A future email system idea

What is the underlying problem of Personal Information Management?

Originally appeared in my Blogspot blog called Psiic.


I wrote back 10 years ago:
Current situation is that people use a variety of means (both electronic, physical, and mental) to achieve the needs of their work / personal communications.

Sometimes the barrier of entry into a new mental activity is high: “Can I handle this, is this too much for me? I am already on 7 mailing lists, I can’t just do it.” It’s just so much easier to say NO, than try something which possibly involves a risk; or where the person estimates the future spam flow (FSF) to be high.

The proposed system here is to alleviate this problem, and enable a more rich personal life! It’s not yet a realized (programmed) system, but this is an idea. I think it could be coded and proven to be effective, if implemented.

Acute problem points in current email systems:

  • archival with security in mind. When you are accessing a mailbox, there is whole lot of your life in it! It’s like part of your diary.
  • updating the information; now it is left for the user himself. A notification system of sorts would be nice.
  • handling the same information in several different computing environments:
    personal computer at home, work; a cellular or PDA, smart phone
    On route, without access to the above, but still able to use a ubiquitous network like Internet.
  • working in groups, sharing appropriately
  • handling of duplicate emails (CC’ed; carbon copied), so that they do not confuse
    the recipient. Many times a person might receive the exact same email in several inboxes, when the sender wanted to make sure that he is reached for sure / in time. All duplicates would be intelligently chained into one conversation. Duplicates are a source of major conflicts and annoyance.
  • of the duplicate email boxes, I found that it seems to be rather constant that I have 2 mailboxes at all times: personal + work. 
  • In uni studying I had the university mail, and then occasionally a work email 
  • time-based priority to emails: trying to make out the most logical sequence the emails should be read. How to do this?

What Else?

* tracking keywords and dates, applying heuristics to solve the ordering problem

* track response times to emails: if the user is always responding very quickly to
person X, then he will have higher priority in the general view order of emails

* asking for feedback from the user: “I ordered these two emails like this:
First comes message X, then message Y. What do you think?

a) This was the best solution
b) Reverse the order
c) They are unrelated

Theory of Pipeling (parallelizing) knowledge in life

- The Pipeline theory of life: 
  * you start process 1 (laundry), and do process 2 (reading) WHILE process 1 lasts;
    then you continue finishing process 1 (hang the clothes drying) etc.
    ==> is parallelism optimization possible just like in computer architecture?
    * Signals (event notifications) are becoming more important: reminders about the
      processes' states. When you have automation, it should be linked to the human
      controlling the process.
  * The Resource scheduling theory: booking tickets in advance to theatre
  * The Resource refining theory: you can do less now, and expect to do more work in the
    future, or you can do something very perfectly now and save time in the future
    (unpacking groceries after visiting the supermarket: should you prepare the groceries
    to be ready-to-use in containers etc. or just leave the bulk packages as they were?)

– possibility of concurrency in brain
* using all the modalities to make the email reading session a pleasant one: music,
audio synthesis to notify of new messages (from who, what’s the subject), reading
single keywords from the message body. Using a map perhaps to represent the country
origin of messages, based on these facts:
1) the language of the email
2) top-level domains, where helpful
3) as a weak indicator, the name of the sender might help guessing the geogr. location

* a tutorial to using the email system, like that of the best games. Makes you feel very
interested and everything is coming at a nice pace. Still it’s “live”, not just a
boring step-by-step web page or help file

– need for out-of-brain adjustment of the “flow” experience. Concept of time distorts pretty
heavily with some people, so little reminders of the day’s plans is necessary. Reminders
can be as simple as “Blink/beep me after 3 minutes so I’ll check the boiling rice in kitchen”
or according to ordinary calendar events.

Actions used in PIM:

1) Handling
2) Classifying
3) Retrieving

Proposed enhancements:

– a major part of the development is also eye-movement tracking, to gain knowledge how
people select the order of messages to be shown. The lab would consist of required
hardware, and also during the labs new incoming messages will be generated with various
topics to map out how the recipient responds to these, especially when the incoming
message “interrupts” a mental activity

– stress-relief logic, by using biomedical sensors to evaluate current situation, and
affecting the user with the proper modality of information

Types of calendar notes people make:

-household chores together with other tenants (“pihatalkoot”)
-meetings of hobby clubs

Routine: return a book to library

Personal relationships
-sports activity with friend

Personal events
-friend’s weddings


-A course starting
-Exams or equivalent

A wide variety of medication must be taken quite regularly in order
to maximise its effect.

-make an order via web or other media
-simple reminders within the day: PostIt Notes typically glued into monitors,
on the desk etc.: “Call Jim!” “Get laundry!” “Visit the post office!”

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