You know the drill: you leave your phone alone for a couple of hours and when you come back, there it is. The flashing light. 200 emails received. In a courageous attempt to make dealing with those emails less daunting, three ex-Google employees have come up with Fluent.
Fluent is a web-based email client that works on any web browser on any device and turns your Gmail inbox into a neatly compiled newsfeed (think Facebook), creating an entirely original UI. With Fluent, you get your emails stripped of all unnecessary information, giving you only the stuff you want to see - who you’re talking to and what they’re saying. You can reply, forward, delete, and archive emails right from the stream, without even having to open it up first. Fluent has even revolutionized the way you deal with attachments; attached images can be viewed in slideshow form inline. Yes, Fluent is essentially trying to beautify your inbox, but more than that, it’s trying to help you be more efficient by dealing with real conversations and people rather than the burden that Gmail can be.
Within your streamlined feed, emails are displayed as snippets, allowing you to determine at a glance which messages you’d rather deal with first. A “more” link displays the entire message in a separate window that’s superimposed on top of your news feed, without taking you to a new page. Additional buttons to forward messages, add labels, mark as spam, and so on are available from a small menu. Fluent also introduces a “to-do” feature that allows you to mark messages that require an action from you, such as a reply, and then optionally set time-based reminders.
The question arises though whether people actually want their email to resemble yet another social media tool. Even Google, with all their marketing muscle, were not able to get Wave off the ground. However, it cannot be denied that the interactive design really makes you feel like you’re getting stuff done (which is the point of email right?). Replying to or starring emails makes them auto-archive (i.e., disappear), which creates a feeling of forward motion as you flow ahead through unread messages. You only have to do a bit of exploring to find your old and familiar email tools (drafts, attachments, starred mail) and you can switch out of Fluent to go back to your old inbox at any time.
What seems an important and positive signal is the fact that the developers are planning to eventually charge a fee for Fluent, or at least for the premium features such as offering document collaboration, file-sharing, and integration with services such as Dropbox, Evernote, and Google Docs. The confidence to charge people to use Fluent means that the developers have an actual plan to develop the platform and enough faith that it will be successful.