Cloud Based Messaging

Over the past couple days I’ve been thinking and working on cloud based messaging.

The work has been to get off client-based email once and for all. Over the past month, I’ve slowly but surely transitioned from someone who uses the microsoft email system (outlook/entourage/exchange) to someone who uses Google’s Gmail.

I realize that I’m late to this trend, but I’ve been on this path for a long time. When Gmail launched, I opened an account and have been forwarding my email to Gmail since. Its a huge searchable archive that I rely on regularly to find things. I’ve also used Gmail occasionally when my outlook and entourage crash, as they do regularly (at least for me).

I’m one of those people who saves everything. My mail file is between 10gigs and 20gigs depending on how often I archive, empty stuff, and clean it up.

Many people have been telling me for some time that I need to move my mail to the cloud because a mail file as big as mine is not workable in a client/server model.

I had a brief flirtation with outlook running on parallels on my mac but that resulted in a nasty crash of my entire hard disk and regardless of whether it was parallels or something in OSX, that pushed me over the edge. While my new macbook was getting a new hard drive, I went back to my old macbook and used Gmail exclusively.

It’s taken me about a month but I’m pretty comfortable on Gmail now. I still find collapsing emails into conversations an issue at times, but I’ve also found it helpful at times. That was always my big hangup with Gmail.

There are two other things that have really helped me get comfortable with Gmail. The first is keyboard shortcuts. I never took the time to learn them before. I did this time and I now use Gmail mostly without a mouse. That rocks.

The second thing and the reason I am thinking a lot about cloud based messaging is offline Gmail. I use plane, train, and other “offline time” as a time to catch up on email. I hated the idea that I couldn’t do Gmail on a plane. With Google Gears installed, you can now use Gmail in offline mode. I’ve just finished four hours of catching up on email in the browser while being offline. It’s one of those experiences that changes the way you look at web apps.

Gmail caches your most recent mail (and attachments) so you can get a connected experience offline. I wish it would also cache the pages behind the links in my email.

I also wish Twitter’s web app would be available in offline mode. I would love to go back through my timeline for the past few days like I can now do with email and send replies and direct messages. And of course, I’d love to have the pages behind the links in twitter cached as well.

All of this is possible and I think its coming (don’t take my comments specifically about twitter, I haven’t even talked to them about this idea).

I spent some time this morning watching the Google Wave video. I had the same reaction to its UI that I’ve had with Gmail (and FriendFeed too). It looks complicated and cluttered.

But I love the way the messaging all happens in the cloud and its designed for many to many messaging. That’s what happens with the comment conversations in disqus that we have on this blog. We are emailing back and forth but the conversations are public and hosted in the cloud.

So there are some big trends here that I’ve been thinking about.

Web apps are gaining the ability to be functional offline. Which makes them work as mission critical messaging systems. And messages are being hosted in the cloud which creates the kind of scalability needed for a world in where we generate hundreds of messages a day to groups not individuals and want them archived forever.

Mobile is also a big part of this. For messaging, the triple play appears to be cloud based storage, a web app that can be used offline, and great mobile support. With Gmail offering native support of the native Blackberry mail app this summer, I’ll have my triple play. Just in tme to swap out Gmail for Wave!