I’ve noticed something perculiar in the way I’ve begun to use email ever since I switched to Fastmail in my recent mini IT infrastructure shakeup. Previously, I was quite content with Thunderbird hitting up an IMAP account off a cheap web hosting account, and didn’t think much about it.
The big switch came about when I was spending far more time on a work machine than my trusty Thinkpad. I wasn’t comfortable setting up a desktop email client at work, the web email interfaces on my hosting account was downright horrendous, and I wasn’t about to rely on the big G’s ad-funded service for my primary email needs.
So I decided to bite the bullet and pay for a Fastmail account. I’d used Fastmail way back when generous was 16mb’s of email storage, and fast was building your web interface with no images – just straight-up HTML. This was a second coming of sorts.
Every since I’ve started using Fastmail, I’ve even begun to prefer it over firing up Thunderbird on my desktop. Upon further reflection, I’ve been able to narrow it down to one reason – the interface.
The Fastmail web interface is not particularly exciting to look at. I’d say it’s even a little spartan compared to most post-web 2.0 outfits. But where it really sings is the way the whole interface is designed with the power user in mind. The clincher for me was the VIM-like key bindings. I could quickly navigate through my email, report spam, mark, delete and file emails all from my keyboard – no mouse required.
~snips nerdy gush-fest~
The point I’m trying to get at, is that email has largely become a commodified service. Although, I had the the pick of any desktop app, and a choice of 4 different webmail interfaces, I decided instead to paid good money for Fastmail’s web interface.
The more I look, the more I see commodities being bolstered and somewhat “resold” with a coat of thoughtfully applied interface. Programmers all over the world swear by GitHub. Mac OS X coats a BSD Mach kernel with a gratituous gobs of lickability. And, more recently, Sparrow and Fluent are in the market to repackage what is essentially a 26 year old protocol.
If you’re looking for a startup idea, pick a commodity software and make it beautiful. It is a significant, fixable unmet need that is just waiting pay out.
Open source software is particularly suited for this for two reasons. Firstly, you have full access to the source code, and secondly, they usually have a lot of room for improvement as far as UX goes.
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