Next Generation Mail : Toward a Personal Social CRM

I made a presentation “Next Generation Mail : Toward a Personal Social CRM” at NextMail’11, the First International Workshop on Next Trends in Mail (August 22, 2011- Lyon, France) – In conjunction with the 2011 IEEE / WIC / ACM International Conferences on WEB INTELLIGENCEand INTELLIGENT AGENT TECHNOLOGY.

The original article is Downloadable and the slides are on slideshare (and the photos on the NextMail’11 site).

This is the speech text related to the slides :



What is presented here is from a practitioner point of view with a focus on email usages.

QuestionableMail, a startup project to implement some of concepts described here has been launched.  There are many questions your email can give you answer, so make it Questionable ! (it is just a project code because it is not fully satisfying on a marketing point of view and the final name could be different).


Mail vs Social Network

The background of the topic is the confrontation and the rechallenging between email and social network in term of audience and functionalities.

I will not enter into this debate in details but (if you miss) :

– Email is not dead.

– Email will be not replaced by Social Network.

– Email & Social Network are very similar in their basics (and it is very interesting to compare them in term of messages flow).



My conclusions on Email are the following :

– There is an implicit social network in your email :

– You have in your email a large set of statistical and semantic data as you can find on social network (including relationship network, frequency of contacts, actions, events,etc…).

– Flow overload / Flow filtering : it is the same problem for Email and Social Network :

– The flow overload is not resolved by social network (supposed to be focus only on “prequalified” contacts and better filtered). At the contrary, flow volume increases and the same flow overload phenomenon happens. In social network, flow filtering even becomes a whole new field of applications such as TweetDeck, HootSuite, Seesmic,…

– Attention is not the point :

– The ultimate goal to manage email overload seems to replicate an electronic executive assistant who help you to manage your attention : read this, answer this, do this (such as in the DARPA’s Calo Project – see also PAL : Personal Assistant that Learn). My opinion is that approach is not the good one because of two main problems :

1– High level « Assistant » vs Low level « Messages Flow » :

You cannot use the low level “messages flow” to produce a high level equivalent of an “executive assistant”. A real embodied executive assistant is a very sophisticated and very complex process with a high level of social insight and business knowledge. The two levels are too far each from another. You have to build an intermediary level with human in the middle (with such concvepts as “relationship”).

2 – Not priorized elements

At the contrary of what is often said, in email, we do not only manage high priority messages or subjects. We have also to process non priority messages or subjects. For example when I was in a big corporation, I had to perform yearly or quarterly compulsory trainings such as « ethical code of conduct » and yearly personal assessment. I received a bunch of emails about. All these messages were absolutely not priority (not client or project related). They were self-recalled so I do not have to follow them. But, at a time, I had to treat them. In email you have your classic inbox for day to day, “Getting Things Done” processing messages flow but you do not have another inbox on side for weekly, monthly or quaterly non priority messages flow.

– A CRM approach

Basically, my vision to build the next generation email is that we have to add on top of the classic chronological messages flow, new refined and consolidated views matching more high level users way of thinking (relationship, topics, activities).

This approach is the same used by CRM (Customer Relation Management). In CRM you track and register all elementary interactions flow with client. But after, you do not limit you to a single views of the chronological list of all clients interactions ! You have multiples views of consolidated and reprocessed data to manage all aspects of clients.

The email messages flow, shown in the classic inbox, do not need to be priorized. It needs to be split and specialized into “specialized inboxes” (views).

This approach is a kind of Personal CRM.

There are 3 keys points :

1– From Messages to Contacts :

We are absolutely not interested by messages. We are interested by messages in the context of a relationship with a contact. We need to replace messages in the conversation. The “thread” functionality, Xobni and Gmail people widget are in this way. But I am surprised that a simple mechanism such as capture and track all inbound contact is not generalized in email client (as Kwaga does it withWriteThatName).

2– Relationship Management :

We are too focus on inboud messages, as shown in the classic inbox, whereas we have to consider the whole relationship. And in the same relationship, we have inbound but also outbound messages.

So we have to consider (and manage) also outbound messages especially those we send and the wait for a response.

We have also to consider outbound messages in a proactive way : not only messages waiting a reply but also message we should have to send and we do not send. Gmail does it with its “consider including” functionnality. But it is limited to mail we are writing and not to contact we should have to communicate in order to manage arelationship. In this domain, my favorite question is “Who are the list of contact Ishould send best wishes ?”

3– Delegation

I will develop the concept of delegation further. Email has a social dimension but not a “share all” in a “fire and forget” way and rather how to share a restricted set of information into enterprise or small group.

I believe this evolution I have described is already on the way to be developed into existing email usage and innovations and I will give you some illustrations of this.


Messages Flow

Considering messages flow from email and social network, they are not very different. The first is more focus on message and the scond on contact but their processing is similar.


Re-processed Messages Flow

What is interesting, in the social network messages flow (we consider facebook) is messages flow is reprocessed based on semantic and historical data to improve its relevance. Facebook use a “priority algorithm” called EdgeRank. You can also choose your views on the flow (between “Most Recent” and “Top News”) and use a filtering applications, such as Tweetdeck or Seesmic, to apply queries to your flow and generate multiple specialized views. Some (geek) people even have a dedicated second screen to watch all the day their social network flow filtered on different rules.

Specialized views of Messages Flow (1)

In email, you can find also this kind of “filtering specialized views” with Gmail Priority Inbox, Gmail People Widget and Xobni (not an exhaustive list !).

