Turning your messy inbox into a list of actionable items

© AMC

Lately I see a lot of startups trying to tackle the email problem, but I believe they have it all wrong. They are creating beautiful interfaces with innovative gesture controls or smart contextual information, but none of them solve the fundamental problem of email: Badly written emails.

Most people don’t know how to write an efficient email and so what could have been one sentence ends up in a vomit of thoughts left for you to dissect.

I don’t know how we’re going to have people write better emails. There are startups like Shortmail and InboxPro that try to force the sender to format their emails a certain way, but that seems like the wrong approach to me.

Blaise Pascal famously wrote the following:

“I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”

Looking at my email inbox I would say this is true for a lot of people. Most emails could be much more concise.

I propose a service that summarizes the long unstructured emails we get into a list of actionable items. Every email distilled to its essence. An inbox of simple questions and status updates.

It would be like having an assistant managing your incoming email for you and only notifying you of the most important updates and questions you need to know. It could even suggest responses based on your calendar and previous activity. An email client Don Draper would use.

This might look overwhelming at first, but keep in mind this is your full email interface. There’s no need to read more than you see on this screen. If you want to see the original full email though that’s still possible of course.I’m calling it Dawn, in reference to Don Draper’s assistant and because you’ll get your email ‘dawn’ quicker.

Besides distilling emails I can also envision the following features:

Suggested responses: The service can suggest replies based on the contents of the email. Scheduling a meetup? Dawn suggests a date and time based on your calendar and preferences.

Stop repeating yourself: Getting the same type of questions over and over again? Answer it once and Dawn will take it from there.

Easy unsubscribe from anything: Keep getting emails from the same company or person you couldn’t care less about? No need to search for an unsubscribe link, let Dawn handle it for you.

Talk to your email: Imagine being able to simply listen to your email and respond using speech. Dawn will make sure your outgoing emails are spell-checked and formatted properly.

So how can we make this happen?

I don’t think technology is ready yet to fully automate this, but with the help of a workforce of virtual assistants this idea should be feasible today. Of course there are issues like privacy to keep in mind, but I think these can be overcome if we really want to. I definitely think it’s worth a shot.

Who will build this for me? ☺

Photo © James Minchin