My thoughts on Lotus Notes

Missed Opportunities

Now on to the missed opportunities. First, some background thoughts: Email is a medium that has gone well beyond what it was originally intended for. The concept of an “Inbox”, “Sent” box and storing email in folders where each message is independent is a metaphor that has been sufficient for now, but with the volume of email we are all receiving each day, that metaphor is breaking down. Much email traffic is actually conversation traffic, so threaded or conversation views of emails are becoming more important.

As for dealing with the volume of email, there are a number of techniques and many of them revolve around the idea of triage or preprocessing your email. The idea is to quickly glance through each email in your Inbox and making a quick decision about what to do about that email (respond/do immediately, respond/do later, delete, and file). Part of this preprocessing is often to “pre-file” things, so the filing (i.e. categorisation) decision is done at the start of dealing with the email rather than at the end. Often emails fall under many categories: it’s an “Important” message related to “Project A”, but it’s also related to “Project B”. This is where features like Thunderbird’s Tags, Gmail’s Labels or Outlook’s Categories come into play as you can assign more than one tag/label/category to an email.

It looks like Notes has an interesting backend where emails can appear in multiple folders (without actually copying the emails). This means that Notes’ “Folders” are functionally equivalent to “Tags” in Thunderbird. Unfortunately it looks like Notes goes out of its way to try to force the concept of folders onto something that is really just tags. I can quickly add the same message to multiple folders, as long as I hold the Ctrl key down when I drag. But, it’s awkward to then remove the email from my Inbox when I’m done with it. If I accidentally forget to hold the Ctrl key down when I drag an email into a new folder, then it is removed from all folders but the one I just moved the email to.

Notes’ own attempt to force the idea of Folders breaks down when “deleting” messages. If I have the same message appearing in 2 different folders and I delete from one of those folders, I expect the message to remain in the other folder. Instead when a message is deleted in Notes, it is deleted from ALL folders.

IBM has missed a golden opportunity to rethink how email is done. With a powerful search engine, views and message tagging (folders), Notes appears to possess a technical backend to support a fast, streamlined and compelling email user experience. Unfortunately, it’s execution is completely hopeless.