It’s only been six weeks since Australian technology startup luminary Bart Jellema announced his ambitious next project: Fixing what he sees as the currently broken email paradigm. But the entrepreneur’s project has already hit private beta and is evolving fast.
Jellema is well-known in the Australian technology startup community. Over the past several years he’s been one of the key driving forces behind StartupCamp, a series of small events which has seen a plethora of web startups built and launched over a couple of days. The enterpreneur’s own successful startup exit came in March 2010 — when the online coupon company he co-founded sold to online media company Internet Brands.
“Email used to be fun,” he wrote upon launching his new startup this year. “Sometimes I got an email, I responded to it and all was good. Now I get 100 emails a day and spent way too much time dealing with the dreaded email … It’s time to reinvent this tool to bring it into this day and age. This is the goal of Project Inbox ZERO.”
This week on his blog, Jellema published early screenshots of the newly renamed ZEROmail interface and revealed the service had hit closed beta status, with about 40 users testing it. Initially the service works by copying all of a users’ email into the ZEROmail platform, with users being then able to manage both of their email inboxes side by side until they become confident about ZEROmail’s abilities.
“When you are happy with the way ZEROmail works you can choose to synchronise your inboxes and keep them in sync,” Jellema wrote.
Critically – and unlike most email services – ZEROmail automatically filters out many of the automated email notification messages which people receive from services like Facebook and Twitter, as well as bulk distribution newsletters and mailing list group subscriptions. These categories of email receive their own folders, which users can skim read at will.
“All newsletters can be read in one view (like Google Reader) and notifications are displayed similar to notifications in Facebook which saves you heaps of time and clicks in dealing with these,” wrote Jellema.
The ZEROmail platform is based on the Python language, using the Tornado web server software and the PostgreSQL database, with attachments being stored on Amazon’s S3 service. The user interface is not dissimilar from most web email services – for example, Google’s Gmail or Microsoft’s Live platform.
And Jellema is still looking for extra hands to help out with ZEROmail, after several individuals who joined the team early on didn’t work out. At the moment the startup is composed of just Jellema and web developer Katrin Suess, who are both now full-time on the effort.
ZEROmail is one of a number of companies over the past decade which have attempted to reform the email paradigm. Google’s own Gmail, with its unlimited online storage and a growing number of interface and functionality extensions, has done much to bring email into the new millennium. However, Microsoft’s Outlook/Exchange ecosystem has also introduced new functionality into the medium, especially inside large organisations, and smaller startups like Xobni have also driven innovation.
Despite this, email is facing strong challenges from other similar communications mediums — with the messaging functions of social networks like Twitter and Facebook, for example, seeing growing popularity amongst users.
Image credit: Bart Jellema