I wrote a Thunderbird add-on to make the email interface I’ve always wanted — one that helps me remember to stay in touch with people I really care about, instead of always distracting me with the newest incoming trivia.
The add-on is called Lovebird and you can download it here.
About a year ago, I wrote a post about how much I hate email. I was frustrated that the few relevant messages from people I care about quickly get buried under a flood of distractions and nonsense. Not spam, even; just trivia.
There’s a saying that “Life consists of what you choose to pay attention to.”
Software encodes values, biases, assumptions, often unconscious, of the people who create it. The more that software becomes our filter on the world, the more that the unconscious biases of the software determine what we pay attention to.
My email interface should be helping me remember to stay in touch with old friends and distant family. But instead, email buries the important conversations under a flood of auto-generated GitHub and eBay notifications, political mailing list ACTION ALERTS, charities begging for money, etc. etc.
Maybe I opened my email interface with a thought in mind about what email I wanted to write. But my thought is soon lost as the interface bombards me with distractions — all the newest, unread stuff.
Meanwhile that thoughtful, in-depth conversation from an friend I haven’t seen in years is down on the third or fourth page. I didn’t respond right away because it deserved a considered, crafted response. I starred it, sure, but… I guess I star a lot of things, most of which rapidly lose their relevance.
Unless I make a concerted effort, that conversation’s going to get buried forever and I’m gonna forget about it. Now I’m gonna die with regrets because my email interface focuses my attention on what’s new instead of what’s important!
So I decided to do something about it. I started hacking around with an idea for an email client that would put that conversation with the old friend front and center of my interface, keeping it in my attention.
I built it as a Thunderbird add-on. Since its purpose is to help me stay in touch with the people I love, I named it “Lovebird”.
Since it’s people I care about, not messages, the Lovebird UI is built around a list of people, not a list of emails.
— Jono at Mozilla Labs, Lovebird is ready for beta testing,
at Not the User’s Fault (25 February 2013)
This add-on / rewrite is really kind of a beautiful thing, and I think in more or less every way an important step in the right direction as far as thinking about user interfaces for e-mail goes. It’s strongly tempting me to spend some time back with Thunderbird again.