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Thinking Aloud

This morning Matt Blumberg, Brad Feld, Phil Hollows, Jeff Pulver, Fred Wilson and I are getting together to think about email in the larger context of social networks, instant messaging, RSS, SPAM, and other interesting stuff that’s going on. Brad outed the fact that three of the group – Fred, Jeff, and Brad, himself – are all preparing for this discussion by thinking aloud on their respective blogs. Somehow that fact, too, is relevant to what we plan to talk about; I’m just not sure how.

Jeff is the evangelist of the Social Media Living Room, a place where he can (and does) communicate with an extraordinary number of people in a number of different ways, most of them less real-time than a phone call and more immediate than an email. He explained this vision in his keynote at VON and, to his disappointment, it went over the heads of most of the gathered telco executives. He also told the execs to hire 13 year old product managers and fire them when they reach 18 and get stale in their thinking. Jeff may be optimistic on the pace of change but I think he’s right about both the direction and the importance of social networks like Facebook to the way we communicate – even though my social media living room is much smaller and quieter than Jeff’s.

Fred expands on a post by Saul Hansell and points out that Microsoft Hotmail and Yahoo Mail each have social graphs with more then twice as many nodes (sorry, I mean networks with over twice as many people – slipped into nerdtalk) as mySpace and Facebook while AIM and gmail have about the same number of users as the big social networks. Some spam filters do take advantage of this by filtering mail which is NOT from someone in your address book. Come to think of it, cell phones use our personal address books to find the names of callers and assign them the appropriate ringtones.

In Saul’s post Yahoo and Google talk a little – not very specifically – about their plans to leverage both the address books and the pattern of who gets mail and messages from whom how often to compete with Facebook. But Facebook is the competitor de jour so take that with a grain of salt. Both companies give due deference to the privacy of our information, of course.

Brad – who, like me, has a tendency to think about servers – responds to the talk about Hotmail and Yahoo Mail by writing: “So what.  Seriously.  The real data lives in the gazillions of Microsoft Exchange servers that are distributed around the world and connected to this magical thing called the Internet.  Don't think about your inbox (or your Outlook PST file) - think about "the server."…

“The amount of "social information" - especially in a business context - is staggering….  As far as I can tell, everyone is focused on the client side (Outlook) rather than the server side (Exchange).  This confuses me since the information, distribution, and the leverage (especially with regard to selling stuff) is on the server side.

“But the bigger and more mysterious question is "where is Microsoft?"  This is their world and their domain.  Over 15 years they demolished IBM/Lotus (and everyone else) in "email" only to be ready to fumble the next wave of this.  I don't get it.”

What do I think? Thanks for asking.

email hasn’t changed much in the twelve years since all the corporate email systems and all the private networks got connected to each other through the Internet. Our use of email has exploded; the messages have gotten bigger and richer as access bandwidth has increased; new devices like the Blackberry have been designed around email; but email is pretty much what it was a dozen years ago. For kids, however, email is often not as useful as text messaging. And spam has gotten to be a problem.

And there hasn’t been a significant advance in landline phone calling since the invention of the push button phone. But cellphone calling is often directory based and the device is used for text messaging, pictures and video as well as voice.

Following Moore’s law, the chips which are in almost every communication device are 256 times more powerful than they were twelve years ago. Graphics are fantastic compared to what they once were. Voice and other sounds can be carried much more richly than on the old phone networks.

The incremental cost of communication is near zero and getting closer all the time.

We think aloud on our blogs before going to a meeting (but we do still like to meet face-to-face!)

I think we’re overdue for huge change. I’m sure it’ll be fun and disruptive. I just don’t know what we’re changing to. When I do, I’ll blog about it.


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» More on Email Before A Day of Email from Feld Thoughts
If you are following along at home, a gang of us are getting together in NY today to discuss email. Tom Evslin - one of the gang - has a blog post on his pre-meeting thoughts titled Thinking Aloud. I just read a pile of stuff about email in... [Read More]

» MacroMyopia overestimating the short term and underestimating the long term from Don Dodge on The Next Big Thing
There is a severe case of MacroMyopia spreading across the blogosphere. Today it is The Death of Email [Read More]


Valdis Krebs

Here is a social graph from an Exchange server -- focusing only on members of a particular project team. Using social network analysis, it was very useful to the project leadership to get things unstuck after a missed deadline early on.



I think the concentration of the server as a data aggregator is unwise. Top down security (think X509) has been a failure outside of government or corps large enough to mandate it. PGP is still fringy, but a lot of us use it, and we don't need a Higher Power to enable us to do so.

The neat thing about undirected graphs is that they can self-organize, given a reason to do so. There's no reason to assume you need a server sitting in the middle of the various transactions.

Imagine it this way: suppose your cell phone could auto-discover any other phone within local distance, and over time you could flag each of the people as 'friend', 'wary neighbor', or 'jerk'. As everyone else does this, too, it would be easy to figure out whom you want to feed your cat when you're out of town, likely carpool buddies, and people in your neighborhood that might also like Dead Like Me.

Now scale this up to everyone you know. Trade a token with them that indicates a certain degree of access. Now it isn't geo-bound. The important point is that this is infrastructure that can be self assembled, in exactly the same way we all made friends in college.

I say this as someone who has spent way too much time building and maintaining large, high volume email servers, list servers, and automated response systems. I hate (e)SMTP, and would ditch it in a second, if only there were something that sucked less.

Ben Ortega

Whatever you guys do, please do not try to approach this from a technological perspective.

As users, think about how you use it today and what you'd like it to look like tomorrow. Whatever ideas you throw on the board can be supported by some "off the shelf" technology, so don't try to reinvent the wheel, just work on getting better performing tires.



Tom, I totally hear you.


I am a bit disconnected with the point regarding server. I think servers are useful (needed?) from operational point of view. But with the current trend in related technologies like high-speed connectivity, inexpensive computing resources and virtualizations, it is feasible for individuals to have their own servers. Just imagine Amazon starts to offer "micro instances" of EC2. Then people could be running their own email servers. I agree that there is benefit in data mining the aggregated servers, but we need to develop a new set of technologies.

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