Exclusive Launch Preview: Litepost – A New Generation of E-mail

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Litepost logoLitepost is a new startup that aims to re-invent e-mail. Rev2 had the exclusive opportunity to speak with its Product Manager, Nathan Braun, prior to the company’s invite-only launch of the service. The company, focused mainly on e-mail, plans to revolutionize the industry through its simplistic interface and viral potential.

Aiming High

As it stands, Litepost is not available to the public. The service currently offers up a well-designed landing page with sparse information about their upcoming product. After an in-depth tour with members of the Litepost staff and the opportunity to beta test the application myself, I can tell you it’s rather different from most e-mail applications I’ve used in the past. Iin fact, Nathan Braun, Litepost’s Senior Product Manager, noted that they hope the product will end up being “the perfect merge of the fewest yet most valuable features of Yahoo! Mail and GMail.” The company still, however, has many decisions to make in their quest for e-mail domination.

Beta

Litepost’s Login Screen

Nothing But the Basics

Initially, Litepost plans to market themselves on simplicity. As it stands, the application is stunningly beautiful and a dream to use for novice internet surfers. It reminds me of using Mac OSX’s Mail application: gorgeous, yet functional. Claims Braun, “as long as users understand our interface, I’m sure they’ll like it.” Luckily for Litepost, that won’t be so hard for users to do. The interface, unlike lots of new Web 2.0 e-mail applications, is not coded in AJAX. After a brief discussion, Braun conceded that the company really hadn’t planned on how to incorporate AJAX, theorizing that it may be included in future editions of Litepost.

Sticking to Simplicity

The coding dilemma is due to several problems Litepost has been dealing with. An influx of hits from third-world countries has led them to believe that Litepost will be the ideal webmail choice for users with low-bandwidth. Coding the application in AJAX would essentially leave these individuals out of Litepost’s userbase. If they were to offer two versions, it would segment the Litepost userbase similar to how Yahoo! has segmented theirs with the recent Mail Beta. Litepost expresses no intention to do so, and claims they’ll find an amicable solution to the dilemma, ensuring that the service will be “reliable, durable, rugged, nostalgic, old-fashioned” for all of its users.

Accordingly, they plan on nailing the first interface after response and feedback from beta testers, then possibly “AJAXing” it. Litepost is quick to point out that they’ll be more responsive to user feedback than almost any company before them.

Composing in Litepost

Composing an E-Mail in Litepost

Interface Customization

For the moment, Litepost’s beta interface isn’t quite what version 1.0 of the application will look like. Braun claims Litepost’s new interface “will pay off more–for everyone,” although the current interface is a dream to use. The company claims they’re trying to do for e-mail what 37Signals did for project management: simplify and beautify it. As such, the original aim of Litepost is to be “clutter-free, bare-bones, frill-free, [and] feature-free.”

Litepost offers up numerous skins for users to utilize, all well-designed and uniform throughout Litepost’s interface. Coming soon, however, will be a user-customizable version of Litepost, with the option for users to upload their own themes. The process won’t be difficult, believes Braun. In our discussion, he was curious why other applications haven’t yet made their applications similarly customizable. After all, Firefox hackers are using Greasemonkey to change the interfaces to their favorite sites. Why not make it easier for them?

Litepost Sofia

Litepost’s Sofia Skin, One of Many Skins Offered by the Service

Merging E-Mail With Simplicity

Besides providing a simple e-mail interface, Litepost gives users several additional features that haven’t really been present on other webmail solutions. Similar to GMail, the service offers to merge e-mails into selected conversations. To avoid being labeled as a GMail competitor, however, Litepost instead forces the user to manually merge conversations, which is both a blessing and a cause of despair. While GMail makes mistakes, it’s generally easier when the e-mail application categorizes your webmail for you. Litepost allows you to categorize e-mails with merging, but it’s all up to the user.

The application also makes extensive use of rating and tagging. Users can tag each e-mail and then they’re able to categorize e-mails from there with tags. Ratings are done on a five-star scale and users can search their e-mail with those ratings as well. Finally, the search system has been implemented so users can narrow down their searches using numerous fields. Braun gave a specific example: “it allows you to see messages grouped by DATE first, then SENDER.” He went on to note that Litepost believes this solution is “more intelligent” than GMail’s automerge, a feature which Litepost plans to implement in the near future.

Ratings

Litepost’s E-Mail Rating Option (Circled)

Open Source Options

Throughout their entire development process, Litepost has vowed to remain completely free and open source software. They plan on offering Litepost as a server-side solution for webmasters as well, possibly through a Jumpbox, should they reach an agreement with the company (despite some negotiation, it doesn’t look like Jumpbox will agree to work with Litepost). They’ve also looked into combining the server-side solution of Litepost with the already released Roundcube.

Braun has spoken to Matt Mullenweg, founder of WordPress, about utilizing the open source approach to further Litepost. His solution is to “get away with ‘just’ offering a premium hosted version/service…just like WodPress and many many others…while keeping the current/initial/basic Litepost product…open source.” Braun said Litepost will look to open source to help them with faster evolution and possibly adoption, similar to WordPress’s strategy against Google’s Blogger.

The Future of All Mail?

Litepost has big plans for their future. At several points in our conversation, Braun alluded to his hope that Litepost would at some point “ultimately overtake GMail and all the other mail services over the medium- to longterm.” The company’s current product is a simple, easy-to-use, webmail application that can be utilized by internet novices, experts, and those without access to high-bandwidth. Braun noted that Litepost had a lot in the pipeline, including a flurry of other communication formats. In the works, claimed Braun, are “integrated voicemail, fax, and postal mail integration.” Unfortunately, Braun wasn’t able to offer any further commentary.

Litepost Options

Litepost’s Current Options, Only a Shadow of What’s to Come

The company’s efforts to finance themselves will surely be bolstered by their planned future in different fields of communications. Until Litepost reaches the point when they are able to offer convergence of fax, telephone, and e-mail, they will attempt to utilize premium accounts to aid their financial situation. Their final interface isn’t finished yet, but Litepost plans to have something concrete finished at some point over the summer. At that point, the service will open to the public and begin offering normal accounts with the Litepost features available now, and professional accounts with the inclusion of other communications formats and advanced Litepost features.

Omittances

As I mentioned earlier, Litepost, as it stands, is a bare-bones internet product. GMail users have access to Google Talk and IM through the application itself, while other e-mail applications allow users the ability to read RSS feeds. If a consumer is looking for a place to bring all of their online activities together, Litepost is not that hub. In the future, Braun hints that the application may begin to include RSS and IM.

Finishing Touches

The company has a long way to go, and they seem to have their goals set high. Braun thinks that “Microsoft and Google and Yahoo should all be awfully embarrassed that they did not come up with 90% of this stuff.” Furthermore, the company may be slightly delusioned in claiming that GMail has a “horrible, arrogant interface and aesthetic.” Still, compared to Litepost, most webmail services today are unnecessarily complicated. For those who don’t need the complication and intense features, Braun says Litepost will provide “straightforward, simple e-mail and nothing else.” Litepost has been careful to ensure that our audience realized that the current product was not representative of their final product. The screenshots shown within this article are simply of the 0.5 product and are may or may not be included in the final 1.0 revision. Regardless, the screenshots should show the potential of Litepost as an easy-to-use web application for all web surfers. While the company may be off the mark a bit with some of its claims, one can only hope that dozens of companies will follow their lead in an attempt to make the web easier to use for everyone.


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