A Brighter Outlook: Part I- Email Tagging
By Eddie LopezEddie_Lopez. Friday, April 28, 2006 8:19:49 PM
A series of posts focusing on Outlook type (intranet/work) mail clients.
Part I- Email Tagging
Part 2- We need to have a talk...
Part 3- From email’s heart, I reply at thee
Part 4– Let’s not get attached
Update- some pretty good thoughts and similar ideas on tags in general and tag suggesting here(Uncommon Sense for Software)
This is part I of a series* of posts I will be running on improvements on email clients and PIMs (I admit, this is primarly going to be a series on email clients). The mindset for most of these posts will be something simliar to an Outlook/Exchange environment ("A brighter Outlook")- ie, a work type email clients. Little thought is focused on web-based email, but I suppose as webapps grow and mature with capabilities, I don't see why these ideas can't apply there as well. For background on where I'm coming from, I use Exchange at work, Opera M2 at home, and gmail forwards a copy of everything to my Opera M2 client, so I always have web-based as well (plus I have yahoo mail, operamail, hotmail, my own hosting email, etc... standard stuff). I'd REALLY like to work up some images of some of these ideas, but my skills are lacking in that department.
First off, lets keep the traditional email folder (“one email stuffed in a folder”) structure, since many people like the notion of one place for everything. I mean, why not? From the tag user point of view, what difference does it make where they are? Me, I don't like to take the time to tag, but I also can't keep one single representation/structure in my head. I remember emails by the context of what I'm thinking at the time ("From my boss" "on this subject" "sent yesterday"...etc). Currently, Opera's M2 client, gmail's labels, and Outlook's advanced find and "Smart Search" folders are how I get things done.
Like many people, I have little interest in taking time to tag my data. I’m not sure if it’s because I don’t like to take the time to think about it until I’m looking for it later, or I’m not sure what to tag it because it hasn’t yet “assimilated” in my mind (ie- it hasn’t sunk in or created a useful meaning to me, it’s still foreign etc etc…), or maybe it’s because I don’t have easy to use tools. Hard to tell, but here’s my attempt at appeasing as many people as possible- Oh, I don't claim to be a gmail expert, but from what I can tell, I can't label an email on the fly (UPDATE- see comments). I have to already have the label created before I want to label an email which is a BIG hinderance to me- it takes me away from what I'm thinking about and out of "the hunt" (ie- my mindset/mental task). Sorry about that diversion, without further delay- the three-tiered tag system:
- Meta-Data (nothing new here): The meta data should be hidden from the tags in the traditional sense (ie- user created tags) but lumped in with user defined tags at search time (on the back end). The point is, you should be able to get some tags for free that the lazy user doesn’t have to do anything to get, but said lazy user could still search for something: From, Date, Flag, Sent…. There should be a wealth of tags here. This will be discussed more in the searching of tags, but will also include the file/directory hierarchy. Nothing different here than any other email client, but I'd like to bridge the gap between meta-data and tags. Make them the same, and searchable at the same time.
- Suggested tags: based (mainly) on metadata, the client will auto suggest user created tags for inbound emails. Example- the mail client determines that every email you get from email@example.com was tagged with “Q3 progress report” or something, so it will suggest it for easy pickings to tag. It’s user defined tags still. Also, some kind of compare is done to check for duplicates, similar tags etc (like "tagging" vs. "tags"...see next item). Other ways to generate suggestions: subject of email, sender, attachment types... etc. Even the suggested tags should be easily editable though.
- Easy user created tags: highlight a word or phrase, right click, tag. As you tag it, it compares to existing for similar tags to resolve differences (typos, similar phrases… think Amazon: “Other emails were tagged with…” with similar tags to pick from) . This would be in addition to the conventional method of a comma (whatever) separated list of user tags. For me though, if I could just click on some keywords from the email and set them as tags, that would make the tagging process that much easier/likely.
So, the end result, Is you have some middle ground. The no-taggers should get some for free via metadata, the “on the fencers/both campers” like me would be able to quickly get ahold of some good tags and easily generate them from the source email. Mad-taggers have their traditional interface AND the easy generation tools to further help out.
Searching for tags
Meta-data and tags should be findable via the same interface, traditional directory structure is also still around for “those people” You should be able to select multiple tags from the tag cloud (choose many).
By default, you should be able to search user created tags, but VERY easily (ie- in the same interface/dialog) you should be able to search the meta data. I’d like real-time pruning of your email lists as you select (or type) tags. It will also search through the metadata as well… so a search for “dad” will search the tag cloud for a “dad” tag while looking for dad in the address book/From meta-data. Search of “yesterday” would search the metadata for the right date, all from the SAME text input.
This whole idea is very similar to Opera’s "Quick find"- in fact, the best analogy of this search that I’m proposing is Quick find that incorporates tags and lets you click to choose one (or more) folders.
You have a tag manager that will let you drag tags “into” other tags. Two types of drag though- nested tags for the early mentioned file structure types to still represent data in a hierarchy instead of tag cloud. For taggers, it shouldn’t really matter what order your email is in, but some people prefer it to be structured like that, so this might be able to solve both brains. This is essentially turning the meta-data of the directory structure into tags (parent directory is just a tag that is applied to all the other subdirectories)
The other type of drag, is more for editing purposes. You should also be able to merge them so your user created tag: “email from mom” can get merged with “emails from mom” (there’s an ‘s’ in this tag) and the emails all fall in line (this is from my own experience with typo’d tags that are cumbersome to recover). In conjunction with the “suggested tag” feature described earlier, it would reduce the false positives that I run into with tags (different spellings of words, different order of phrases etc..)
That's it for now... more coming on email in the future.
*I have a big Word document that has drafts on my thoughts on all this- it's pretty much always changing, and too big and varied (and probably contradictory in places) to post as one topic.