Mozilla's Raindrop seeks to make e-mail personal again

Rethinking e-mail in the age of Twitter, IM, Skype, Facebook, Google Docs, and e-mail conversations

Raindrop is a Mozilla Labs project that could simplify the e-mail experience by increasing your inbox's signal-to-noise ratio, along with the contextual information about a message. Raindrop's mission is to "make it enjoyable to participate in conversations from people you care about, whether the conversations are in email, on twitter, a friend's blog or as part of a social networking site."

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Though the Thunderbird team at Mozilla is developing Raindrop, the group explains that Raindrop is not another e-mail client, but rather, a communication application. I don't completely agree with this distinction. Today's e-mail clients are communication applications, aren't they? They may not be as well suited to handle current Web communications as Raindrop can, but they're still communications applications. In any case, I'm pretty excited about Raindrop and suggest you watch this demo video.

Raindrop can intelligently categorize e-mail based on pre-built and user-defined extensions. For instance, Raindrop's design lead Bryan Clark asks: "why should advertisements from an Airline push an email form my mom further down the list. I know one is more important than the other, why doesn't my email?"

Another example could be grouping e-mails from Twitter based on their conversational importance. Notifications of direct messages and replies are more important to a user than notification of a new follower.

Message categorization is just the beginning. Raindrop aims to support any message source on the Internet.

You begin by giving Raindrop your credentials to message sources such as Gmail or Twitter and, in the future, any IMAP e-mail account, feeds, instant message networks, or social networks. This allows Raindrop to collect messages from various sources on the Internet. Each message is further split into documents that the Raindrop Workqueue will work on to gather contextual information. The documents and contextual information is stored in CouchDB. These documents and contextual information are then combined into a message and surfaced through your browser or, in the future, your mobile phone. It sounds confusing, so let's look at a hypothetical usage scenario.

Let's say you receive an e-mail to your Gmail account from your friend Erik. The e-mail contains a YouTube video and a street address, as well as a forwarded Facebook notification message. It seems that Erik's friend Lisa, who you really like, asked Erik to go a local bar to hear her favorite band play. Erik forwarded the message to you and a few other friends, and he included a YouTube link to the band to pique your interest.

Raindrop would treat the YouTube URL, the street address, and the Facebook IDs as separate documents. The Raindrop Workqueue could do some work on each of these documents. For instance, the Raindrop Workqueue could connect to the YouTube API to get more information about the video and create a thumbnail of the clip. The Raindrop Workqueue could also connect to the GoogleMaps API, map the address, and get a Street View image of it. Finally, the Raindrop Workqueue could check if you're friends with the person who sent the Facebook message, and if so, pull the person's Facebook profile picture and recent status.

These three documents and the resulting contextual information would be stored in CouchDB. Then, when you open the e-mail message with Raindrop, you'd see a thumbnail of the YouTube video, the Google Street View image of the bar, and Lisa's Facebook picture and status. Raindrop is highly extensible, so you can create document types for the Workqueue to process and display extensions to properly show the new document type.

Raindrop is still early in development, so some parts of the usage scenario above are futures, but it's easy to see how useful Raindrop could be. Go ahead, give Raindrop a try.

Follow me on Twitter: SavioRodrigues.

p.s.: I should state: "The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies, or opinions."

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