Mozilla has just revealed Raindrop – a new messaging project from the Thunderbird (email client) team. I am happy about this project. I have been thinking about it quite a bit since I heard about it last week. It’s not clear to me yet what Raindrop is. I like that it is an exploration.
I view Raindrop as a key piece in a bigger puzzle. The bigger picture I see is that of an online personal space that is mine. A place where my information is stored and shared with others, a place that I can access from any computer or mobile device, a place where I can meet people and people can meet me. Naturally this involves much sending, receiving and processing of communication. This website (based on WordPress) is in some ways that home, but there are still some pieces missing in it. Raindrop is can be one of those pieces.
“A central principle behind Raindrop is that messaging should be personal”
(Mozilla Labs – Introducing Raindrop)
Email is no longer a means of communication with the outside world – it IS the outside world. Email, whether you have surrendered to it (and it contains tons of information accumulated over many years) or constantly fight it (by working to keep it clean and empty), is not just a highway – it’s a storage place. The “Inbox” is a very impersonal experience – it contains everything the world wants me to have. “Personal” is the context in which I view the Inbox and the choices I make in dealing with it. The information that makes an Inbox personal cannot be found in the Inbox. I believe this is a gap that Raindrop is trying to fill. To do this I feel it’s going to have to perform a magic trick – it is going to have to disappear! Raindrop should sit on the shelf closer to HTML then Thunderbird.
If Raindrop wants to help me and truly become personal it is going to need help. It needs to become a parasite and hook into existing services in which I already “exist”, that already know me fairly well. For me this would be my website, for others it may be their accounts on social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, LinkedIn, etc. Imagine, for example, how differently a communication can be treated if it comes from a known or unknown associate/source? Or how it should be treated if it comes from an associate with whom I communicate frequently?
If you think about it there is an irony in this process. Much incoming communication (especially the kind that Raindrop is trying to identify, filter & organize) is generated in systems in which there is a known context. Context gets lost when communications are funneled into an email Inbox. A direct message on twitter is a communication with specific context (it’s on twitter, it’s from someone I am/not following, it is a reply, a retweet, contains a reference to another twitter account, is part of a sequence of messages, is in a different timezone, etc.) – but when it’s passed into an Inbox as an email it loses much of that context and becomes another incoming message for me to figure out.
I’d like to see Raindrop become a technological infrastructure that:
- Can hook onto and listen to on-line resources in which I have a presence.
- Can collect and store communications (and payloads) that are dispatched from these resources.
- Can be taught to extract from stored communications (and payloads) contextual information.
- Can automatically extract from stored communications (and payloads) contextual information.
- Can dispatch outgoing communications using various communication protocols/infrastructures
- Can operate on standard open-source web technologies.
- Can be easily deployed in a self-sustained package.
- Has building blocks that designers & developers can use to create front-end applications.
Specifically I’d love to see Raindrop offered as (for example) a WordPress Plugin that will:
- Enable millions of non-developers (including me) to experience it directly and provide feedback as it grows and develops.
- Benefit from an easy and seamless installation/update process.
- Enable the WordPress Developer Community to bind it’s capabilities into WordPress (developing contextual capabilities and user interfaces).
- Provide owners of hosted WordPress installation an alternative self-owned email hosting service tightly bound with their websites.
- Provide a built in mail server which can relay raw or processed communication into email clients such as Thunderbird (which may act as a native interim client GUI for Raindrop).
- Free the Raindrop developers to focus on the core/infrastructure technology (while other developers can experiment with and maintain front-end applications).