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The social network wars are over. The winner: email!

Mike Elgan | June 3, 2013
Rampant innovation in email has transformed it into the best social network on the Internet.

What's really interesting to me is that email has recently become an exciting category. No, really!

What is email, anyway?
Email is really two things. First, it's an Internet-based messaging format standard. That's the part of email that makes it universal and therefore indispensable.

But email is also a software and cloud application category. And that's where the excitement is happening.

Recent innovations in user interface design and improvements in sorting algorithms have massively improved the experience of using email.

More to the point, software design has caught up with the reality of what people are really doing with email. Primarily, people are doing social networking, as in networking socially or professionally with the people they know. They're doing this email-to-email and also email-to-social-network.

Second, people are subscribing to and reading online publications, maintaining to-do lists, getting calendar and other notifications and a gazillion other things.

The new world of intelligent email
Google this week started rolling out an optional Gmail redesign that auto-sorts messages into tabbed categories, such as "Primary" (real people), "Social" (social networking messages), "Promotions" (commercial content you signed up for), "Updates" (alerts and notifications from various services) and "Forums" (updates from online message boards). You can take or leave any of these tabs. Gmail will auto-sort your email, but you can also use filters to make email with certain criteria go into certain tabs or simply "train it" by dragging and dropping emails into the tabs in which you want future such emails to go.

This is a really handy update because instead of treating all incoming mail as either spam or not spam, it divides email into six categories, which better reflects the reality of email.

Microsoft recently shut down its Hotmail service and moved everybody over to Outlook.com, the cloud version of its Outlook email application.

Like Gmail, Outlook.com is increasingly good at integrating other services, bringing in Skype video calls and chats, including chats with Google users, as well as SkyDrive support, which is Microsoft's cloud storage service. It also enables users to have their contacts automatically updated from multiple social networks.

Another cool trend is the way mobile interface designs are improving. A Dropbox app called Mailbox recently became a darling of the iPhone crowd. It hooks into your Gmail account and provides a fantastic, touch-native interface. Swiping a message all the way to the right deletes it, swiping part way to the right archives it, and swiping it to the left brings up a screen of options for making the message go away temporarily, from "later today" to "tomorrow" to "someday" and several others.

Mailbox is really simple and that's the point. All mobile email should work like that.

 

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