A Canvas for Thought

June 8, 2007

Smart-tagging email

Filed under: ideas — vednis @ 12:48 pm

Here is a random idea: why can’t my email program, using Bayesian filtering and hints from me, make a reasonable guess as to an inbound email’s subject? For any topic in my inbox, not just Spam? Why can’t it pre-assign some tags for me based on it’s guesses?

The UI concept: the user is presented with a bar full of text tags along the top of the email message pane. Middle-clicking on a tag removes it, making it fast and easy to remove bad guesses. Right-clicking on a tag opens a menu containing sub-category tags: this makes it easy to refine the message category.

The user can also add tags by highlighting a word in the message, right-clicking on it, and navigating a hierarchy of tags based on our common “root” categories (similar to our top-level folders, or email labels). The user navigates the tag hierarchy to an appropriate sub-category, and adds the selected text as a new tag in said category. Call this ‘explicit tagging’.

Alternatively, right-clicking on a word, and navigating to an existing tag provides that word as a hint for the filtering system. Call this ‘implicit tagging’.

Every time a tag is added or removed the filtering software takes that as a hint for future mail processing, helping it to guess better next time.

As far as I can tell this goes beyond the Filter/Label/Folder model of email used by 99% of the mail clients out there, and brings in fast and easy way to add, remove, and change context-sensitive message meta-data. What’s more, the system learns as you go, taking grunt work out of your hands.

In a way it is a real shame that Gmail is becoming the personal nerve center for interacting with the web. This would be *extremely difficult* to build into Gmail, because, with Gmail, you don’t own your data!. A Mozilla Thunderbird or Outlook plugin, on the other hand….

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