EPIC, the end of email

EPIC is a protocol idea outlined briefly below. If people like the idea, I’ll work on an alpha form and distributed connection example.

Between many choices we gravitate to what is known

Familiarity is a core component of our decision making process. Everything else being equal, behaviorial bias defaults to the known quantity. It’s a function of our potent pattern matching capability using the massively parallel difference filter of our minds.

This bias towards the known, can create a form of behavior inertia that leads to habits in activity, brand loyalty, businesses we partner with, exercise regimines, and our diets. These ingrained habits need to cause an exceptional amount of frustration or pain before we’re willing to even consider let alone try alternatives.

I’ve chosen a couple of well known bloggers recent posts to review a case of familiarity bias, and offer a potential solution to their dilemma. Both Fred Wilson and Mark Suster describe how they both have become prisoners to their inboxes but can’t imagine living without email. It’s important to both of these VCs to send a signal of availability to potential partners both known and unknown. Commenters suggested human filtering (an assistant) but this method appears to send a signal of remoteness, or superiority which these gents are unwilling to accept. In addition there is a great amount of trust and style that is best personalized by oneself when it comes to communication.

EPIC – Easy Protocol In Communication

The optimal filtering framework to improve email quality is a distributed moderation system. Spammers can be identified rapidly and have very little ability to contact anyone without building up reputation in the proper netwoks. For private one to one messaging, a reputation and token based message network would function through an attention based currency. Limited availability and perhaps duration contact tokens are earned by trusted connections. Users with a high reputation (approval by those they communicate with regularly) can get single access temporary tokens, which a message recipient can then elevate with one, a few, a regular alotment, or unlimited contact tokens at any time. This form of artificial scarcity is designed to protect the attention of high bandwidth recpients or social/buiness network nodes. In addition trusted contacts can provide one time introduction and access at the cost of one of their own available tokens. This process leverages the strength of group social filtering. This type of system will vastly reduce noise as well as frivolous messages, while boosting the quality of desirable messages. An upper limit on message length per token may make sense for unknown or first time contacts to minimize the email inbox trap, or instead a brief title length intro to capture the interest of the reader to determing if further reading and action are warranted.

The problem with EPIC is that it’s scary for people to switch over to. The known messaging channel of email has dominated electronic communication for over a decade now. That habit has locked on to the minds of very sharp and savy people. It will take leaders and trend setters to break out of the familiar inbox trap. They’ll be motivated by desparation, and it’s up to folks like you and me that believe we can offer a better alternative to lead another communication revolution.

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  • http://www.iamronen.com iamronen

    I believe Dave Winer wrote about the evolutionary process of the internet – building on something that exists and making it better.

    I think that one of the subliminaly unique qualities of email is that unconsciously – people still perceive it as “their own” (even when it's on Google). It is one of the last islands of privacy in the Internet. I think it's wise to embrace that and build on it (even Fred asked that something be added to his gmail – not a substitute for it):
    http://ontekusuto.iamronen.com/2009/11/raindrop

    You may want to look into Mozilla Raindrop. I think it has great potential, but still not moving in the right direction, again an example of developers playing around with no clear sense of direction. I've tried to contribute to contribute to Raindrop.

    One thing I came up with a simple wrapper that could be used to make email messages “smarter”:
    http://ontekusuto.iamronen.com/2009/12/xemail/

    Another, which relates to Fred's post was an idea on how to describe/tag contacts – in such a way that it would make it easy to identify those 30 people that get priority in his email inbox:
    http://ontekusuto.iamronen.com/2009/11/contact-

    Finally – one of the ideas introduced in that book I suggested you read – is that software should be more attentive to the people that use it. Email clients have long had the capability to process emails based on rules. Now if only someone would care to pay attention to what users do and try to guess some automated rules … for a Fred example: pay attention and tag the senders to whom Fred responds most frequently (number of responses sent) and urgently (how fast a response is sent after a message arrives). That would require ZERO user interaction and give Fred a giant boost :) Another suggestion in the book is that software be polite. For example, if (and only if) there is a sender you (the algorithm) are not sure about, then next time Fred sends an email to that person, ask him, he'll gladly tell you :)

  • Leland

    Ronen, great post. It's not every day that a commentator takes the time to back up his arguments with links. This made the issues that Mark brought up clearer for me. Thanks.

  • http://www.victusspiritus.com/ Mark Essel

    Great ideas Ronen, will take me some time but I look forward to digging in to your suggestions

  • http://steamcatapult.com/ Dave Pinsen

    Just a meta-thought prompted by your recent posts: it's been fascinating to watch you get traction. It's visible from your blog posts, and your interactions elsewhere. When I first came across your writing it was obvious that you were highly intelligent, but you often leaned toward theory and the abstract in your posts. Now you're a hard charging founder/engineer. One day you hear about a problem, the next day you're ready to build a solution for it.

    It's been a fun transition to watch. If I could buy stock in Mark Essel I would. I bet others would too.

    You are on your way.

  • http://www.iamronen.com iamronen

    It is lack of attention that made http://ontekusuto.iamronen.com a dormant project.

    Thank you Mark & Leland for your caring attention – it inspired some fresh crystallizing and writing this morning:
    http://ontekusuto.iamronen.com/2010/05/freedom/

  • http://www.victusspiritus.com/ Mark Essel

    Appreciate it Dave. It's helpful getting a friendly external perspective on the topics I write about. You already have some stock in Mark Essel, it's called friendship. Each of your comments, emails, and ideas don't fall into the void. The

    My initial blogging goal targeting inspiration, and connecting our daily work with what we love, worked out pretty well for myself :D

  • http://www.victusspiritus.com/ Mark Essel

    Whoa, love the new look. I will return from Manhattan later but will have time to read on the train (video on mobile is spotty).

  • http://www.iamronen.com iamronen

    :) not a new look – a separate blog (subdomain) dedicated to this issue … actually quite a haphazard theme I put together … hmmm

  • http://www.victusspiritus.com/ Mark Essel

    Oh that's right, mea culpa for forgetting.