SlateMail – a newbie’s project to streamline his email

Slate.com blogged an attempt by a non-programmer to write his own email client, in an attempt to improve his email life.

I was email-depressed. You may well be too. Lots of people are, but email is not on the laundry list of things that people routinely complain about, like weather or allergies or public transit. Nobody asks, “How was the email today?” And nobody replies, “Awful, just awful. New York just has the worst email.” But ask people directly, and you’ll see there’s an epidemic of email depression. Last year, Slate conducted an internal survey about email, asking editors and writers, “How do you feel about the amount of emails in your inbox?” The responses included: “Exhausted.” “Overwhelmed.” “Alarmed.”

He adopted some smart ideas to match the way his wishes to organise his email traffic. This is a classic example of the 80:20 rule, he’s been able to get 80% of the functionality he needs by covering 20% of a standard email client and customising. But someone else’s basic requirement may be a differ 20%.

I had a semifunctional email client. It could receive, display, and send email. Features I considered crucial, such as email threading and quoted message collapsing, worked somewhat reliably. There were other common features I wanted to add, features that most users would consider non-negotiable, such as search functionality and email address auto-completion.

Ultimately, he developed an application that worked for him. More notably, he grew to love coding and became somewhat addicted to it:

By that point SlateMail had taken over my life to a far greater extent than email ever had. Whenever I found time to think, I coded in my head. I improved the syncer on a walk to the grocery store. I built the mailbox tree standing on the subway.

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Filed under Programming, Technology

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