Idea: email as a platform

146354021_1c0f548dfe_m[1]Something has been bothering me for a while. I have a colleague that needs to post some files on a site every week, and she needs to do it via FTP. FTP is ‘geeky’ for most people. Their PC does not come with an FTP program installed, they never need it for daily web usage and they’re not sure how it is different from email/web upload. I ended up installing Filezilla for her and she manages, but it would be so much easier if I could tell her: just email it to XYZ@example.com and it will arrive on that FTP server. Sending email, everyone can do.

Another issue I had is that I would like to offer a service (that involves audio manipulation of WAV files) and I would like people to send an email with the file attached and I send back the result. In both cases, the problem is the same: email now arrives in a mailbox and is expected to be handled manually. I would like a platform service: I pay for the usage of an email address, and every mail that arrives there triggers a number of actions that are automatic.

Not just a service, a platform

Of course I’m not the first one to think of this. Flickr allows for posting pictures via email (I use that a lot), you can send your blog posts via email with Tumblr, Posterous and even WordPress. Customer support services allow auto-responding on incoming emails with suggestions for resolutions. It’s just that all these services are specific to the provider. To do it, you have either poll for incoming email (check your POP3 box every N minutes) or build/configure an SMTP server that handles incoming email. If you’ve ever encountered the black magic involved in configuring a sendmail/postfix/qmail server, you know that’s not for everyone. Me as a web developer/hacker, I want to configure: mails sent to XYZ@example.com are posted to my web page with the email body, sender, attachments (as URL), or published via a private RSS feed, and that’s how I get them into my workflow.

The funny thing is that a much more limited communication method, SMS/texting, has these platforms. There’s Twilio, Fortumo, Tropo, that allow you to receive text messages and make them trigger things. The US providers even allow for setting up automated IVR (Interactive Voice Response – a.k.a. “Press 1 for …”) application through these services.

So, the idea

So what could this platform look like?

  • I register for the service and I get the prefix ACME
  • I then start defining my services: acme.upload@example.com, acme.support@example.com, acme.register@example.com
  • I configure acme.upload to save attachments to an FTP server and send a confirmation email.
  • I configure acme.support to send a confirmation email with a unique number and forward the email with this unique number in the subject. Also, I get an SMS.
  • I configure acme.register to take .XLS files, convert them to TEXT and post them to a web service I have created. I also get the sent emails in an RSS feed.
  • I now create my ‘public’ addresses: upload@acme.com / support@acme.com / register@acme.com and forward these to the email addresses I created above.
  • I get daily/weekly reporting, spam detection, and unlimited scaling.

Do anything like this exist?

Don’t send me a video, send me a link

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_RgL2MKfWTo

I know, there are so many ‘funny’ videos you just have to share with your friends. So you send them an email. But for god’s sake, not with a 5MB movie in attachment! For all you know, he/she might not even be able to play that MOV/WMV/XVid movie anyway. Don’t send a movie, send a link!

WHY EMAILING VIDEOS IS BAD

  1. Email makes big files bigger
    Binary files (like videos) are encoded, or rather exploded, by your email program (Outlook/Hotmail/Gmail/…) as text-only Base64 MIME attachments. Your 5MB file is transformed into a 6.85MB text file before is sent. Email is a very inefficient way to share videos with several other people.
  2. You hurt the recipients
    Your email will have to be downloaded before the recipient can see it. If he is on a slow connection, this might mean 15 minutes of obnoxious delay before he can continue working, start receiving the emails that arrived after your ‘cute puppy’ movie. The movie, if it is not deleted, will add 5 MB of storage to the Inbox. If his Outlook/Exchange quota is 100MB (not uncommon on corporate email systems), you just ate 5% of all the place he has to store contracts, meeting reports and office gossip.
  3. You hurt yourself
    By sending a 5MB video, you force your email program to upload a 6.85 MB file to your mail server. If you’re on a basic DSL line, this will easily take up to 10 minutes, during which all your other Internet activity will go very slow. You also add a big chunk to your “Sent Items” folder, bringing you closer to your quota limit.
  4. You hurt the Internet
    All those forwarded videos make for a huge amount of unnecessary traffic that eats up bandwidth at ISPs and inspire them to keep prices high. Not that they needed the extra inspiration.
  5. It’s force-feeding-video, not video on demand
    You are forcing people to download the whole file before they can decide whether they want to see it now, or ever at all. Youtube and the other sites have a very easy-to-use ‘Send video link’ form that will give the receipient the link, with a screenshot and the description text. Then he/she can decide when, where, how and *IF* to watch the video.
    (Yes, this is less a problem with web-based mail like Gmail or Hotmail)

HOW TO FORWARD A VIDEO LINK

  1. public, popular movie
    Don’t think you’re the first one to have seen this movie. Chances are it’s featured on Youtube, Google Video, DailyMotion, Vimeo, in multiple versions (FR subtitles if that’s what you like), in a format everyone can view, available to send as just a link “http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_RgL2MKfWTo“. Less that 50 characters for a full 1:14 of hilarious time loss.
  2. private, ‘secret’ movie
    Even if you have a movie you recorded/made yourself and want to show only to a limited number of people (“OMG, Britney, you were, like, *so* drunk!!“), then upload it yourself to Youtube, Flickr or Vimeo, put a password on it and send link+ password to those recipients. It will be so much easier for everyone to forward that secret video that no one was supposed to see (“788 views just yesterday? How’s that possible?“).

We thank you.