Postbox, an interview with Sherman Dickman

A short while ago I moved over to a new email program called Postbox, and I’ve been absolutely loving it for it’s labelling, archive and search functions. One of the people involved with Postbox is Sherman Dickman, whom I knew from when he was still the Product Manager at Mozilla, so I decided to interview him on Postbox, what it is and why it exists.

Hey Sherman, can you give us a short introduction of yourself and your work experience?

I first started working in the software industry at really terrific company called Broderbund, where I worked in the product management group on titles such as “Prince of Persia 2″ and “Where in the USA is Carmen Sandiego.” After Broderbund, I was a program manager at Apple for several Mac OS technology components, including AppleScript and OpenDoc. I then spent seven years at Sun Microsystems in the Java Software group, where I was the product management lead on J2SE 1.4.

A desire to get back to user-facing software led me to Mozilla, where I met my co-founder, Scott MacGregor. We realized that we shared a similar vision for email and productivity, and from that, Postbox was born.

Can you tell us what Postbox is?

Postbox is a new desktop email application that dramatically improves the way people find, use, and organize email messages and content. We’re currently in public beta for our 1.0 version, and anyone can download the beta from our website.

What made you dive into creating Postbox?

Advanced Search

We didn’t feel our software tools were doing enough to help people stay productive. We’re literally drowning in information, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to make sense of it all. For example, we found that many people simply keep everything in the inbox, essentially living out of their inboxes because it’s too much effort to keep everything organized within folders.

And while message volume is certainly a contributor to overload, we also found that messages were being used for functions they were never designed to support. We leave messages in our inboxes because they remind us of things we need to do, or because they contain a document or a piece of information. How many times have you emailed a message to yourself, and did that feel like an elegant way to work with email?

We’re building Postbox so that people can spend less time managing email, and more time using email to get stuff done.

What are the main reasons for people to switch to Postbox?

We can save people a lot of time by providing very fast ways to find and use messages and content. In Postbox, you can get instant access to all of your files, images, and links in just one click, and then perform useful actions on the content that you’ve found. For example, if a relative asks for more recent family photos, simply hit reply and search through all images stored within your email – directly within your message reply window.

Message Compose with Attachment Search

We also make it easy for people to organize messages by topic, which essentially creates a lightweight activity space to work within. People can quickly assign a topic to a group of messages, and then jump into that topic to get stuff done. This allows people to stay focused on just one thing at a time, while minimizing interruptions from unrelated messages. Topics can also be combined with Postbox search to get faster access to the content that is most relevant to your current activity.

Finally, because we’re a desktop application and do everything locally, you can use Postbox with either your work or home accounts, while maintaining the privacy and confidentiality of your email information.

What’s your business model?

We’re currently evaluating a variety of options, but no decisions have been made to date.

What are some of the features you will be adding in the near future? Are you guys going to offer email hosting like RackSpace perhaps?

We have some great features in the pipeline, but in the near term, our Beta 10 release will contain a new way to add custom signatures to your messages. You can create a variety of rich HTML signatures, and then quickly select which signature you would like to use directly within a new message window. It’s pretty slick, and it actually turned out to be kind of fun to use.

We’ll also be adding in support for additional content types to search for, and we’ll be providing new ways to view, organize, use and share this information within email and online.

Any closing thoughts?

Postbox works great with any POP or IMAP account, so I would encourage everyone to try it. We’re still in beta, so there’s a lot of active development going on. Since we release a new version about every three weeks, there’s always something new to check out.

Thanks Sherman for your time, and everyone, go try Postbox!

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16 Responses

  1. gerbenBy gerben on 26 March, 2009

    Works great here too, but using iMap is causing some serious downtimes with postbox, Thunderbird has less problems with it though. But both 10 times better than outlook ofcourse.

  2. Roy TanckBy Roy Tanck on 26 March, 2009

    I must say I’m not sure going the desktop app route is the right approach. Now that we’re all online all the time the need to download email and store it locally is over right? I love not having to worry about gigabytes of mail when moving to a new computer and stuff like that.

    It sounds to me like opening a video rental place in the sense that they too will probably soon be overtaken by their online counterparts.

    • Joost de ValkBy Joost de Valk on 26 March, 2009

      The issue is, that I’m NOT always online, and want to be able to reach my email ALL the time. I’ve always got my laptop with me, and this has made searching through my mail so effortless, it’s really a huge improvement.

  3. Mike YoungBy Mike Young on 26 March, 2009

    Joost. Must say thanks for the heads up for Postbox.

    I caught one of your tweets a few weeks back and headed on over to their site.

    Been using it ever since and have been really impressed with so far.


    • Joost de ValkBy Joost de Valk on 26 March, 2009

      Glad to hear that you enjoy it!!

  4. MartijnBy Martijn on 27 March, 2009

    I am interested, Thunderbirds development seems to have stalled. Our office uses Thunderbird as the mail client which works fine, but there are plenty of places where things can be improved.

    Mail volume is such that an online client would slow us down too much ; backing up mail is another major issue.

    • MartijnBy Martijn on 27 March, 2009

      Just installed on my Linux machine with Wine. It looks and acts like a fork of Thunderbird. A little digging on the site reveals why:

      Prior to founding Postbox, Scott was a lead engineer at Mozilla Corporation, where his after-hours efforts led to the invention of Thunderbird.

      If they manage to get a commercial version of Thunderbird of the ground more power to them!

  5. Dave DoolinBy Dave Doolin on 27 March, 2009

    Sherman is legendary. He once managed a major JDK release on Windows, Linux and Solaris… all released on the same day. Glad to see progress here, Thunderbird does seem to be stalled.

  6. KevinBy Kevin on 29 March, 2009

    What are the advantages of using this over Gmail?

  7. Roel WillemsBy Roel Willems on 30 March, 2009

    The UI looks really clean and functional.. mosty the #1 reason I’ve abandoned desktop e-mail clients.

    I will definitely give Postbox a spin tonight!

  8. Martijn BeijkBy Martijn Beijk on 1 April, 2009

    Been using Postbox for some time now and I just love it. Its thunderbird (which I love) on steroids. Still few glitches, but can live with that. I only use IMAP

  9. RudyJBy RudyJ on 6 April, 2009

    i’ve been using it for a few weeks and i’m really impressed with it…time saver as well.

  10. Tobias StapletonBy Tobias Stapleton on 11 May, 2009

    what is outstanding about Sherman is that he is so objective in nature.

  11. PikesanBy Pikesan on 9 June, 2009

    Will the messages be stored in a “conversational” method like Gmail? I’ve grown to really like that. After reading, I want to try it. Your post hits on some of the issues I’m having finding and retrieving email info and files.