– Gmail Priority inbox shows a subset of your messages flow with a priorization algorithm I imagine to be based on similar parameters used by the EdgeRank.

– Priority inbox is not a replacement inbox, it is a specialized view of your inbox.

– Priority inbox is not 100% reliable. So, you cannot use it as a main inbox because you can miss something obviously important in classic chronological messages list and sometime you have irrelevant items. You always need to go through your regular inbox in a 2 phases processing.

– People widget, and Xobni are displayed on a pane on side of the main inbox and show additional informations about contacts involved in the exchange (list of last emails exchanged, other contacts involved in conversations, attachements send, Linkedin profile, Twitter feeds, etc…).They are complementary specialized views and do not replace the standard inbox view. They give you all the context of the relationship, a kind of explicit EdgeRank. Because relationship actions are not automatically priorized at the contrary of the messages in the messages flow, this view only gives information and actions are only driven by human analysis and appreciation.

Specialized views of Messages Flow (2)

– More and more we have multiple different “client” inboxes for each of our messaging account (and we can have multiple messaging accounts too). These different inboxes can be considered as “specialized views” of our messages flow. For example, we can have :

– A working inbox (traditional local mail client with advanced functionalities)

– A mobile inbox

– A replicated messages flow on a cloud based email

– We usually consider all these inboxes as the same view of the same inbox but with specialized “client” or “devices”.

– In fact, it is not. They rather “specialize your attention”. And we don’t perform the same processing on each of these inboxes :

– Local inbox is for advanced daily processing

– Mobile inbox is for quick & short response

– Cloud inbox is for storage, retrieval and post processing.


Even worse

In fact, for an attention based priorization approach, it is even worse because there are other additional dimensions of diversity in email processing.

These dimensions of diversity are :

– Multiples « behaviours processing » :

« Behaviour processing » is the way you process your inbox. I consider there are 3 maturity levels :

– Clean desk policy : delete all message processed , keep your inbox clear of all message.

– Folder / Tag policy : Move message into folder when processed or tag it or mark it as done.

GTD & forget policy : “Getting Things Done” (most used methodology to manage a flow of tasks), forget emails non priorized & non processed, use search to manage specific topic/task (kind of “retrieval view”)

I have the example of a power user who uses a “clean desk policy” on his working mail and retrieves, catches back and reprocesses messages if necessary on his storage repository mail (the 2 inboxes are local client on different software).

– Multiple views :

I have mentioned the weekly / monthly / quaterly view of the inbox (could be based on a mix of frequency + source + additional key word), but many other “specialized views” based on specific user needs could be listed such as :

– Thread Follow up : ( a mix of inbox / outbox + not responded send message)

– Activity Report : (digest of my communication activity based on people + company contacted)

– Relationship : status of the relationship of people I am in contact with (mix of contacts sort by frequency)

– Etc….

– Multiple roles :

You should have different sets of views for each user role such as sale representative, biz development, project manager, CEO, marketing guy, technical support, etc…

You will obtain multiple “attention parterns” and a single attention based priorization approach seems difficult to achieve.


Personal CRM

To sum up the Personal CRM approach for email :

– Keep the messages flow in the classic chronological inbox

– Add specialized views

– Customize set of specialized views by role

It is the same approach as CRM. All transactions must be captured and categorized and after exploited into specialized analytics views :

– Every single message must be categorized in database : contact, frequency, thread, related contacts, etc…

– In a CRM, there is no lost clients, even bad clients are categorized and processed. It must be the same for message.

– What is important is not only client record but client record + client history and all related element. It must be the same for message.

– Contact and conversation and more important than message as in CRM : we manage client relationship and not client.

– Email processing must be specialized as in CRM : we do not process high value client as standard client, mass market client as business client. So do not process claim message like marketing message or hierachical message.

– Everybody do not use the system the same way : as in CRM, where there are so many CRM


Personal Social CRM

(Once again) Social is not the real point in email.

The focus must be Kept on relationship management and we have just to consider how people interact collectively to share information.

– “Open space” “Coffee machine” “Monday meeting” direct contact & human self management are the usual norm.

– « Put them all into the CRM » : When I was in a big company we had a Sales Force Automation tools and we had sometime “Siebel curation campaign” to clean and update contacts database. But it is not the good way to work.

– We have the same with Marketing organizing events or sending commercial letters « Give me contact » and after « Invite your contacts”

In my mind, the first level of “social” in email is to transfer and get back informations from and into the email to other Enterprise Processes and Systems, such as marketing mailing list management & CRM.

– Sharing contacts among a small group of homogeneous users could be a next social level for email (for example a group of sales representatives).

– You will continue to process your personal messages flow by yourself but you will give delegation of processing to Enterprise Process.

– You will “send” and  “have a return” of your contacts from Enterprise Process in order to update with your email  « personal CRM » database.

– The “views” to send contacts and messages is a kind of “social specialized inbox”

– And if you can enlarge the base of « mail/social network » you can mine it, even with reduced and delegated element it’s far more better because you could use all the force of « weak relation » of Granothever (informations are very near from you. Contacts from your inbox or from and extended view of your inbox have the information very near from you).

– Email is a high privacy topic. You cannot share your email without control mechanism. I believe that the solution is shown by Facebook with delegation mechanism such as those used with facebook applications.


Questions & contact

Do not hesitate to contact me if you want to continue the debate or consider any collaboration at (project name have been changed from QuestionableMail to ActivityInbox)

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