Last week I had about 5890 unread emails in my personal Inbox. I spent a couple of hours and managed to shave off about 2500 of those emails. In the week since then I got approximately around 1000 new emails more, and now my Inbox count stands at a grand 3649 emails.
Mind you, I don’t get lot of spam, but most of these unread emails in my Inbox are months old and in most of the instances have been sent to me more than a year ago. Now you would say that I am a lazy boy, but I am not. I use several devices to read my email and some of them support POP and some support IMAP. While most of the emails I read these days are through IMAP (which is synced with the server), my read emails are also marked as read in Gmail.
But what about those emails which are lying around unread for months and years. Some of them may not even be useful to me anymore. Some of them may just be marketing emails which have already expired. So aren’t those emails useless, shouldn’t they just go away?
Well they don’t do it right now, but a new proposal by Joshua Baer, CEO of the e-mail company OtherInBox makes a lot of sense to me. He is pitching for a standard which will allow emails to auto-expire on it’s own without the user having to delete it.
Well, before you raise your eyebrows, let me explain this feature in a little more detail with some examples from Joshua himself. Let’s say a shopping newsletter you have subscribed to sends you an email with offers that are valid from February 26, 2011 – February 28, 2011 – Now you as a user forgot to check that email and those emails remain in your Inbox forever without any use. The offers have expired and you definitely will not be able to get those no matter whether or not you check it later than those dates. So wouldn’t it be good if those emails just disappeared from your Inbox altogether?
Well this is just a use-case example where emails would know till when they are relevant and then automatically delete itself? Yes it would, and it would be more than useful to so many users.
However, implementing this would not be easy. First of all it would have to become a standard which is implemented by all the current email providers for it to make a significant impact. Secondly, there might be a lot of problems which will be associated with features like these. Let me elaborate about them in brief:
- It would be a severe overhead for email providers to expire emails, they would basically have to run checks every minute on all of your Inbox to find out when emails expire. Unless the Email standards are changed to incorporate a new database structure to quickly query all the existing emails this will not be implemented across the board. This may require modifications to the POP, IMAP, Exchange and other custom protocols in use today.
- Email providers just can’t delete emails without user consent. If they start doing this they would be in a lot of trouble.
- You will get lot of spam/hate emails which expire in 15 minutes or so, and if these emails are deleted without consent it could cause a lot of trouble.
Well, these are the few things that pop up in my mind right now, but I do believe that there would be several other things which could cause problems once this is implemented.
However, I also do have some suggestions on how this could be used with user consent and also on just specific emails. Here are my thoughts:
- Extend the filtering feature in emails to provide an option to expire emails from certain email addresses or “keywords” after a while. This could be done outright or when the email contains the proposed expire headers
- Add small UI changes to show when an email is expiring so that people can act on them.
- Allow users to browse expiring emails through an internal folder which populates such kind of emails.
Some of these features are very easy to implement and won’t take much time. I am really looking forward to the expiring emails feature becoming a reality and will be more than happy to test it out.
Do you think that such a feature would increase your productivity? Do you have any other great ideas that could change the way we use emails? Do feel free to let me know your thoughts.