What will web-based email evolve into by 2020?

Email  marketing forms an essential component of digital marketing strategy. Email was one of the first Internet based applications used by people to communicate, collaborate, interact and send and receive documents. Although email as an application has evolved at the business as well as the personal level, the purpose of using email has largely remained the same. But it wouldn’t be safe to assume that our expectation from email applications will remain the same. In fact in future, we will use our email accounts for a large number of activities ranging from basic communication and sending documents to storing information, sharing and bookmarking to even social networking.

A recent Comscore report, “ The Comscore 2010 US Digital Year in Review”, says that the usage of web based email has declined in the recent times. For details, you may download the report, but overall it says that usage of web based email in people of ages below 55 years in US has declined, although the elderly seem to be using email more and more.

It is naturally convincing that with the advent of social networking applications, chat applications, Skype, web messengers, web communication technologies on smart-phones such as Blackberry Messenger, voice chatting and a gamut of other apps, no-one seems to have the patience to open email application and compose text mails, unless there is a specific purpose. So, if the emails seem to be loosing their clout when it comes to instant communication, email systems should evolve to perform “more tasks” and offer richer experiences to users.

Let’s take a look at what these “more tasks” entail in future, say by the year 2020. The futurist web based email/workstation app should be allow the following.

Communication – It should enable users to send; rich html format emails, instant messages / pings / chat, bulk emails, voice calls, conference calls etc.

Collaboration – It should provide or facilitate document creation (word, spreadsheet, presentation etc.), sharing and ability to work on the same document from multiple email accounts, just like a Wetpaint Wiki or Google Docs.

Organization – It should be able to provide all scheduling applications such as calendar, meetings, reminders, events etc. It should allow users to build a web based address book, just like a rolodex but a digital one, that can be imported /exported with a click to other email applications or smart phones or tablets or even merely an excel sheet. Users should be able to take notes and make task lists.

Reading – The email account should have a rich and user friendly reader application that can import RSS feeds, Tweet, other updates etc that support rich media display. There is a lot of clutter on the web and RSS has been a boon to people who wish to be updated with content of their interest. Many web based reader applications are available but they are not necessarily inside the mail box.

Publishing – Reading is surely is good habit, so is publishing. Creating content is natural to a digital citizen as consuming it. Next thing the email/workstation application should have is publishing capabilities. Users should be able to post blogs, tweets, updates, statuses using this application. Of course, the content has to be hosted on suitable platforms but the app should make it very easy to post the content to all these platforms. This will simplify things for the users. Once the accounts are integrated with the app, users can save themselves from logging in to all of them separately and updating content and be able to post from one single platform. I know two such apps. Posterous lets users blog using an email and OhLife lets users post personal diaries by merely replying to an email.

Networking – This will be an essential part of the game. This appeals to the innermost needs of a social human being and this need is wired into our brain from time immemorial. This app should be able to let users form groups, organise around ideas, build networks, communicate in bulk, organize in companies, support social causes etc. This will be the strength of the application. As mentioned above, if the app also supports integration with Twitter, Facebook, Orkut and YouTube, this feature will gain a new dimension. Social bookmarking should be really easy using such an application. It should save bookmarks and favourited web pages at one place and they should be sharable with the network.

Data storage and sharing – Here comes the meat. The application should allow users to store data such as documents, files, pdfs, e-books, music, movies, pictures, presentations  etc. Sure, they can be made sharable using permissions and privacy settings. Let me go a step further here. I would like this to have my health records integrated with an app. Say if I have a Microsoft HealthVault account, I would like all the data to be available in this app. Imagine all your personal data at one place, on the cloud which can be accessed from wherever you want. Such a facility is worth having.

Creative capabilities – We all want things to look good. Good looking things appeal to us. Perhaps that is why the tag-line of Microsoft Internet Explorer 9 is “Explore a more beautiful web”. The application should allow creation of some creative stuff, such as figures, smiles, images, logos etc. Further, it should also allow users to create beautiful looking html email templates, without having to know coding, just as we can make good looking websites without having to know much of coding.

Ok, so I am done with the basic facilities. Lets ask for some advanced facilities.

Ad display customization – All leading email providers serve display or text ads inside the mail box. That is how they seem to make money. Users should have two choices, first whether to see ads or not and secondly, which ads should be seen. In short, the email app should allow for ad display customization.

Widget – The email app should allow for purchasing of business widgets. I would be nice to have widgets providing information about stock markets, sports updates, weather, news, event information, restaurants, flight tickets, maps, directions, location information etc.

Synchronization across platforms – If a user will invest so much time in recording his life inside a single app, he would like to use it everywhere. So this app should be compatible across all smart devices, tables, browsers, smart phones, blackberry and all those which will be invented in future.

Security – Needless to say this is one of the most important. Having so many things at one place and having them without security will be a bad idea. The app should have a great security system. It should be able to scan everything for viruses, malware, spyware, spam etc.

Some or more of the above mentioned services are already being offered by various email application such as Gmail, Hotmail,Yahoo!, Rediffmail etc. But the point being made here is that in future, all these will be available in all web based email applications, for free. May be, “free” is not a good demand, since developing such an application will take time, cloud capacity, programming and hosting resources, computing power etc. But if such a thing exists, I would be willing to pay for it.

It seems that I am asking for too much, but hey, that is how technology evolves. If there were an application that does all the above, it would be unfair to call it an email application. I think this looks more like a “workstation” application that can be used for all sorts of tasks. So what would you name such an app?

Since I just presented the prototype of such an app, let me give it a name. I would call it a “Dimen5” app. Dimen5? Of course…the fifth dimension!

Has any company conceived anything like this?

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