Too Much Text

Image credit: Jay Cuthrell

Too Much Text ( 2009 )

#include <disclaimer.h>

Too Much Text IV: A NEW HOPE Google Wave vs. Email

**Vote here! **[

It is a period of email war. Rebel services, striking from hidden bases, have won their first victory against the evil Inbox Empire. The Empire may strike back but not before nimble waves of XMPP (RFC3920) extended wing fighters fire back with wavelet torpedoes. May the IETF be with you.

  1. What has changed in the email landscape for 2008-2009?

  2. Where is asymmetric and symmetric user messaging headed?

  3. How will users seek to collaborate across various real time message services?

  4. Where does Google Wave play into the efficacy of email systems?

  5. What considerations will have to be part of any new vision of the Inbox?

  6. If the young aren’t adopting Twitter as the new messaging platform as much as adults, what is next?

  7. Where does spam figure into the mix of combining various message services in one place?

  8. What is the most critical thing to take away from the Wave Protocol Draft Spec?

  9. How can back end developers be part of the solution vs. adding to the problem of forked messaging?

  10. What will it take to stop the use of NO REPLY / DO NOT REPLY in web services that use email?

Discussion on Google Wave

The concepts here are iterative and in that spririt, the following content gathered, leading to, and in concusion of Too Much Text at SxSW 2009 is also presented below:

Disclaimer: Here be dragons draft copy!


When I attended SXSW Interactive in 2008 one of the things I noticed is how little email was used at the conference. By the time email was typed up and sent out, it was little more than reference material better served and accessible on a website.

  • Email is now an asymmetric relic.

  • Email is reserved for copies of your confirmations.

  • Email is a hurdle to be avoided if possible.


Or, is email really that bad?

It’s 2008 and SXSW Interactive is a fairly technical conference. As expected, everyone had a mobile device capable of Internet access. A few folks had laptops but most were on an iPhone, Blackberry, or using SMS on their mobile phone du jour. Twitter adoption was high for the period I was there. You might have heard about Twitter lately. Maybe. :)

But back to email… I checked back to see what email was for my personally that partial week.

  • I didn’t really get any that was critical to my day to day activities. Partly because the office knew I was out and at a conference – but mostly because nobody at the conference really dropped phrases like “I will send you an email”.

  • We handed out business cards. That seemed archaic to me actually but quaint. Most of the cards had an email address, phone, etc… but things like instant message or Twitter handles were more common or considered a better way to reach.

  • Email actually started up the day after the conference. I guess that was when people started reading their cards and had some downtime.

One thing that stood out for me was this: email has a personal and time attentive association for many of these people. It was as if email was what prior generations would consider to be the thank you note or the hand written note — and for some it has become the equivalent of a heart felt hand written letter on fine parchment. [ Wait! It’s an email! (I say this in a 36 year old voice)

Social patterns aside, email is many things, but it is commonly associated with what is wrong with it: spam and email itself

Wait? Email is a problem itself? We’ll come back that that.

First, let’s look at spam.

“Did you get my email” is typically followed with “check your spam folder” and a reply such as “just TXT it to me so that I’ll have it” which makes me think that you a lot of folks feel email is the paper bill you have sitting on the TV stand under the rest of the junk mail from your local post office box.


The problem email itself has is that even if it isn’t spam to the recipient it is probably battling for the recipient’s attention. The lowly heart felt email or important email is commingled with far too many other messages in the inbox.

There are a whole flood of philosophies and movements to help people deal with their Inbox and the bloat from the pile up it represents. So, email itself has problems.


Yet, there are established groups that live for email and the fight against spam. I’ve been part of those groups to varying degrees for over a decade.

It makes me wonder: Am I helping protect a protocol destined for the same fate as GOPHER?

As with anything of value there are wars fought over it.

With email there is a spy vs spy war raging since the first opportunist could open an email client. This is the war of spammer vs. mail service administrators and email service providers.

So, if email has increasingly less and less value – what is it that is so coveted and what is it that is so worthy of being protected for this war to continue?

Tarpit, Blacklists, greylists, heuristics, Bayesian filters, regular expression alchemy, SPF, DomainKeys, Sender ID, DCC, hashes, challenge-response, and the list very likely goes on and on. For each remedy or enhancement to the activity seeking to cater to the needs of the administrator and user there is dark force bent on rendering it obsolete or overpowered.


  1. Why all of this effort to keep email viable as a service that can be taken for granted?

  2. What can be done with email going forward to appeal to new generations of users?

  3. What would make email more valued to everyone that uses email today?

  4. Where is email going to be in the next 5 to 10 years?

  5. When will email and spam conflict be resolved?

Additional reading