The Man Who Invented Email

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Photo by Donna Coveney

Are there parts of email you think could be improved now?

Shiva: I think one of the interesting areas is going to be—and Google+ is sort of doing this—verification of who you are. That security piece. Email marketing firms and some of the large non-profits have set up this thing called Sender ID, so they’ve done it at the IP level—at the server level.

And for video, I think there’s going to be ways that when you produce your email, you’ll be able to produce videos easier. Those are just links and attachments now.

But email, I think, is a mainstay because it’s still a part of that old interoffice mail communication. It has certain properties that are very different than what you do with Twitter or those kinds of media. It’s almost like there’s a kind of operating system of electronic messaging, and above that are these apps. Email is a fundamental application. Twitter is an application because of the way the medium is used for that.

So how is electronic mail going to change? It’s going to really find what it was originally for: business communications, letters—those kinds of things. And then I think you’re going to see this segmentation: quick messaging, colloquial messaging—that’ll be done through text messaging and those kinds of things.

What are your thoughts about the future of email as it pertains to the U.S. Postal Service?

Shiva: In 1997, after I’d started EchoMail, I met with the Postal Service because I could clearly see that the Postal Service needed to be involved in email because there was this whole trust issue.

When we used to go to large companies, they were getting inbound email that they needed to manage—especially on the outbound side. There’s the whole thing with sender verification and spam, and the Postal Service had this huge opportunity right there. I’ve always felt that, even today, the Postal Service has a huge opportunity.

One example is that on the inbound side, many small businesses and mid-market businesses still get inbound email. And even if it’s a low amount of email, if you don’t respond, there’s an 85 percent chance that you could lose your customer. And many of them don’t know how to do it.

If you think about what the Postal Service fundamentally does, those guys are trained to get mail and sort mail—there’s trust verification. The Postal Service could offer at least level-one or level-two support, where a company could say, “Sort my email for me and put it into the right buckets.” Because that’s what most people deal with—the sales leads, the junk, and those kinds of things. Some of it can be automated, but there’s other areas where you can do that sort of semi-automatic piece. And what’s happened in the U.S. now is that companies put in an infrastructure like EchoMail, which does that sorting, and then they have humans that do the second-level review. And most of those humans are overseas.

So companies essentially set up internal email post offices to do that function, and I think that’s a function the Postal Service could offer because you have that trust. It’s a very interesting security issue. You currently have people 10,000 miles away handling all sorts of very, very serious and personal information.

And on the outbound side, the Postal Service now wants to implement this thing called eMailbox, which would take your physical address and associate it with an email address to get all your bills and everything. I like the concept, particularly if you look at email from a legal standpoint. In the U.K. now, you can serve someone through email thanks to a recent court ruling. So I think it opens up all these other things that are sort of in this gray area, since email is currently not associated with a physical address.

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