With Google introducing Inbox as its latest attempt to revolutionize email, there’s a feature I’ve been waiting for. I don’t really care whether it’s Gmail or Inbox that implements it, but perhaps the biggest thing that Google should borrow from social media like FB and Twitter is the ability to tag people in emails.
In the same way that people started using @username on Twitter without it being built into the system, which led to Twitter putting it into software, I’d love some kind of gracefully downgrading way of tagging a friend in an email.
For example I’m often involved in long email threads and for a day or two I might not be super relevant to the discussion, but then someone might ask “Byron, do you think that would work?” and I might have stopped reading the thread temporarily. So it would be great to have the ability to tag me when you write “Byron.” And it could downgrade gracefully by just creating a mailto: link to my email address.
Gmail/Inbox could make the initial tagging work just like on FB/Google+, where you start typing a person’s name, and it tries to guess that you mean to tag someone. And then Gmail/Inbox could scan incoming email for situations where you’ve been tagged, and show some kind of notification. It could also evaluate your “friendship” and for example ignore tags from people who aren’t G+ friends or in your contact list.
It could have a notification icon like Google+ and FB and Twitter all have, where you click on a link and it send you to the precise part of the conversation where you’re mentioned.
I suspect there are a few reasons why we haven’t seen this yet. For one thing, whereas Facebook is trying to replace email completely, Google is trying to make email play nice with its other social media ideas. It’s interesting to note how afraid everyone is of breaking email. The web standards and browsers keep evolving, and we’re seeing new email client tweaks, but changes to email itself–such as the SMTP protocol–happen much more slowly. Even the HTML used in email is stuck in the dark ages.
But tagging is a great way to layer the kind of functionality people expect from modern social media onto the existing email system, without breaking anything.