Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Email, Texts and Probably IMs Should All Be Treated as Members of the Same Family

I like email. Email should always be considered the default workhorse of ordinary, textual communication. Texts have their place, mainly as a signal of urgency. I want a text only if it is time-sensitive--like, read and respond within 10 minutes, or the moment is lost.

Note that urgency may coincide with priority. It just means that the topic is time-limited. Could be "hey, I'm at the grocery store, is there anything you want me to get?" Or could be "I'm at the hospital, come see me".

So a text can serve as a reasonable proxy for urgency. What about priority?--i.e., it doesn't matter if you look at this in the next few minutes, but this is really important, so don't ignore it. Users of Outlook will be familiar with the red exclamation mark that indicates priority. Generally A Useful Thing. As far as I know, there is no widely-accepted equivalent in standard email. There should be.

Which brings me to my point: the distinction between email and text should be erased. They should both just be a message. Any message can have 2 distinct attributes, one for urgency, one for priority. The recipient can control the settings on their device accordingly. E.g.:
  • Most of the time, my phone would play a chime and pop up a window, for anything urgent.
  • At certain times, such as important meetings, I would suppress this and only do it if both urgent and priority.
  • In my case, I check email often enough, so no special settings for Priority alone--just iconic representation, a la the Outlook exclamation point.
It is not hard to imagine other refinements, such as only accepting Urgent + Priority from certain known contacts.

The last thing to consider is IM. I think that is a variation on urgency. It would be urgency, with an intention to conduct a more prolonged conversation. So if I received an IM request, but didn't feel like an extended conversation, rather than ignore it entirely, I could send a reply, but implicitly decline the IM, based on choosing to reply as standard urgent message.

I want all of these to be a subset of email, archived and searchable with all the same rules and tools that are well-established for email.

Oh, and one more thing--no proprietary forms of communications. Whatever is built into Facebook or Twitter or Snapchat should be a subset of email. The app of origin could just be an attribute (e.g., I might ignore emails from Twitter contacts).

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