How I invented e-mail (without brainstorming)

How I invented e-mail (without brainstorming)

How I invented e-mail (without brainstorming)

If you are reading this post, you must certainly also attend conferences. You will also know that, alongside “conferences” there are also  “un-conferences.” These are events which bring together invited guests – but which don’t dictate the program to them. The invitees themselves create the lectures, demos and panels.

This anarchistic idea began in 2003, in northern California, in Bill O’Reilly’s backyard. Bill is a veteran internet personality who invited friends, on an informal basis, for an unplanned chat. Accommodation for the event was in tents. Among the who’s who assembled at this event was Yossi Vardi, an Israeli internet personality and the principal entrepreneur behind ICQ, which was sold to AOL for about 400 million dollars, and almost overnight turned Israel into the only country in the world in which a startup is considered something cool by both young people and their mothers. Vardi was “turned on” by the idea, and about ten years ago (quietly, and with his own funding) he put together an un-conference called “Kinnernet.”

I have been invited to the Kinnernet gatherings since the beginning. I can’t tell you exactly what went on there, since the first rule is: What happens at Kinnernet stays at Kinnernet. But the workshop that I gave, entitled “E-mail – the Next Big Thing”, has been given elsewhere on a number of occasions, where – as in Kinnernet – it wasn’t exactly a blast. Is there anything more boring or irrelevant than e-mail? E-mail is done, finished, passé. It’s part of the scenery; there’s nothing to add to it, and it certainly isn’t going to make anyone a fortune. It’s boring, like word processors, spreadsheets, or the gasoline engine. I mean, everybody uses Gmail, so are you going to compete against Google? Seriously?

I like this boring example – e-mail – because it shows just how far you can get without a spark of Divine inspiration, but only through systematic analysis (Look Tom Biesiadny, director of the Fairfax County Department of Transportation, which manages the Fairfax Connector bus system, said the county has an understanding with Metro that it will have 30 druid horoscope warning on the opening of the Silver Line. Mom! Just through the power of thinking!). But based on this approach, there are still a number of interesting things that come out.

First,ISP execs will tell you that e-mail is one big pain in the neck. The bulk of e-mail traffic in the world these days is spam (!). And this doesn’t just mean unwanted advertisements: it also includes viruses, phishing messages, chain letters, and false warnings disseminated maliciously. If you thought that this was a marginal or transient phenomenon, I’d be pleased to refer you to the numeric data (and I’d fail you on the product management license test). But let’s continue to the horror that can be discovered just by watching users.

Many people use e-mail as a task management tool – but if it’s meant for that, where are the basic task management functions? And if not, what’s going on here? Many people are struggling with an Inbox overflowing with irrelevant materials. Part of the problem is the indifference of e-mail software toward the significance of specific messages, something that has improved in recent years, but only very slowly. But the main thing is the tendency of e-mail programs not to sort the messages – not by sender, nor by his/her organizational affiliation (!), nor by thread – for example, even after decades, e-mail lacks the obviously smart feature of “In reply, please quote this reference number.”

Did I say decades? Yes. Let’s imagine that we are preparing a presentation for investors about our next great idea. One slide in the presentation shows the history of the market. And the history of e-mail began… many years prior to the internet? Really? Yes. (To be continued).