Back in the early nineties there were a plethora of incompatible mail programs. Many companies still used MCI Mail for external connectivity, individuals typically had a mail account at one or more of the big three online services – CompuServe, Prodigy and AOL
One of my absolute favorite programs of the era came from a company called ConnectSoft. Based in Bellevue Washington, just a stone’s throw from the Microsoft borg, these plucky developers built a universal email package called "E-Mail Connection"
Featuring a whimsical sense of humor, spearheaded by marketing head Bill McEwan (who would later go on to take over Amiga), the company never took itself too seriously – even though its fanatical users sung the programs praises from dawn till dusk.
It did a simple thing, yet did it well. The program accessed each of your many mail accounts, and delivered all your mail into a single in-box. No longer would power geeks have to visit three or four sites to collect all their mail. It was so good that noted curmudgeon John Dvorak actually gave it a "Best of 1995" award.
One of the most powerful features: A unified address book that would automatically add an entry for anyone sending you email, regardless of service.
What happened to ConnectSoft? The Internet. Once most users gravitated to web-based mail, and those email programs became easy to link up, the need for a universal inbox waned. The proprietary connectivity services, including MCIMail, AOL Mail, Prodigy and CompuServe all faded away.
Oh, and the borg hastened the decline as well, once Outlook supported POP mail, along with webmail programs. The company attempted to move upmarket to corporate, and downmakret to kids mail, but in the end its day was done. Technology had advanced beyond its solution.
But sometimes it seems like everything repeats itself. I still have a shrink-wrapped copy of E-Mail Connection on the shelf in the garage, and I’m beginning to look at it much more wistfully. That’s because over the past year or two I’ve ended up with a handful of incompatible email clients and no easy way to consolidate them together.
Take Facebook, for example. I get tons of mail on Facebook, but the interface is even more primitive than the early days of Compuserve. Linked-In, too, has its own proprietary email format that reminds me of MCI Mail – and not favorably either. Pownce, Plurk, Twitter, all these messaging systems require separate programs, separate connections and separate sessions to access. And what if I want to forward a note from someone at Facebook to someone at Linked In? It’s a 12 step process that’ll drive you to drink.
So here’s your very own million-dollar idea of the day. Someone, please purchase the assets of E-Mail Connection and build the 2008 version of it. Because not only am I drowning in email, I"m drowning in email services. I can’t keep up! And I’ll bet Dvorak will give you an award for it too.