Some email usability ideas

Way back in 2000, Ximian were designing Evolution, their GNOME mail reader/contact manager/Outlook clone.

Since I still think some of these are killer ideas that would really improve email readers, and since the only copy is sitting in a mailing list archive, here's a local copy.

I've updated it to include some comments apt as of 2004-04-15, after taking a look at Google's GMail, which has some killer new e-mail usability enhancements. (These comments are marked with the string "2004").

From: Justin Mason (spam-protected)
Date: Fri, 02 Jun 2000 12:11:56 +0100
Subject: CHI'96 paper on mail usability and some thoughts

Hi guys,

Dunno if you've seen this, it's a good paper on email usability and some recommendations to improve same...

Basically it says:

to fix these:

A few ideas I came up with myself during reading it:

(2004: ExMH added it into the mainline in a later version -- but I no longer find this useful! Not sure why; maybe my workflow has changed in some way. However, Evolution now does this, too.) (20040622: after I wrote this, I decided to give it another try to see why I'd stopped using it. now I'm finding it invaluable again so scratch that comment ;) )

(2004: it looks like GMail took this advice and ran with it. It will archive all "deleted" mail, and allow an innovative thread display format based on that data -- while viewing a message, the entire thread context is visible at a click. A totally different action is required to really "delete" a message. Very nice work! See GmailThreadingDetails.)

(2004: being able to flag such messages with a user-defined set of categories, e.g. "sysadmin", "howto", "reference", "important" etc. and easily narrow down the message list view to display those -- poss through a search interface, or even just a sort column in a table view -- would help here too. Evo now does allow flagging, but with a preset list of flags, not user-editable. GMail, however, does this as described. Retitling and annotation would still be very, very useful functionality.)

-Alain : There is a "Keywords:" header defined in the RFC822 - I guess it is underused !!

(2004: apparently this is planned for Evo 2.0)

Anyway, these are some ideas I thought I'd throw in. I'm pretty excited by the possibilities of Evolution, and I'm looking forward to trying it out; after reading that paper, I just had to share ;)

BTW I haven't used MS Outlook, so forgive me if Outlook sorts out these problems and I just didn't notice -- ditto for Evolution too, I haven't had the time to get it compiling yet! ;) (2004: neither Outlook nor Evo have sorted out all of these.)

(2004: I'll now add a new one: refiling the current message into a folder with one keypress. This has become an essential part of my daily workflow, but may not be so essential for others -- principally because I use it for spam corpus building to train a spam filter. I have one key bound to "refile to the spam folder", and another bound to "refile to the deleted-ham folder"; instead of deleting most mail, I hit those keys instead to refile them according to their type. This quickly and easily builds up a spamfilter training corpus.)


(2004: There's some more good tips from Kaitlin 'Duck' Sherwood at too.)


April 2004 - I use Outlook 2002 as my email and PIM. It handles most of the items above. IMHO the killer email app for Outlook users is Nelson Email Organiser (NEO) from . NEO has made my email much more accessible and useable. If the Linux crowd manage to replicate NEO and Outlook's functionality then they'd have a killer app.


Maybe checkout the latest Mozilla thunderbird 0.5 - it most of what you want like letting you do label emails with categories (user defined label & colors) though at the moment your limited to 5 categories and one-click junk email classifcation, vfolders (called views), etc. Well worth checking out:

EmailUsabilityWishlist (last edited 2004-07-29 03:41:41 by 69)