File Under: Software

Mozilla’s Raindrop Wants to Solve Your Communication Woes

Mozilla Labs has debuted a new web-based tool for integrating all your online communications — such as e-mail, Twitter, Skype and Facebook — into a single browser window. It uses a series of intelligent filters to highlight what’s important to you, bringing the conversations with people or updates from services you care about the most to the top, and keeping the stuff that can wait out of sight until you’re ready to look at it.

It’s called Raindrop, and it fetches all of your communications from different sources like mail servers, Twitter and RSS feeds. Then, Raindrop intelligently surfaces the “important parts,” giving them priority and allowing you to reply or interact with the communications inside your web browser. Like all Mozilla projects, Raindrop is open-source software — it’s actually a mini web server that you run locally and access through your browser. At the time of Thursday’s launch, Firefox, Safari and Chrome are supported, with Internet Explorer notably absent from the list.

While Raindrop is rough around the edges in this early release, Mozilla is hoping to build a one-stop communication platform that will give you a single place to view all your messages, e-mail, shared photos and other social tools.

The “intelligent” part of Raindrop would allow, for example, direct messages and @replies from Twitter to be highlighted over regular incoming messages not directed specifically to you. E-mails that come in can be sorted to give priority to messages from your closest friends, replies and active threads you’re participating in. The idea is to make Raindrop a people-centric communication tool that emphasizes your friends over mailing lists, rote announcements and other not-quite-spam messages.

That might sound a bit like Google Wave, which is also trying to re-imagine web-based communication from the ground up. But while Raindrop and Wave share some similar features, including the ability to view images and videos inline, Google Wave is a much more radical departure from the status quo. Raindrop is more familiar, since it essentially melds a few things you’re already using — an e-mail inbox, a Twitter client and an RSS reader — into a singular, streamlined interface. Raindrop is also similar to Mozilla Lab’s existing Snowl project, which puts a river of news and e-mail messages in Firefox. But unlike Snowl, which is a Firefox plugin, Raindrop is a standalone system that even features an API that will allow developers to build their own add-ons, extending Raindrop as they see fit.

So, Raindrop will only gain functionality over time through widgets, add-ons and media-specific enhancements for services like YouTube and Flickr. In that sense, Raindrop could be seen as a logical extension of where Google has been taking Gmail recently by letting users add widgets for chat, calendar, RSS updates and other communication tools to Gmail’s browser-based inbox.

At the moment, Raindrop is a developer release, which means there’s no installer to download. The Labs team is making a downloadable installer one of its top priorities for the project. Interested developers can check out the code and run the startup script manually (see the Mozilla wiki for details). It’s not a plug-in or a desktop client — once Raindrop reaches the packaged installer stage, you’d set it up and then visit a local URL to see your messages.

I was able to install the developer code with no problems on my local machine. After telling Raindrop my Gmail and Twitter account info, the script dutifully fetched my messages.

Raindrop’s overview of your Inbox. Click the image for a larger view.

As you can see in the image above, Raindrop retains Gmail’s threaded conversation view, however, in this case Raindrop failed to filter out a message from a local wine shop, which, while not spam, is nevertheless not something I would want prioritized.

Still, Raindrop is clearly a work in progress and despite not being perfect, it did do a pretty good job of filtering out less important conversations.

Raindrop inline e-mail and Twitter messages. Click the image for a larger view.

As you can see, Twitter updates are shown inline with e-mail threads. Other messages, like mailing list subscriptions, are filtered out of the main conversation flow and given their own boxes so you can see what’s new without fully disrupting your more personal communications.

At the moment, any filtering or message deleting in Raindrop does not appear to sync back to your mail server. This is a serious flaw that we expect will be addressed before Raindrop reaches the downloadable stage.

This early developer release of Raindrop isn’t much to look at yet. But I should note that Mozilla has already spun out a new design that looks a bit more like Snowl:

Raindrop’s newer interface (image courtesy of Mozilla). Click the image for a larger view.

The newer look is a bit cleaner and abandons the traditional e-mail-style layout in favor of something more free-flowing.

Raindrop is clearly still very experimental and not meant for even casual usage, but we’re looking forward to seeing where Mozilla Labs takes the project.

Wrapping your head around Raindrop is difficult to do without actually using it and, due to the lack of an installer, using it is beyond most users at this point. Thankfully, Mozilla has posted this video which gives you nice overview of how Raindrop works.

Raindrop UX Design and Demo from Mozilla Messaging on Vimeo.

See Also: