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Project Inbox ZERO – Who wants to join?

January 10, 2011

Email used to be fun. Sometimes I got an email, I responded to it and all was good. Now I get 100 emails a day and spent way too much time dealing with the dreaded email. At the same time email clients have hardly changed in the last 20 years. We now have HTML emails (unfortunately) and threading (thanks gmail!). But that’s about it. It’s time to reinvent this tool to bring it into this day and age. This is the goal of Project Inbox ZERO.

Imagine an inbox that isn’t cluttered with facebook notifications and newsletters, but only has “real” emails and the other messages are converted into what they actually are: notifications and newsletters. Do you ever find yourself scrolling back through emails trying to find someones phone number? What if your email client was smart enough to automatically collect and organize this information from your emails? How nice would it be if you had all relevant information at your fingertips when you received an email from someone: Some photos, their latest twitter updates, what social sites they are on and whether you have connected yet.

Are reply and forward really the only 2 things we do with emails? What about things like: “Turn into todo item”, “Snooze”, “Enter this invoice into my accounting system”, “Send a canned response”, “This email is way too long, please summerize”, etc, etc

Personally I believe email clients are still stuck in the 80’s and it’s time to build an email client for this day and age. Let’s make email fun again! I’ve started development and I’m looking for co-founders that are as excited about this as I am to join Project Inbox ZERO. Interested? You should contact me now!

Sign up for the beta here!


From → ZEROmail

  1. Interesting problem domain, i have probably 30k undread emails in my personal inbox and 1k in work

    Definitely like the idea of a snooze button!

    Some interesting innovation in this space to get some ideas from

    Best of luck!

    • Yeah, but when you think about how many of those email are actually emails and how many are what I call “notification over email” or “newsletter over email”, etc… when you filter that stuff out and do something smart with it, things become more manageable…

      Haven’t seen SaneBox yet… having a look now. Looks like it’s similar to OtherInbox… still a bit of a hack onto the same old email client. The ideas we have go way beyond just shuffling emails around πŸ™‚

      • SaneBox with Google Apps seems pretty good but to be fair it was a novelty then i stopped using it.

        OtherInbox was annoying and i quit.

        Xobni email analytics is interesting for companies, so am prepared to pay for them.

        I would be interested to see if you could build a kick ass new web ui email client, which could work via IMAP so i would be sure that all the messages i used in your client would be safely saved in my company mail in case i ever needed to change.

        Also Mobile is interesting in this area… iPhone email client is pretty bad from what i can tell, my BlackBerry email client is good (thats about the only thing blackberry excels at)

  2. See Google’s priority inbox:

    Are you attempting to re-implement this?

    • Hi Graham,

      Thanks! Yes, I’ve seen the priority inbox. It’s a nice feature, but we plan to go way beyond this. When you have a good look at your non-spam email these days you’ll realize that most of those emails aren’t actually emails in the traditional sense, yet the clients we use try to treat them this way.

      One of the things we are implementing is converting all notification emails into notifiactions and showing them like Facebook notifiactions are shown when you click on the little earth icon. A quick glance over this notification section replaces dealing with a dozen emails.

      Many solutions at the moment filter this stuff out and/or move it to other folders effectively moving the problem, but then you could also just not get these. But these aren’t spam or unwanted emails. A priority inbox is nice, but it still leaves you with your normal inbox overflowing.

  3. Daniel permalink

    Interesting idea. I’ve always fancied a tool that simply screens all your e-mail, allows all genuine e-mails through and compiles everything else into a periodic digest. The digest (depending on settings) would allow you daily or weekly to go through it similarly to NutshellMail except all newsletters and reminders would also be included.

  4. @Nick: Yeah, that’s roughly how we see it work. Web UI client using IMAP so it can be used with any account that supports IMAP including GMail. We’re not trying to reinvent email, just the client πŸ™‚

  5. Dom permalink

    Love to hear about new ideas and start-ups, so good luck no matter what happens.

    Are you building a platform, just a standalone client, new email hosting specifically for a new client, or just a tool that integrates with existing tools (similar to XOBNI)?

    My 2cents, off the top of my head:

    * People are resistant to change, you might find it hard to get people to move away from their current email services.
    * You should have a look at the lessons that came out of Google Wave (so called ’email’ killer)
    * Depending on how you implement your solution, you will need to make it seamless for people to migrate from other services (automatic sync or import tools). Needs to be quick and efficient. People rely on email as a lifeline, and won’t want any downtime.

    Good luck guys!

    • Thanks for your feedback!

