I’ve come to the realization that people – especially non digital natives – use the classic snail mail as a metaphor for e-mail. Well, that isn’t anything new but let’s think a little further:
When I have a letter or a package and I want to send it to somebody I write his or her address on it and use a regular postal or parcel service. Now in the metaphor, I would use e-mail to not only send a letter, but also to send some pictures. This is fine, the attachment size differs between e-mail providers but sending some pictures or documents is mostly always possible. But the metaphor in our head is not complete. What if I want to send some hundred pictures, documents or even full videos? You know that people send everything with e-mail or at least they try because they don’t know better.
The metaphor of sending letters or packages in any size is in their head but it does not translate into reality.
And this is the point where e-mail must grow. It has to provide it’s users with the possibility to easily send huge amount of data and also receive these huge amount of data. Trust me, explaining ordinary people why they cannot send a video over e-mail and showing them how they could accomplish that (upload to YouTube, Google Drive etc.) is hard and it frustrates them that they just cannot send them via e-mail. This is also the reason why huge files are send by snail mail on a DVD or on a flash drive.
This is a true problem that has to be solved! It really is no fun when you want to send a huge file to somebody. You have to upload it somewhere, hope that the receiver has an account there or no account is needed for another person to access this file, and then you have to leave this interface and write your e-mail with instructions on how the receiver may access the file.
Technically it would not be advisable to truly send huge amounts of data over e-mail. There would need to be some kind of standard in place at the backend. A defined standard, because every e-mail provider creating their own solution would be a nightmare for everybody trying to send something form Gmail to Outlook for example. And this is something that already has been tried. As far as I can remember, Microsoft Live Mail did something like this: When attaching to many files or using „attach pictures“ instead of „attach files“, Live Mail would upload it somewhere where the receiver has to manually download it through another interface.
A huge file which gets attached to an e-mail should be automatically get uploaded to a safe place in the background, the mail server of the provider for example. The user should mostly be unaware of this process. The only thing the sender sees is that he or she attached a huge file to an e-mail which is on its way to the receiver. The only thing the receiver sees is that he or she got an e-mail with a huge file attached to it.
There should be no change of interface needed.
This is the crucial part: It is only one interface. No need to switch to YouTube or Dropbox or whatever. Everything related happens in the background.
I am well aware, that this puts a high bandwidth demand on e-mail providers and that agreeing on a common standard is far away from simple. But to address this problem and truly fulfill the metaphor that is in our heads but currently failing, it is a needed evolution of e-mail to grow. I am neither in the position to efficiently propagate a standard nor do I have the needed programming skills to make this happen. What I can do is, to point out this problem and propose a solution. Maybe somebody with the power and/or the skills will stumble upon this, implement it and make the life of millions of people using e-mails way easier.