Tagging email

The disorganised nature of email has been bugging me a little recently and even more so the poor tools we currently have at our disposal to try to organise it ourselves. Sure, smart folders in Apple’s Mail.app and labels in Thunderbird go a tiny way to helping but neither of these actually solves the core issue as I see it.

Scenario 1: Suppose I have a 20 message conversation about fixing a bug, midway through that conversation the focus of what bug is being worked on, what file is being worked on or even what project is being worked on takes a shift, all of a sudden the search and organise features available to me don’t cut it as they’re now infected with meta-noise. Scenario 2: suppose I get sent some important information but the sender has misspelled the key word that I would search for, unless I create rules for my smart folders that look for all the possible misspellings or somehow remember the incorrect spelling, I’m likely to never find that email again.

So, the obvious solution here is a tagging system. In Scenario 1 above, I could tag the emails in the second half of the conversation with what the conversation had actually become about. In Scenario 2 I could tag the message with the correct spelling of the important word.

Anyway, a little bit of googling and I’ve found MailTags for Apple’s Mail.app which I’m going to try out tonight although it doesn’t quite solve the issue fully as far as I can tell because all the meta data is stored locally, which means when I’m on a different machine all my tags are missing.

There’s a propsal for a tags feature in Thunderbird 2 but sadly it seems to miss the point in my opinion.

There’s TagTheBird which currently gets immediately discounted due to the fact that it sends all your email to their servers in plain text and only lets you auto tag, no way to enter your own tags as far as I can work out. I really don’t want all my email sent off to somebody else’s server.

Which brings me to the musings of Alan Gutierrez who has obviously been having the same problems as me organizing his mail. His proposed Thunderbird extension would store the user’s tags in one or multiple x-tag headers in the email itself making the meta data portable. This would also mean I could search the same meta data on my Windows PC at work and my Mac at home. So here’s hoping that someone picks up Alan’s proposal.