Fragmentation

It’s a minor complaint, but I’m a little put off by the fragmentation of information in the modern Internet age.

For example, I just signed up for a Facebook account after years of avoiding social networking sites. I was also excited to get a Google Wave account recently, and I like some of the things that I can do with that service. As good as these services are, the same thing struck me after using them for a short time: this does not ultimately lessen the complexity of my online life.

Right now, I have multiple email accounts. I have one for work, one for notifications and spam, and one for personal email. I have 4 IM accounts so that I can communicate with people on various services. Essentially Google Wave and Facebook give me more accounts to manage, more things to check, more fragmentation, and more confusion. In Facebook, I can set notifications to email me, but then I still have a copy of that notification sitting in Facebook. Now I have to manage the same set of notifications in two different places.

If someone wants to send me a quick text message, do they send me an IM through my gmail account? Through AIM? Through Facebook? I have accounts in all three. Or should they SMS me? Or just send me an email? There are subtle differences in the features of each of these services and in the etiquette, but even I get my own accounts confused.

What’s the point of all this? My phone has IM, SMS, and email. Send me any one of those, and I’ll pretty much get it just the same. I can appreciate the difference between IM and email– short form vs. long form communication– but the rest of this is just pretty silly.

In my opinion, Google is heading in the right direction. You can get all your email and SMS and IM messages stored in the same mailbox. You can get your voicemail transcribed and sent to that same inbox, too. Plus they allow server-side filtering of email and their tagging system is more flexible than sorting everything into mailboxes. Still, there are some holes in the system.

Besides the fact that Gmail does nothing to tame all of the other streams of information you might have to deal with, their systems are still making use of the same clumsy old protocols. More couple probably be done to protect against spam and to make encryption easier. I’ve always thought it’d be useful if there were standard tagging in emails and other embedding of metadata in such a way that it could be recognized by all email clients and be sent along with a message.

To illustrate that last point, I think it’d be good if we could develop an etiquette where mass emails sent for the purpose of announcements could be tagged “announcement”, mass emails that are jokes could be tagged “joke”, or threaded political discussions could be tagged appropriately. This would allow easier filtering and make it easier for recipients to understand whether the email was important to them. Right now, the only options available are a the subject of the email and the body, both of which are completely free form and focused about the content and presentation of the information, and not around the metadata. Being able to include additional metadata about the message and the sender and the recipient might even allow for better spam filtering. For example, being able to include a unique personal identifier in your outgoing messages could allow people to identify you more easily even when you’re sending email from a different account. Another possibility is that friends could agree to include a specific tag as a sort of password that allows the message to bypass all spam filters.

Perhaps I’ll write more on this topic later. For now, I need to go.