After hearing about the recent plans of Mozilla Co. spinning off Thunderbird into a new organisation, I can’t help but add my 2c. I see an opportunity for radical change in the direction of Thunderbird. I’ve personally used Thunderbird since the 1.0 days and it’s been an invaluable tool to manage of my email. However, there in lies the problem. With more and more people using online email these days, the role of Thunderbird is diminishing. If we step back and look at the fundamental problem which Thunderbird, which email, solves – It’s the communication between users. We now have many more forms of communication and interaction between users. More and more email is taking a backstage to more contemporary mediums such as IM and even social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook. So why are we still looking at email? There seems to be a general consensus that Thunderbird should grow into a PIM/Email client. A email/personal organiser is good, but why would you want to create something that’s already available? We shouldn’t be chasing the tail lights of Outlook and Evolution.
What I’m suggesting here I guess is to rethink Thinderbird – lose the focus on mail, in favour of more interesting communication mediums like IM, Facebook and MySpace. With the launch of OpenSocial from Google, connecting to social networks should be made much more easily. Thunderbird can utilise these APIs to bring users of social networks what it brought to email users in the past. There is a growing user base of social networks and it’s only getting larger. With many users part of several networks, managing their identities across these networks can become a painful and time-consuming. An application that manages multiple networks, a social network aggregator if you will, is something that we be desired of from these users. Thunderbird can handle multiple email accounts and it doesn’t take much to see that a natural evolution would be handling multiple social network accounts.
The new functionality, like managing social networks can’t be tacked on like an extra arm to the email functionality. There has to be a rethink from ground up. Right now the interface of Thunderbird is that of traditional email clients. You have accounts and folders and emails. This legacy model will be hard and awkward to reconcile with newer social networking models. Classification of messages/emails are no longer done with folders but with tags that allow them to he connected to multiple categories. Instead of the ‘address book’ you now have ‘friends’ and you certainly want to tag them.
Whether this new application, be it Thunderbird or a something brand new, there exists an opportunity to fill an enormous and growing void. Thunderbird is at crossroads and if there is a better time for a new direction, it would be now. In the post, I’ve mainly talked about one facet, which is social networking, but there are many other facets (IM/VoIP/Cal?) I believe should be part of the broader Thunderbird strategy. Aggregating all the different types of communication is surely a role that fits a next generation Thunderbird. This idea is not new and some members of the community share similar views.
Remember, as the /. meme goes, in Korea, only old people use email.