December 10, 2008

Never Leave Your E-mail Again

By Rob Diana of Regular Geek (Twitter/FriendFeed)

A lot of bloggers are talking about the new GMail Tasks feature. I even had a mini rant on it as well. My opinion was that Google should have partnered or purchased a leader in the task management space, like Remember The Milk. However, comments in several forums have pointed out that RTM may be a bit heavy for people. In addition to that, the GMail Tasks feature is very simple. In my haste, I forgot about the power of simple.

In addition to simple, I overlooked something that could be big. I am not sure how I missed it, because it has even been a news item this week. Google has been preparing GMail to be your new home. Personalized homepages like iGoogle and MyYahoo are useful, but typically they are just another place that the user needs to go to. e-mail is something that people use all day and every day. We have seen the movement slowly with the integration of other frequently used items like GTalk and Google Calendar. The main reason I am shocked that I missed this is because Om Malik reported on this very same thing for Yahoo. In his report, he states that Yahoo is turning their mail application into a platform:
The program is expected to launch in beta relatively soon with half a dozen small applications running in a sidebar inside the Yahoo mail client (Evite is one of the services that is said to be building a nano-app for this new Yahoo Mail-as-a-platform). Users’ address books would act as a social graph, essentially turning Yahoo Mail into the basis of a whole new social networking experience.
Obviously, the GMail Tasks announcement was very timely given the earlier reporting of the Yahoo plans. However, both plans point to something bigger. GMail now has contacts, chat, calendar and task integration. Yahoo has had contacts, chat, calendar and task integration for a while as well. Both Yahoo and Google are planning to ensure that you never have to leave your e-mail client. The key to both platforms is that they allow widgets for additional functionality. So, if there is some favorite application that you are missing, there is the possibility for getting application integration without using something like a GreaseMonkey script. However, third party integration is not the real goal of either platform. The real goal is for each provider to easily integration whatever functionality they want as easily as possible.

So, can you spend your entire digital life in your e-mail client? What are the required applications needed for your constant attention?
  • E-mail (duh)
  • Contact management and extended profiles
  • Integrated Calendar and scheduling
  • Multi-provider chat client
  • Task and To Do list integration
  • RSS Reading or a good configurable news interface
  • Extensible platform for third party applications like social networks
Obviously, your entire digital life would never fit into one interface without getting cluttered and overwhelming. I did not include applications like FriendFeed, socialmedian or Twitter. Other social media applications like Digg, Mixx and Reddit also do not fit very well. But everything else mentioned is already integrated into either GMail or Yahoo Mail.

So thinking about best of breed tools, what would this all-in-one application look like? First, the GMail interface for e-mail, including the filters and tagging. Neither GMail or Yahoo have good contact management capabilities, so we should look to something like Microsoft Outlooks contacts. All of the calendar offerings are reasonable enough but there does need to be a reliable way to get alarm notifications. For multi-provider chat functionality, just look to Meebo which is the best online service available. For tasks and to do list integration, I prefer Remember The Milk, though many people mentioned they would prefer something more lightweight. RTM does have a GMail widget which probably fits the "lightweight" concerns. Given my technical roots, I would prefer an RSS reader like GReader, while other more normal people may prefer an interface like MyYahoo with selectable news sources in a simple readable interface. The selection of RSS reading or a news interface should be configurable. Lastly, we should not have to depend on GreaseMonkey for extensions to the interface. A simple plugin architecture similar to what MyYahoo or NetVibes have done would suffice.

The real question is, would you actually use something like this? Many companies have been targeting your "one digital home", but nothing has really dominated the space. Do you think Google or Yahoo can pull this together?

Read more by Rob Diana at