Raindrop is a Mozilla Lab’s project that could simplify the email experience by increasing the signal to noise ratio within inboxes and increasing the contextual information about a message.  Raindrop’s mission is to:

“make it enjoyable to participate in conversations from people you care about, whether the conversations are in email, on twitter, a friend’s blog or as part of a social networking site.”

While Raindrop is being developed by the Thunderbird team at Mozilla, the team explains that Raindrop is not another email client.  Rather, Raindrop is a communication application.  I don’t completely agree with this distinction.  Today’s email clients are communication applications, aren’t they?  Today’s email clients may not be as well suited to handle today’s web communications as Raindrop can.  However, they’re still communications applications.  In any case, I’m pretty excited about Raindrop and suggest you watch this demo video.

Raindrop can intelligently categorize email based on pre-built and user defined extensions.  For instance, Bryan Clark, the design lead for Raindrop, asks: “why should advertisements from an Airline push an email form my mom further down the list. I know one is more important than the other, why doesn’t my email?” Another example could be grouping emails from twitter based on their conversational importance.  Notifications of direct messages and replies are more important to a user than notification of a new follower.

Message categorization is just the beginning.  Raindrop aims to support any message source on the Internet.

You begin by giving Raindrop your credentials to message sources such as GMail or Twitter, and in the future, any IMAP email account, feeds, instant message networks or social networks.  This allows Raindrop to collect messages from various sources on the Internet.  Each message is further split into documents that the Raindrop Workqueue will work on to gather contextual information for you.  The documents and contextual information is stored in CouchDB.  These documents and contextual information are then combined into a message, surfaced through your browser, and in the future your mobile phone. Sounds confusing, so let’s look at a hypothetical usage scenario.

Let’s say you receive an email to your GMail account from your friend Erik.  The email contains a YouTube video, a street address and has a Facebook notification message which is being forwarded.  It seems that Erik’s friend Lisa, who you really like, asked Erik to go a local bar to hear her favorite band play.  Erik forwarded the message to you and a few other friends and included a YouTube link to the band to pique your interest.

Raindrop would treat the YouTube URL, the street address and the Facebook ids as separate documents.  The Raindrop Workqueue could do some work on each of these documents.  For instance, the Raindrop Workqueue could connect to the YouTube API to get more information about the video and create a thumbnail of the video.  The Raindrop Workqueue could also connect to the GoogleMaps API, map the address and get a Street View image of the address.  Finally, the Raindrop Workqueue could check if you’re friends with the person who sent the Facebook message, and if so, pull the person’s Facebook profile picture and recent status. These three documents and the resulting contextual information would be stored in CouchDB.  Then, when you open the email message with Raindrop, you’d see a thumbnail of the YouTube video, Google Street View image of the bar and Lisa’s Facebook picture and status.  Raindrop is highly extensible, so you can create new document types for the Workqueue to process and new display extensions to properly display the new document type.

Raindrop is still early in development, so some parts of the usage scenario above are futures.  But it’s easy to see how useful Raindrop could be.

Go ahead, give Raindrop a try.

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PS: I should state: “The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.”