Gmail, why is Slack eating your lunch?

The world of messaging is on fire: 2016 is supposed to be the year of the command line, Chris Messina says, and Clippy would finally get its revenge. predicts Sarah Guo . The problem is we apparently need someone to own the command line. We are blind for some reason to the fact that we already have a command line, one which is everywhere, works, is easily accessible and could be taken to even higher heights.

Introducing: … Email!

The thing is we already have a command line, and it is called:

Subject: |

Email is the true ubiquitous communication platform. It is neither Slack nor Telegram Messenger, it is your old pal Email.

In the subject of an email you can write any kind of command you want. Let me give you some examples, so you can see how incredibly accessible this approach is.

E-commerce

Why would you have to surrender your contacts and access to your whole inbox to have some handy commands is beyond me. You could just say what you want and email yourself:

Subject: shop:jacket size:M color:navy

Following this simple command you’d get replies with select articles based on some kind of ranking and which fall into these categories. Maybe finally Google shopping and Wanello could be put to some interest. Oh and Pinterest! But then you get too many emails.

One solution, the easy one, is that every reply would have a specific subject and you can label and archive and folder up the replies very easily, say for a shopping suggestion you’d get a reply with:

Subject: sopping for:jacket:M:navy

You could also list all your shopping interests and handle the ones that don’t interest you anymore, just send:

Subject: shopping list|

and get a reply like the following:

Jacket M navy                    [x]
Frying pan Ceramic 23cm [x]
Sport shoes Nike 42 european [x]

All the items are links like

mailto:cloud@service.provider?subject=#ACTION_NAME# #ID#

Click send on the new email link and you’re done. Isn’t this far easier than clicking buttons, setting preferences, logging in and out, having social logins all over the internet and so on? Using actionable replies a service could expand and handle any content the user puts in the body of the email.

You could also do the same things for many other data in the cloud

Organizing

Send something like:

Subject: – Pick up laundry

Subject: – Take dog out for a walk

then:

Subject: — todo|

and get a reply like the following:

1. pick up laundry [done] [delete]
1. take dog out for a walk [done] [delete]

Events

Send something like:

Subject: schedule: Star Wars Discussion in 2 days at the office|

and get a reply just to confirm

You’re attending Star Wars Discussion in 2 days at the office.

Data management

Send something like

Subject: create project|

and get a reply such as:

Create a project named _________ which is about ______ and should end on __________. The project includes these people: ___________ and should cost $_____.

Then you could reply back and fill in the blanks.

Any REST call to many APIs.

Basically if the email clients would get a bit smarter and we’d have an email markup standard we could have forms in emails, but not only forms.

Email markup standard could be any of the following:

  • special headers
  • special way to define text in the body which the client can apply transformations to
  • special char sequences acting as delimiters in the body of an email

Unlike other markup languages this can be very well only machine readable and that’d be just fine since the email is generated and displayed by a machine, not coded by hand.

Having forms in emails opens up the door for access to various APIs . API authentication happens in a web app but then actions, especially public endpoints can all be hooked into from your inbox.

Fun!

Subject: lolcat|

Reply:

Cat Kitten GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

I told you email is solid.

Love in the time of the command line

What if I would be able to have a kind of email based Tinder. Say i’d write into the cloud an email with:

Subject: match|

And then the cloud would reply back:

Subject: hi, nice to meet you!
Body: Please reply to this email, attach a photo and tell me a couple of things that you’d tell anyone about yourself.

Then in time after a while you’d get emails with people who, say have similar interests from a service which, by user agreement, matches people by browsing history. How ‘bout that?

There are two things that should happen: clients (Gmail, Yahoo etc) should get smarter and email middle ware (Mailgun) should multiply its presence. Email is the true ubiquitous communication platform:

  • it has no limits
  • it is everywhere
  • it is cheap
  • it is very robust
  • it is distributed
  • it does not depend on the business of some company in particular

I have already started a small side project in the form of an assistant who can have various commands coded in. My vision is to create a simple online app that gives you a “special” address which is associated with yours. You’ll then be able to both send commands and to receive special emails analyzed by custom code and turned into human data for you. The commands and parsers are open source and integrated based on code review in the app.

The base application is here:

https://github.com/draganescu/sibip

And the command repository is here:

https://github.com/draganescu/sibip

I strongly believe that change comes from integrating a system into a new vision, rather than reinventing the wheel again and again. With full text search already there, push email, SSL and so much more Email and it’s powerful but discrete subject line can be the force behind the invisible apps of tomorrow!