Om has written an interesting blurb on email. Email inherits many of the targeting and noise problems inherent in physical mail, only the problem is much worse because the cost of electronic postage is dramatically cheaper.
Folks have been working on aspects of this for a long time. Goodmail is doing a few interesting things in certification. Boxbe is taking the time-honored approach of trying legitimize your inbox as a marketing channel. Others are making a run at validation, electronic postage et al.Google has tried to solve part of the problem with search (presumably Yahoo will through its Bloomba acquisition).
There is no doubt that authentication, categorization, search and relative prioritization are important in email.
Email may need improvements in technology, but it is broken as a consumer product (perhaps it’s a victim of its own moniker). The physical mailbox doesn’t scale. The mailbox metaphor in email doesn’t either. It’s a monolith.
For most people (at least people I know), I would venture to say that email is a firehose of too many kinds of information from too many kinds of sources and relationships. I just logged into a Yahoo account that I don’t even use that often and I have 12,000 unread messages and 1200 messages marked as spam (assuming it takes me 3 seconds to scan, open, and delete an email, I’d spend 10 hours clearing out my inbox). The solution is NOT to automatically push all of these messages into different folders, nor is it to just let me search for what might be important. The solution is build suitable channels for respective kinds of messages and create software that best handles the channels.
As I write this I’m down to 11,999 unread messages. Wish me luck.