We need a smarter inbox for the social media era


Alan Lepofsky shared how he uses email to manage the external and internal social media firehouse by creating a rudimentary snapshot view of updates received by email from these systems. Lepofsky says:

So am I interested in getting rid of email? Absolutely not. It’s one of the most important tools I use everyday.

This sounds great in theory, but fundamentally the inbox as it currently functions isn’t fit for purpose for the social media era. We do need an inbox of some sort, but it should be smarter and be served by smarter messaging. Just as most users won’t use RSS, they won’t spend time creating complex rules, filters and labels. And why should they when we could design something better?

Personally, I look at the way most modern email apps (particularly Gmail) deal with meeting invites as a pointer to what a smarter social media ready inbox could look like. Your inbox shouldn’t just receive the notification from a social media tool and dump it in your inbox, it should process it in context of all the other notifications received. This means it would know what notifications you have read, what notifications were related to each other and what period of time they are from. It would also recognise the difference between a notification and a specific message.

You should be able to access a dashboard (like the way your calendar rolls up appointments) and even receive a regular aggregated summary. It should know when you last checked your social media inbox or if you’ve been away (when you set your out of office).

Of course it should still be backwards compatible with POE (Plain Old Email) and even RSS. I reckon some kind of microformat would do the job.

But right now, my inbox is just a bucket for notifications. Its not a useful tool for managing information overload, but it could be.

What do you think?

Image credit: The Meters. CC BY-NC-ND

2 thoughts on “We need a smarter inbox for the social media era

  1. James, the automatic processing of certain message types onto a dashboard (like calendar entries onto a calendar) sounds interesting but unnesseraily complicated plus it creates “yet another UI” I’d have to visit. For me the current daily digests provide exactly what I want, a quick way to read what is happening across multiple tools. I agree though that 99% of people will never (nor should have to) create rules/folders, so having a standard “daily digest” type that email clients could automatically process would be nice.

  2. Well, I think that’s an important feature – it shouldn’t be an another UI. It should be part of the inbox. It could be as simple as a smart summary (again, like my calendar sends me each day) or something more sophisticated that mixes individual direct messages with notification information.

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