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Oct 13, 2005 11:49pm

e-mail 2.0

According to Tim O'Reilly, Web 2.0 is about collaboration, data control, participation: warm and fuzzy up-with-people sentiments. I think E-Mail 2.0 will be very different: automation, delegation and other efficiency-oriented goals.

If GTD is any indication, I bet e-mail is about to see an automation renaissance. I've experimented with mail client customization before, and this week I've set up a toy system to experiment with transposing certain GTD ideas (trusted system, ticklers) into automated e-mail actions. My memory for responsibilities and appointments is notoriously awful, and I've not had the best luck with personal-organization tricks such as the hipster PDA - turns out they require a minimum amount of self-discipline.

I want to be able to completely forget about my responsibilities until a specific time in the future when they become important, so I'm playing with the idea of automated e-mail assistants. I've set up remind@teczno.com as a time-delay mail helper. Any message sent to that address is checked for a date and time on the first line - I use PHP's strtotime() function, and it happily accepts inputs such as "tomorrow 1pm" or "november 1 8:00am" (note that this only works as-expected in the U.S. Pacific time zone). A response is immediately dipatched to the sender, with a promise to send a reminder at the specified time in the future. When that time arrives, the original mail is returned.

Combined with the conversations hack, my mail client is starting to take on the character of a diligent yet stupid personal assistant. I've become more confident in my forgetfulness, now that I know I can remind "future mike" of his responsibilies. The reminders take on the context of their sender, so requests from my mobile phone return to my phone. The script is CC:-aware, so any addresses included in the CC: field are in on the reminder. I can imagine expanding this system to be secretly social - there are other needs suitable for mail that could benefit from delegation. For example, GTD relies on "projects" being decomposed into "next actions", which is significantly difficult. A decompose-bot could accept mails with to-do items in the body, and delegate them anonymously to other system users for decomposition into discrete actions. Users of the system would periodically receive mails asking them to decompose someone else's projects into actions, spreading the difficulty of introspection out to disinterested strangers. It's tit-for-tat meets Bittorrent meets porn-incentives for CAPTCHA-cracking.

Until then, feel free to try out Remind-O-Bot. Remember:

  1. Date and time on the first line of the message
  2. Sender gets the reminder
  3. CC: anyone else you may wish to pester


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