Imagining Better E-mail

[Sitting in my drafts folder since August… Why not]

For building a clean and complete “paper trail” within a single message (which is irrefutably valuable in situations), top posting works great. For responding to individual sections, inline reply is great. Combining the two is generally a mess. In both top/inline models the manual management of quoted text in a text editor is pretty terrible. I posit that there’s no satisfactory solution to this multi-decade debate without a better UI than text editors provide. I’d like to see a reply process more like this:

  1. Highlight a selection for quoting. A reply form appears directly below with the cursor ready. (Commenting on a bill in OpenCongress is a bit like this.)
  2. Type the reply
  3. Repeat as necessary

Make the end points of each “quote” easily adjustable, and allow a preview to show you what the recipients would see, to allow you to reorder sections, to adjust header/footer sigs, etc.

A new message format based on git/hg could hold each previously referenced message in the thread, and with it the ability to walk back through the conversation, as well as embed cleanly the contact info of the senders, cryptographic signatures, etc.

The reader could chose to view the latest message in a variety of ways, including the traditional styles of plain text or HTML.

And you can’t fix e-mail without addressing sender authentication.

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