The Current Solution: Previous Emails
One of the features I love the most in all versions of AIB is “Previous Emails”, where when you click to reply, you can browse all recent discussions with the person you’re talking too.
It helps you write more complete replies, and retrieve any specific information (e.g. things they’ve confirmed, or things you’ve said you’ll do) without forcing you to stop replying and do a search.
Conceptually, it’s very rare that any given conversation you look at is completely alone. It follows other conversations with that person, and is related to other conversations in that project.
But your email archive (and maybe your inbox) is a huge jumble of disorganized emails… purely because they’re only really sorted by time. You could imagine them as a swarm and swirl of objects around the large nucleus/core that is Gmail; or like the collection of objects that washes up on the beach. And while individual objects might be connected in some way, you can’t see those connections without a lot of effort.
I don’t think Previous Emails should go away – it’s far too useful – but we can do more.
The ‘Related’ Button in Conversations
I often look at a conversation and think “there’s more to this, but I can’t remember what”. Then I have to leave the conversation and do a search (or sometimes click Reply just to see ‘Previous Emails’). It would be very cool to have a “Related” button on the HAB, that pops up a box where I can instantly see search results for the contact(s), project, or any other labels on the conversation. And, either see the results individually (the default), or combine them (e.g. results that include only the contact AND the project).
Linking Emails Together
There are varying levels of relationship between conversations. They can be loosely connected: very loosely by project, or a little more tightly by contact.
Or they can be about the same issue: e.g. a conversation that discusses something, and then a second conversation a contact starts when they send you the files related to the first conversation. In Gmail, these are two threads, but in reality, they are the same thing.
I think it would be helpful to be able to ‘link’ conversations together, so whenever you view one conversation, you can instantly see the other conversations.
I’m not entirely sure how this will work yet. Perhaps when you view ‘Related’ items (or do a free search), you can click a ‘chain’ icon to attach the search-result-email to the currently viewed email?
If you had to prioritize one over the other (a Related button or the ability to Link emails), which would be more useful? And how would each fit into your daily workflow?
Or perhaps you think neither are useful, and Previous Emails are sufficient (and I should concentrate elsewhere!)?
Update 16th March 2011
I’ve just dealt with an email from a chap who has changed his email address everytime we have spoken. So, things like ‘Previous Emails’ doesn’t work, because ActiveInbox cannot get a handle on who he is.
It struck me that an alternative to explicitly linking emails would be to give ‘Related Search’ a custom search string for just the current conversation.
So, in this conversation with Bob (firstname.lastname@example.org), I might have a custom search in the Related Viewer for all emails from “email@example.com OR firstname.lastname@example.org OR email@example.com”.
Thinking even bigger, I guess it’s not dissimilar to having the ability to enter any webpage in the “Related Viewer” (e.g. a Basecamp project search, or a wiki search), for information that is associated with the conversation.
Does this match how anyone else would work?
This was written by Andy Mitchell