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E-Mail Is Broken; Here's How To Fix It

If you're like me, you'll get the feeling from time to time that you're being swallowed whole by your e-mail inbox. There are numerous problems with e-mail, and it's falling far behind other messaging platforms in efficiency and ease of use.


Don't get me wrong. The industry has done a swell job of managing spam--although it's not cheap. The Radicati Group, which provides messaging research, estimated last year that a typical 1,000-user organization can spend upward of $1.8 million a year to manage spam.

But spam isn't even the worst problem plaguing e-mail as a platform. There are numerous problems with e-mail, and it's falling far behind other messaging platforms in efficiency and ease of use.

The IT industry has the smartest minds in the history of the world, yet every day we're losing the productivity battle because, among other things, a bunch of bozos can't stop abusing the "reply all" button?

The primary architects of e-mail as a platform--companies like Microsoft, IBM and Google--have made some advances. But they never seem to go far enough.

They've introduced presence awareness in corporate e-mail, which is great. But there is no single standard to make presence awareness available to folks outside the corporate network.

SMS messages get my attention almost instantly because I can control closely who gets my cell number to contact me. RSS messages also get my attention because I can also, easier than e-mail, control what information comes in. The same with instant messaging, where my contacts can all tell whether I'm too busy to interact or whether I'm available.

So I'm asking Google, Microsoft and IBM to add the best traits of other messaging technology to e-mail:

Presence awareness for people outside my network so they can hold off on nonessential messages if I'm too busy.

Better filtering. Yes, I know you've improved it over the past few years but it's still not good enough. I need to be able to control who can contact me and who can't, as easily as I can control who I'm "friends" with on Facebook.

Kill, once and for all, "reply all." If people want a group conversation, take it to the Wiki or some other collaboration suite.

Make encryption strong enough and easy enough to actually be useful for e-mail. I want to click one button that encrypts an entire message so that only the people I'm addressing can read or respond to the message. Too many people are too fearful of being candid in e-mail because e-mail "can get around." That's got to stop, now. (Notes leads the pack in messsage encryption, with good options to prevent mail forwarding or copying.)

Let's hope this gets done quickly. In the time I've spent writing this, my inbox has begun to overflow.

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