love the oxymoron) to redirect people to his e-mail to get in touch with him.

Some people seem to enjoy proclaiming the death of e-mail. Personally, it's probably still my favourite channel - maybe that's the nostalgia juice kicking in ("Geez, is it internet twilight time already? I ain't even 30 yet."), but with age and legacy, it's also kept alive the spirit of the Hack.

Not in a phlegmy way, or a journalistic way, or indeed some nose-curling combination. I mean, one: e-mail is decentralised - register a domain, set up your own server, or buy up an ISP, use your client to connect. No relying-on-some-free-wheeling-company to throw interpersonal messages in on top of their service - either pay for it, or DIY.

two is that it's an endpoint. Things go to an e-mail address like your first-born son heading into a cave to fight a dragon. You don't expect anything to come back, but it'd be nice. And despite inherent biases in character sets, generally the more basic the e-mail is, the more chance it has of getting through. There's a lovely filtering process going on there, especially when combined with modern information overload - stick to the basics, and you might make it. All you need is a tin pot for a helmet, and a stick for a sword!

three: I can play with it once it gets here. For me, playing takes the form of a giant procmail script and a gamut of Perl weapons. Does it always work? No, not after a few whiskies and an upside-down vim cheatsheet. Is it fun? Well, what else is the Internet for?

Are there better ways of storing and looking after our conversations? Definitely. I know GMail has upped the ante a bit, but there's always a trade-off for server-side solutions, including web-based ones - in this case, my procmail scripts. Getting a good e-mail client is harrrrd - Tristan heading off to find a falling star has nothing in comparison. Searching and threading are good yay. I'm surprised I haven't seen GMail-style conversation threading in a client though (is it patented?) Still, I'm sure a whole bunch more could be done - intelligent handling of crappy quoting, for instance? (Curse you, mailing-list-digests-of-repetition.) Finding a client with decent IMAP integration on top is like discovering the perfect noodle.

But I'm looking forward to being able to use e-mail in 10 years' time as all these younger whippersnappers ("Oi, get out of our way, e-grandad!") realise they're there to fill a very temporary niche...


RedYetiDave said...

Excellent - I plan to start using the manual autoresponder shortly...

I fully agree with all the points he writes in it.

And yes - I love it too!

ben said...

Lots of email clients have conversation threads - do you mean something more specific about the gmail implementation?

JD said...

I'm slightly curious what benefit gmail conversations have over standard threading. I've used mutt as my mail client of choice for over 9 years now and I can't imagine much reason for changing.

Scribe said...

OK, I had to go and check this because I don't generally use gmail, but the main advantage it offers (over Thunderbird) is that you have "chat threads".

In TB, threading is fine if you're following a mailing list (and I'm not sure how well gmail supports similar, branching conversations...). But that's all based on incoming mail.

In gmail, you can get a timeline of both incoming and sent messages, so if you need to refer back to something *you* said, it's already there. This is nice, and maybe there's an extension for TB that does it - it's a pain having to switch to your Sent Mail folder and dig up the message you sent.

Of course, in the end, if you're happy with something then there's no reason to switch it. I'm just aware that there's a *lot* of information in e-mails (both meta and content-wise), and think there's probably at least twice as much stuff that could be done with it...

Just noticed GMail have a new version rolling out, so might be worth keeping a eye on this: