I haven’t blogged about Bongo for ages, and this is something I’ve thought about writing a few times – but mostly didn’t for fear of taking attention off the more practical stuff, like getting rid of MDB.

But, it seems timely to get some of this stuff out of my brain. First, go and watch Inbox Zero: it’s an hour of your time, but it’s worth it, and I think it’s as seminal for Bongo as JWZ’s Bad Groupware essay was for Hula.

I have one goal, one vision, for Bongo, and that’s “Getting stuff done”. Bongo isn’t about technical goals: single copy message store, mail processing speed, that kind of stuff is the stuff JWZ warned us about. It’s corporate box-ticking. That’s not to say all of this stuff is unimportant, because obviously if Bongo doesn’t fit into some situation you can’t use it, and if you can’t use it then it’s pointless for you. But it’s not the raison d’etre.

Bongo should be about having control over your e-mail. It’s an e-mail tool, and managing e-mail itself isn’t a worthwhile task, but managing the tasks, events, ideas, etc., that this e-mail represents is worthwhile. I want to get to stuff on time, I want to remember what I’m supposed to be doing, etc., etc. – it’s about enabling me to be productive.

I should say now that this has very little to do with Bongo 1.0. For 1.0, we’re going to be doing much of the standard stuff that people expect. I hope we can improve on things: I think our search is already very good, and will hopefully get better; I hope we can do some cool stuff with contacts management too.

There is a lot of stuff on the internet about getting things done. There’s a great book by that title. Inbox Zero is one in the latest line of many “How do I organise my inbox?” type articles. Look at this stuff:

I could go on. There’s tonnes of these things. But the key, for me, is that no e-mail (+cal +tasks, etc.) particularly supports this stuff. Sure, you can re-purpose features to support it, but it wasn’t how people designed the app.

For example, for me: I would love to be able to tell the difference between e-mail that’s addressed for me, and that’s just copied to me, like Bongo does. Thunderbird doesn’t do that. I get e-mail notification for everything that comes in, including spam – that’s just ridiculous.

And it’s not just about e-mail: Inbox Zero is great, but what is Contacts Zero? Contacts seem to be the forgotten part of e-mail at the moment: it’s all e-mail, tasks, calendars. But we shouldn’t think in those terms: we should be thinking of People, Events, Activities. The rest of it is just data/information (based on your personal beliefs 😉 which glues all that together. E-mail arranges for people to get together at events. E-mails and todo lists can help you manage activities. But it’s the PEAs which are what you actually care about.

So, for example, I disagree with Merlin Mann in a couple of areas. For one, e-mail checking: I don’t think responding quickly is the problem, I think the problem is the structure we people set up to respond quickly. Because the software can’t tell you how important an e-mail is, you end up checking it personally every couple of minutes to try to filter out the high priority stuff. But what if it could? In my work e-mail, I can pretty much figure out how important an e-mail is from who it comes from: 90% of my contacts never send me important e-mail.

And text files for task lists? Great for geeks. But we need better tools than that. Although, I totally agree with him about paper.

In most ways, Bongo is not going to be able to do any thinking on the part of the user: there are some examples, like spam detection, filtering, etc., where it will, but in general it won’t. And we shouldn’t try to make it do that stuff: it’s not clever when an app makes a bad decision, it’s usually frustrating. And if you listen to the Inbox Zero video, there’s this great question at about 50mn in about large CC: lists – there are some problems an e-mail tool can’t solve, it’s a social/cultural issue that needs to be fixed.

I like to think of Bongo effectively being a mental crutch. And that sounds like a bad thing, because if you use a crutch it’s going to make your legs weaker: if you had a choice, you wouldn’t use a crutch, right? But I see it being much like a calculator or something. My brain is imperfect in so many ways; forgetfulness being an obvious one. For me, Bongo will have reached the pinnacle when I can’t work without it 🙂