Cardbox for email archives?

Jack Schofield in his Guardian blog asks “How do you back up your e-mail?”. He mentions AskSam, which I remember from more than a decade ago, and he gives an interesting reason for that choice: it had import filters for the email system he was using at the time.

We often choose programs not for what the developers think of as the “core functionality” (good indexing, for example) but for something peripheral – often literally peripheral, such as a simple interface to a source of data.

Thus, for example, in the days of the BIX bulletin board, I had a “glue program” (in modern terms, a filter) that took all the messages that I had read and translated them into a format that Cardbox-Plus could read.

Similarly, some medical researchers download abstracts from online services such as Medline and store them, indexed, as Cardbox archives. If you have Cardbox installed (the free client is here) then follow this link to look at a small Abstracts sample database.

So – what about email? We use Eudora and we now have nine years’ worth of emails that are sitting in Eudora mailboxes and accessible only through Eudora’s horrific search interface. Every time I need to search for an email I say to myself “we really must get all this into Cardbox”. But of course the moment when you have at last found the email you are looking for is not the moment to drop everything and start a development project – and the urge passes…

… until now. I am tired of not being able to browse my emails, not being able to search them instantaneously, and above all I am tired of not being able to build up searches step by step – start by finding all emails to or from a certain person, then look for key words in those emails.

I am going to rise to Jack Schofield’s challenge and write an import filter that will extract emails from all those years of Eudora archives and put them into a Cardbox database. When it’s finished, the filter will be available free to all Cardbox users. As the development progresses I’ll put a sample database on our Cardbox Server so that everyone can see the archived emails (although, for reasons of confidentiality, I’ll only put our spam mailbox into that public archive).

Already, when such a filter is still only an idea, I can see other applications: our mail server could activate the filter automatically whenever an email comes in or out, and add it to an online copy of the archive database — thus the entire archive will be always up to date and accessible from anywhere on the Internet.

I’ll post as much as I can of the design process here in the blog, so watch this space.


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