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Quinta-feira, 4 de Fevereiro de 2010
Designing Email - Part I
[caption id="attachment_362" align="alignnone" width="424" caption="The Interwebz LOLz at your lack of email facilities."]Zeus, sporting some lightning.[/caption]

So yeah, SAPO Campus is supposed to provide this wonderful set of happy magical fun tools to a University. It's a tough crowd, we're aware of it. On one hand you have Internet savvy students, skipping class for a few Farmville dollars, and on the other, teachers and support staff, most of them struggling to get this "social networking facemagazine thingamajig". Oh, and everyone in the middle. While we're convinced we already offer some very compelling tools that should please both ends of this crowd, there's this one thing that some (yours truly included) consider pretty damn central to the whole "unified" experience: an email client. While we've kept pretty much silent on the matter, this as always been on our list of awesome-must-haves (yes, i'm hyphenating it). Albeit pretty old, email is still pretty much central to the whole Internet experience, and the Gods, in all of their godliness, would surely scoff at a PLE which failed to provide at least a simple email client.

After much discussion and back-and-forth of ideas, I think we've finally nailed it, and, let me tell you, this is going to be wayyyyyy better than the iPad. Ok, not better, but still pretty damn close.

Round 1


Our first idea, and one that actually got quite a bit of traction, was to slap a mean and lean email client on a widget. It would use IMAP, and so would let you keep track of any account on whichever service you use (most provide an IMAP connection these days). This sounds neat, until you realize that a widget has precious few real-estate. Doing this in a widget meant we'd have to severely cut down on some features (dropping message composing and sending was tossed around), and simply would not do as the only email features in SAPO Campus.

Round 2


After ditching the widget format, we started to think about how we'd fit an email interface alongside our already existing interfaces. Right about at the same time, we started a major overhaul of our user profile system, and decided we'd integrate these new features in tandem with the already existing My Home widget-based PLE. Under this new system, a user's url (take mine, for example) would provide access to his/hers Profile, My Home and Portfolio platforms. Taking into account this new structure, it dawned on us that it made perfect sense to add an Email icon to the top navigation, and integrate the now illusory email client into the user's PLE.

Neatorama! But wait!


A huge statue of Bender, dressed up as a Pharaoh.

Designing and developing an email client is no walk in the park. In fact, here's how I think the experience would go down. Go ahead and read it, inhale the pain etched on those words, and then come back. Seriously, I'll wait.

Design-wise, it's just very hard to come up with an email client experience that doesn't suck. All of the clients I've gone through sucked. Some of them sucked a little less (wink wink Gmail & Mail.app) but, at the core, most of the whole email thing is boring and hard. Whenever I'm emailing, I actually wish I was having a taco somewhere in Mexico with some random girl named Consuela.

Development-wise, there's all these hoops to go through. Using IMAP takes away some of the pain, but it's still like giving birth to a small elephant. I'm not going to pretend I know what the actual problems would be, because just thinking about it makes me want to get another taco and ring up Consuela. Let's just agree it's a pain in the rear end of the human body.

Enter the Roundcube



After some Googling around, Roundcube started sounding like one of the best open-source webmail clients out there. Technology-wise, everything they use seems to be compatible with our setup. The interface is actually pretty decent, and it's clearly designed to look and feel like a desktop application, so it's pretty well in line with our existing platform.

Using an out-of-the-box system such as Roundcube allows us to skip much of the boring stuff and get a functional version out the door very soon, but it does pose a few obstacles:

So anyway, I started mocking up some interface designs, rocking it out to the Glee soundtrack. This was a few days ago, so they're ready (I think). Part II of this post (hopefully coming out tomorrow) will expose my new baby to the harsh spotlight that is the Web. Tough luck, kiddo.


Published by bruno-abrantes às 00:10

1

De O Pedro Correia a 4 de Fevereiro de 2010 às 13:12
whoa!!! thats really interesting! SAPO Campus is expanding faster than my belly, which is pretty fast!


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