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Thursday, June 21, 2007

Re: 3D Mailbox

Robert Savage is a software inventor with all his heart, producing many awe-inspiring and highly original results. It’s no surprise then that he’s also taking reviews to heart, so I invited Robert to write a guest post after I recently reviewed his latest software, 3D Mailbox. Robert writes:

Thanks, Philipp, for offering me a guest spot. It was great to see your write-up on 3D Mailbox, and here I’ll try to provide additional information of interest to your readers. Your comments have also served as important feedback for us, and we have already made several changes in the program in response to them; specifically:

In response to a couple of your points:

Make sure you only hand over your Google Account password to services you absolutely trust – including the trust that they have security measurements that prevent them from being hacked.

All account passwords are encrypted within 3D Mailbox and get transmitted via the secure POP3 connection that is established between 3D Mailbox and the GMail servers.

Perhaps if the program design can evolve towards visualization metaphors that add more meaning

It may not be apparent at first glance, but every aspect of 3D Mailbox is meant to convey meaning. For instance, when a new mail arrives, it meets the Bouncer (spam filter) near the front gate. There are three possible decisions he can make: Ham (good email), which is allowed through the pool area; Unsure (which is sent to the ice rink to chill until you decide how to classify it); and Spam (which is sent to the beach until you delete it, at which point it’s devoured by sharks). As you know, most spam filters send your mail directly to the spam folder and you never see it; in 3D Mailbox we portray all spam as a particular avatar, so you can instantly recognize it without having to read it.

To continue the metaphor, when good mail dives into the pool, it does laps there until you read it; then it climbs out and relaxes in a lounge chair. You can right-click any avatar and perform all the normal email tasks (read, reply, move, classify, etc.) without even looking at the mail grid. When you move a message from the inbox to a custom folder, the avatar will walk to a cabana and hang out there. When you delete Ham, it walks to the trash alley behind the hotel, and waits there until you delete it completely, at which point it walks through the exit into oblivion. When Unsure is waiting in the ice rink, balloons appear on the outside, and so on.

Hang with your mail poolside listening to Brazilian music and the water.

In 3D Mailbox, every mail you receive is assigned a visible spam score. You can re-classify and re-train any mail with a simple mouse-click.

An intuitive slider makes setting your spam filter thresholds simple and effective.

We have tried to make the world as ’normal’ as possible, so the metaphors are unobtrusive. It really just looks like a bunch of people having a good time, but the more you use it, the more you see how it’s all ordered and keyed in to what you do with your mail. We deliberately avoided making it too game-like, where interaction was necessary. For example, to feed your spam to the sharks, you simply delete them. No extra or special effort is required.

In creating this environment, we were also very careful about meeting deep human needs. There is water in all its forms in Level 1, from the ocean to the pool, from the showers to the fountain, all the way to the ice rink and the clouds above. This, combined with the sunshine and Brazilian music, which plays in all 60 camera angles, provides unobtrusive relaxation. Personally, I like to keep the program open in the background and listen to the waves, seagulls, fountain, birds and breeze in the trees. When a new mail arrives, chimes gently sound. There is so much noise pollution in our workplace and lives. The environment we have created is meant to relax and entertain, resulting in happier, more productive workers and people at home.

People who shoot this down for trying to “visualize mail” are missing the point. It’s not about “analytics” – we’re humanizing mail.

In the past week since the launch, I have witnessed a really interesting thing. People’s reactions are emotional. They’re having strong reactions, both positive and negative. And that’s wonderful. Just look at the success of The SIMs and Second Life. As that corny song goes, “People who need people are the luckiest people in the world” – even if those people are virtual :)


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