Why e-mail should be more like RSS

Why e-mail should be more like RSS: I’m one of those people who barely scratch the surface of using all the features software offers. Then, one day, I’m thinking, “I wish I could do this” and after poking around a little, I discover the feature was there all along.

For example, using (on my Mac) NetNewsWire, I have lots of RSS feeds organized in a hierarchy of folders (It looks a little like this screen shot on the Ranchero website, but mine is way more obsessively organized. When I travel, I usually spend some time pruning feeds from the list, or moving feeds from one folder to another.)

Long ago, I came to the conclusion that all feeds are not created equal. Some I want to be refreshed very often, and I want to check them as soon as they are refreshed. Others I want to check only in the evening. Some I like to see on the weekend. Some, I can wait until I “get around to it.”

So, duh, I just discovered (from the rockstar of organizational hacks like this, Merlin Mann) that NetNewsWire has my dream feature, one that’s probably been there forever – and one I wish I had on my e-mail. By choosing the “Info” option under the “Window” menu, I can set up custom refresh schedules for each feed, or for an entire folder of feeds. You can even set it up to opt out of a manual refresh of all feeds.

Can you do that with e-mail? Let mail from person A into my in-box immediately. Let mail from person B into my in-box only once every hour. Let mail from person C into my in-box every full-moon. Etc. If we had RSS-mail instead of e-mail, we could.

Update: Thanks to those power Mac mail users who have headed me into a higher state consciousness. As much as I thought I was a filtering fool, there apparently is much more I can do.

  • Sebastian Siedentopf

    You only have to use smart mailboxes and/or rules. Make a “check once a week” mailbox for example and put all the persons into it you want.

  • aehso

    I think a major problem with this question is that your email client is configured to talk to a single SMTP server (for each account) and messages from a potentially infinite set of senders can arrive from that single server. It’s a bit like subscribing to a single RSS feed that supplies RSS items that are linked to different sites on the interenet.
    To more accuratly get email(to ape RSS in an architectural sense) you would have to have a single email address for each contact. Then all you’d need to do is configure your email client to poll the POP3/IMAP server at different intervals for different accounts.
    That might sound impractical but now that I think email accounts are easy to create these days. I guess the trick would be to find an email client that manages accounts in an efficient manner…

  • Mr. X

    I too use Netnewswire and I too am just as obsessive about how the feeds are sorted. I found a somewhat better way though–try using http://www.feedjumbler.com to consolidate all of your many feeds (I used to have 43 Macintosh-related subfeeds) into one master feed and it does make tracking and cleanup a dream. I now have 1 feed for ALL of my Macintosh feeds, 1 feed for ALL of my headline news, etc. You can even have it put the blog source in front of the title so you know where they are coming from. You can also add new feeds to your feedjumbler feed and you never have to remember which feeds you are subscribed to or anything! I’m a convert!

  • chris

    geez,
    have you ever heard of filters?

    like…
    if sender is A leave in “inbox”
    if sender is B move to folder “check occasionally”
    if sender is C move to trash

    smart mailboxes could be even more detailed, like:
    if sender is B and time received is not during the last hour..

    etc etc

  • rex

    Incredibly, yes, I have heard of filters. In fact, I have filters out the waazoo. And I even use “smart” mail filters. But I guess I haven’t reached the threshold of smartness in my filtering that I reveals the obviousness of this timed, filtered strategy. I’m really appreciating this helpful Mac help. Thank you all.

  • Dan Ridley

    I use procmail on my server to add an X-Category header to incoming mail, based on the sender. Then Apple Mail filters based on that category. This is handy, because the lists of senders are maintained in really easy-to-handle text files, rather than a massive all-encompassing rule. My client-side rules just check for the headers.

    My system isn’t based on frequency of checking, but on GTD-style contexts (though it boils down to: read anywhere, read while working, read while lounging about).