Better Email Search by Peter Reinhardt

Peter Reinhardt

Co-founder, CEO @ Segment

Better Email Search

Email holds all of our conversations, contacts, notes, and plans. All that information is languishing in my archive folder. I should be able to access this vast personal knowledge-store as if it were an extension of my own, faulty memory.

Sparrow

I use Sparrow as my email client and it’s been great. Except for search. Sparrow’s search is a nightmare. Here are my most recent searches:

  • On my way to a meeting, what’s the address again? I’m on time, right?
  • What’s our federal tax id? I think it’s in that one email… ? … ah.
  • What’s my password for DDDDDD? (yeah… I shouldn’t, but come on, you do it sometimes too ;)
  • Where are the mockups Ian sent out last week? (for some reason the word mockup is never in the email and I’m just screwed trying to find the damn thing.)

I’m constantly searching for old emails. Here’s what it looks like in Sparrow on the iPhone:

Sparrow search on the iPhone

Sparrow’s from/to/subject/all search options are standard for email search, but infuriating. I don’t care!!! I just want the mockup! Shouldn’t “Ian mockup attachment” be good enough to return some imperfect but probable matches?

I don’t remember whether it was from me or to me. I don’t remember whether this keyword was in the subject or the body. I’m trying to find it because I don’t bloody remember the content! Give me a single search box like Google and just figure it out.

Get Cuddly with Fuzzy Matching

Not only do I not remember whether this keyword was in the subject or the body, I probably don’t even have the right keyword. I’ve probably gotten my brain frozen onto the wrong synonym for “mockup”: screenshot, layout, shot, page, design, etc. Give me a hand here and do some fuzzy matching.

I’m Talking Here

On mobile I want to dictate questions verbally. The keyboard is slow, anti-social, and soon Siri will have hooks for apps, right?

On my laptop I’d rather type keywords. Typing up the whole question is soooo AskJeeves, and I’m still not ready to chitchat with my Macbook in a quiet office setting. Well, actually I might be cool with that. Dunno, try me.

Unnecessarily Expanding Scope Cause That’s Fun

Could you start building a knowledge graph of my personal data? Just start answering my questions straight up: “Your Federal Tax ID is 10-10011”. Similar to that new sidebar on Google Searches.

As long as you’re searching all my email, would you mind indexing my Dropbox? My interesting files are all cloudy now, so the problem seems easier and cleaner than the old Google Desktop search.

Closing

It seems like our email overload problem is partly due to the brittle inaccessibility of it’s vast, contained knowledge. Once I archive an email, it’s very difficult to get back. That means I’m constantly trying to memorize parts of the content instead of offloading this gargantuan memory requirement to the computer.

If archived email content was more accessible, email would be more useful and less overwhelming.