One Inbox

Productivity gurus have long argued the benefit of having only one inbox – one place for all your to-dos to gather.  As I find myself increasingly pressing deeper into the technological firmament I’m finding myself wanting somethign similar:

I want a single inbox for everything I do electronically.

By this, I mean, I want one place to go to… one web page on which I collate all my tweets, facebook updates, linked in messages, emails, usenet posts, and rss feed updates.  Not to mention all the events my calendar is telling me about.  And also my text messages and phone calls.  I want just one place for all of this.  And lets throw in instant messaging, video chatting, requests to share my desktop and meeting invitations.

Now, we’re clearly not talking about an inbox of the sort outlook of gmail provides you with.  The inbox I’m talking about needs to be smarter.  When I receive an email, not only does it need to look at other emails – to provide threading for the messages – it also needs to associate the email sender with every other part of my electronic life the sender lives in.  It also needs to figure out how important it is I read the message… for example, it is vitally important that the second an alarm is set to go off, that my inbox tells me about it – loudly and persistently until I comply.  When I get an email, sometimes I need to know about it quickly – other times, it can wait.  Good metrics might rely on size of email, who sent it, how quickly I usually reply to emails with similar fingerprints and how recently I last sent an email to the sender.  Meanwhile twitter tweets might expire if I havn’t read them for a while, and RSS feeds might wait until I done everything important.

The problem is, no one is going to offer this inbox.  Why?  Because everyone is trying to tie you in to their own inbox.  Google – who would be the ideal provider of a multi-service inbox – are the worse offender.  I have at least 4 different inboxes with Google – they seem to want to add more, not let me coalesce what I already have.

So we probably need a new player here.  We need a startup.  Someone who, right now, are too small to bother with if they let people start scraping their facebook feeds and pulling their emails.  Its a real opportunity – you can provide the message right now:

“All we do is give you access to your inbox.  We don’t own any of your data.  If someone does inboxes better than us, go to them.  There is no lock in”

The right provider would provide APIs to allow people to add new services to the inbox. It wouldn’t require the provider to do all the work to connect to each website that comes along – and it could be paid for by an app store, a monetization strategy built into the platform.  I would also have  an API to get everything from the inbox so that they can write applications that use it.  So my phone can notify me and provide basic services, while I can do things more powerfully and fluidly on my tablet or PC.

But with that message, and an open API, the inbox provider will be providing something stronger.  They’ll be providing a message that we don’t care about anyone elses inbox.  They’ll be sending the message that we aren’t tied to anyone else’s inbox.  I have a facebook account, not because I care about facebook, but because of the other people who use it.  If I had this inbox, suddenly it wouldn’t matter what website those people used – I would see them, and interact with them via my inbox.  And if they wanted to move away from facebook, they would be no more tied in than me.

The inbox company themselves would make money on advertising (there is personal data in that there inbox.  And Ads in the inbox may not be as offensive at it might at first feel), and perhaps premium services – along with integration into corporate networks.


An open inbox service wouldn’t just be a productivity tool, it would be a way to reopen the communication channels which we have spent the last decade blocking up.

One Response

  1. [...] I’ve talked about this before.  One Inbox is a perfectly good plan for a startup.  It absolutely is the same idea as Paul Graham’s suggestion we need something closer to todo list management than communication management.  My only comment on his suggestion is that we don’t specifically, need a protocol.  Everything can be done by simply having links to particular web pages, along with little applets to scrape data from said webpages and turn it into a brief summary you can see as you pass on by.  Ultimately there will always be a variety of ways people want to get things into your inbox, the art will be figuring out the best way to manage and respond to them. [...]

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