The Problem

Email was not designed to be used the way we use it now. Email is not a messaging protocol. It’s a todo list. Or rather, my inbox is a todo list, and email is the way things get onto it. But it is a disastrously bad todo list.

I’m open to different types of solutions to this problem, but I suspect that tweaking the inbox is not enough, and that email has to be replaced with a new protocol. This new protocol should be a todo list protocol, not a messaging protocol, although there is a degenerate case where what someone wants you to do is: read the following text.

As a todo list protocol, the new protocol should give more power to the recipient than email does. I want there to be more restrictions on what someone can put on my todo list. And when someone can put something on my todo list, I want them to tell me more about what they want from me. Do they want me to do something beyond just reading some text? How important is it? (There obviously has to be some mechanism to prevent people from saying everything is important.) When does it have to be done?

This is one of those ideas that’s like an irresistible force meeting an immovable object. On one hand, entrenched protocols are impossible to replace. On the other, it seems unlikely that people in 100 years will still be living in the same email hell we do now. And if email is going to get replaced eventually, why not now?

If you do it right, you may be able to avoid the usual chicken and egg problem new protocols face, because some of the most powerful people in the world will be among the first to switch to it. They’re all at the mercy of email too.

Whatever you build, make it fast. GMail has become painfully slow. If you made something no better than GMail, but fast, that alone would let you start to pull users away from GMail.

GMail is slow because Google can’t afford to spend a lot on it. But people will pay for this. I’d have no problem paying $50 a month. Considering how much time I spend in email, it’s kind of scary to think how much I’d be justified in paying. At least $1000 a month. If I spend several hours a day reading and writing email, that would be a cheap way to make my life better.

by Paul Graham

Consumer News