Dropbox's acquisition of Mailbox for $100 million has fueled more interest and development of mobile applications aimed at helping users triage their way through overcrowded inboxes. The latest idea in the making is SquareOne, an email app arriving now in beta, which will blow users to designate which emails are important and worth their time. But it does this in a different way than typical “priority inbox” scenarios do today.
That is, instead of lumping emails into two broad buckets – priority and everything else (like Gmail's priority inbox setting does, for those who avoid Gmail's new tabbed experience) – SquareOne wants to help users configure several different buckets, like “friends,” “work,” “VIP,” “Digests,” or any other category of emails you see fit to add.
According the company's young founder and CEO Branko Cerny, a recent Dartmouth grad and, briefly, a Google employee, he came up with the idea for SquareOne while in school, as he became overrun with emails while working as the publisher at the student newspaper, The Dartmouth.
“I started thinking, I wish there was an email client that I could tell [that] I'm busy studying right now, and the only thing I care about is the stuff related to the newspaper, or just stuff from the editorial board, and nothing else,” Cerny says. He started imagining how something like that would work, and this eventually became what is now SquareOne.
The company was founded this August, along with mobile engineer James Mock, and designer Sang Lee. Among its first hires, are Weidong Shao, who spent five years working on the Gmail/Google Apps team, and iOS engineer Arthur Conner.
The vision for the product is one that parallels the experience in which top-level executives hire assistants to structure and organize their inbox for them, and then only alert them to the messages that require an immediate response, or as otherwise directed. (e.g., “Unless it's my wife/the CEO/etc., don't bother me.”)
But to do this in SquareOne today, there's more than a bit of manual effort involved. The app sets you up with some default categories, and you can also add your own. It then borrows concepts like Mailbox's swipe gesture to move you through a sorting process where you swipe to categorize the message's sender appropriately. Another section lets you use drag-and-drop to add individual contacts to the various buckets.
It's all very labor intensive for now, but Cerny says the plan is to combine those steps with recommendation algorithms when the app launches (a public release is expected in January). The plan is to combine manual and automatic sorting for the ideal experience.
After the sorting is done, you can then configure selective notifications for your inbox, turning them on or off as need be.
It's hard to say for now how well this all will work, given that the app I was able to test is not yet a finished product. For those who receive hundreds of emails – including potentially interesting ones from unknown senders – it's just not feasible to organize senders on a one-by-one basis. So the algorithms, which are not yet live for testing, will be key. Plus, the advantages of selective notifications from pre-configured groups may not be significantly better or more useful than simply referring to a priority inbox grouping, or a “VIP” section (like in iOS's mail client), even if they are more granular and offer more control. Email is bad, yes, but it's still “good enough” to not be abandoned entirely, despite its many flaws. And email apps are tough because they force users to change one of their most ingrained behaviors.
Still, the product itself is well-designed, if vaguely Mailbox-like, as many are today. When it arrives, it will have to compete not only with Mailbox, but also with a number of other applications used for triage and notifications, including Boxer, Boomerang, Handle, Skimbox, Sanebox, AwayFind and more, in addition to traditional email clients, like the built-in apps on mobile, and those from companies like Google or Yahoo.
The startup has raised a small amount of seed funding from Kima Ventures, Wasabi Ventures, and others, ahead of its larger $1 million seed round in progress now. The app itself is iOS-first, and will work with Gmail to start. The beta version is going to be gradually rolled out to early adopters and testers beginning first thing tomorrow. To be on the top of that list, you can sign up for access here.