      The first version will be a Web email client that uses IMAP so it can be used with your existing email address (such as GMail or your company account). So you can go back anytime if you don’t like it and you don’t have to change your email address. You can actually use both at the same time.

      – We need to make sure that the benefits outway the resistance to change πŸ™‚ This idea is the result of a problem I personally have and I can’t wait till we built it…
      – Wave, yes… that tried to replace email, we’ll try to replace the email client… should be a little easier
      – Super easy to use: totally agree!

  6. Just did a little test… the last 446 non-spam emails (I currently filter spam manually, so there were no false positives) that I received were:

    428 automated emails of which:
    152 Facebook Notifications
    126 Google Groups Messages
    33 Meetup Notifications
    22 Foursquare Notifications
    14 Daily Dails Emails
    14 LinkedIn Emails
    12 Twitter Notifiactions
    10 Google Group management emails
    8 WordPress Notifications
    3 Skype Emails
    1 Outlook Calender Message
    33 Others such as Newsletters, etc

    18 emails from real people of which:
    12 required a response
    5 were of people sharing a link/info or email
    1 was an email address change

    I do want the information contained in all these emails, but certainly not the way I currently get it… πŸ™‚

  7. Hi Bart,

    Good idea and interesting stats. It would be cool if you could make this work *IN* existing email clients something along the lines of For example a button on the top called “inbox zero” which creates your tool within the gmail interface but leaves users with the familiarity and functionality of gmail.


    • The first version will be a standalone web based email client because I think gmail is just too far removed from what an ideal email client looks like. However, you will be able to use our client with your existing Gmail or other IMAP email, which makes the transition low risk for the users.

  8. Hi Bart,

    Firstly, congratulations on your Tjoos acquisition. I sold a website to a Softbank funded start-up back in 2000. Unfortunately, the dot-com crash incinerated the stocks.

    I like your Project Inbox Zero idea. Email has definitely been neglected. Aside from GMail, and a few small apps, the email landscape hasn’t really changed much since everyone got a Hotmail or Yahoo! email account in the 90s.

    I guess the reason it hasn’t changed much is because it’s difficult to monetize and you would need to create a product that gives users enough reason to switch from their existing email clients.

    Consumer email solutions require a massive number of users to produce any kind of advertising revenue. Corporate email might be the best way to go. Businesses are time-poor, cash-rich. They will always invest in software that can be shown to save time and money.

    Of course, Google or Yahoo may come along and buy the techology for $30 million.

    The features you mentioned are all worth building. I think if you were to do it properly, you should totally rethink email from the standpoint of how people would be using it 10 to 20 years from now.

    Facebook is trying to do something about email with Facebook Messages. With their resources they could transform email, but I doubt they will go that far.

    By the way, have you seen ? (the name)

    Is this a project you are serious about or just something that came to mind as you contemplate what to do now that you don’t have to work anymore? πŸ™‚

    Best regards,

    Michael Wong
    Brain Food for Savvy Marketing Minds

  9. Hi Michael,

    Thanks for your feedback. I have quite a few ideas on monetization, but right now my primary goal is to fix a problem that annoys me personally. I strongly believe that if we successfully solve this pain point for people, there will be a way to monetize it.

    I’m still waiting for my Facebook Messages to be upgraded to the new system, but from what I’ve seen from demos/screenshots it is certainly nice and I think it will convert a lot of young, non-business people. It’s very much designed for social interaction between you and your friends.

    Email has been a big annoyance to me and I’ve spend a fair bit of time lately on thinking of ways it could be fixed. I’m serious about getting email fixed πŸ™‚

  10. Bart,

    You said you’ve started development – are you a programmer?

    You said you are looking for co-founders. Why are you looking co-founders? And what exactly are you looking for in potential co-founders?


  11. Sebastian Frechtling permalink

    If you’re looking for a fun way to do email – I like baydin’s email game. It easy, works only with gmail and makes email fun (sort of). And its free!

    Not spam btw…

  12. shaizy singh permalink

    p.s – this is from a super organised email person

    Hey Bart

    Could you also add in the option of forever delete junk? So if you receive junk email in your junk folder from ‘xo’ can i right click to select to really never ever receiving emails from ‘xo’ ever again. and select all the other ones in junk folder i dont want to ‘never receive emails from etc and actually never receive them again instead of once off and they always find their way in either inbox or junk somehow =S

    turn it into to do item and transfer it on your normal mobile as to do list via bluetooth or data transfer wire or watever not just for iphones,blackberrys or anaroids..please =)

    all the other things you’re coming up with are amazing snooze and specially summarize email hehe

    keep it up matey =) Hopefully you can come up with a free email option =)


    cheers =)

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