Email/Calendar : Missing features

Continuing my “broken” series of things that everyone uses but no one fixes. Many of these missing features are email and calendar integration.

Email. Much maligned. These are the key “broken”/ missing features. For some reason, not one major email provider nor any mail program ( that I know of ) has provided these missing features. Without these features, email is “broken”.

This list is in ranked preference.

  1. Easy calendar linking
  2. Deadline handling
  3. Delayed processing
  4. Notes
  5. Emphasis
  6. Quote management
  7. Cross linking
  8. Task integration
  9. Countdown

Easy calendar linking

Gmail makes a half-ass attempt at this but it has never worked for me.

Furthermore it looks like Gmail is only expecting 1 event per message. Most email newsletters have multiple events announced.

Properly done, this feature would allow users to select from the email body:

  • date/time information
  • location information
  • registration urls
  • deadline (early bird for example)

A floating, AJAX-y div that would allow users to select each bit of information separately until all needed information has been submitted.

Furthermore, the user should be able to create multiple events from a single email.

All created events are linked to the original email.

Deadline handling

This would support GTD methodology. An email comes in referencing an event (see above) or a request (“I need the financials by Thursday for the Friday morning C-level meeting” ). The recipient does not want to act on this request right away but they certainly don’t want to forget either.

Deadline handling makes sure the deadline is not forgotten and the email is removed (optionally) from the visible inbox( Inbox is distracting, “did I open this email .. oh yeah I did”).

With deadline handling, the user selects a series of dates that would trigger reminder notes to the user as the deadline approaches. The user also may create a task that indicates how much time the task will take. The deadline reminders would be increasingly color-coded based on how much time remains from the end of the task to the calendar item (“green”, “yellow”, “red” ).

Using the request example,

I need the financials by Thursday for the Friday morning C-level meeting

The user would create a deadline for Thursday 5pm. The task will take 2 hours and the user wants alarms on Thursday. The “red” alarm would be at 3pm on Thursday ( because the financials take 2 hours and must be done by 5pm ).

The email would then be archived so it is not there to distract the user. And the user will not accidentally forget the request because it got buried in the inbox.

Since one email may contain multiple requests, this feature would need to support multiple requests.

Delayed processing

This extends deadline processing to some degree, but is used more for the “softer” deadlines. Many messages have an implicit “sell-by” date. For example, emails about organizing or announcing an event. Once the event has happened, the back-and-forth messages can be deleted/archived. But until the event happens the messages should not be touched.

This allows easy handling of messages where the user doesn’t want to instantly delete the message but wants the message gone after a delay.

This feature would be immensely valuable to me personally. My inbox is cluttered with email chains planning events in 2004. Being able to attach a self-destruct would clean over 50% of my email.

[enhancement: if I don’t open this email again in the next 30 days, delete it – kind of like spam processing for non-spam messages.]

Notes

What it says. I want to be able to attach a private note to an email. If I forward or reply to the email, the note is not included.

Some use cases: The email results in a phone conversation or chat. I want to be able to attach the phone notes or chat log to the email.

Why is this missing???

Emphasis

A big email, with lots of “stuff” that is not important. But one set of information that I do care about. I want to be able to select that text for special emphasis. Conversely, I want to selectively diminish other parts of the email.

This would allow the important data to easily be re-found and for unimportant parts to be collapse from view.

Quote management

In a long email back and forth, I want to be able to collapse levels of the quoted previous messages in the thread.

Cross linking

2+ emails are related (for me) I want to connect two messages with no obvious connection. These messages are not in the same email thread and have no obvious computable connection. Different senders, different email threads but the content happens to be related.

Task integration

A bunch of messages are all related to a certain task. Allow the user to connect those emails to a task. When the task is completed, the messages are archived (or deleted). Since a single email may relate to multiple tasks, the email is only deleted/archived when all the tasks have been completed.

The text corresponding to completed tasks is “deemphasized” ( see “Emphasis” missing feature )

Countdown

Reminders are transitory alarms. For some reminders, a countdown clock to the event is better. This avoids the need to set multiple reminder alarms. This wouldn’t work for SMS reminders but would work if it was part of the calendar / email display.

Update 9 March 2011:

Automatic labeling with contact’s group

If the email is from a contact in my contacts, the groups the contact is in should be applied automatically to the email. This would save endless filter creation.

Enable email navigation by date

Instead of having to go back manually, Gmail should enable a user to select a date or date range. Similarly, the “older”/”newer” links should be replaced with a series of date based links:

  1. More from today
  2. Yesterday
  3. Then last 7 days by day name (i.e. “Thursday”, “Wednesday”, etc. )
  4. Last week
  5. Last 4 weeks by date range
  6. Previous months by month name
  7. Previous years by year number

(oh and the first 3 suggestions have been sent to Google Labs suggestion group )

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