This application is a Divisional of U.S. patent application Ser. No. 13/070,749, entitled “MECHANISM FOR IMPLEMENTING LABELS AND REMINDERS IN AN EMAIL SYSTEM”, filed Mar. 24, 2011, which is a Divisional of U.S. patent application Ser. No. 11/820,708, entitled “MECHANISM FOR FACILITATING ORGANIZATION AND ACCESSING OF EMAILS”, filed Jun. 19, 2007, which is a continuation of U.S. patent application Ser. No. 11/805,636, entitled “MECHANISM FOR GENERATING A COMPOSITE EMAIL”, filed May 23, 2007, which claims the benefit of U.S. Provisional Application Ser. No. 60/878,237, entitled “SYSTEM AND METHOD FOR AN EMAIL MANAGEMENT SYSTEM THAT REDUCES THE CLUTTER OF REPETITION OF EMAILS IN FOLDERS AS WELL AS IN EMAIL CONTENT, PROVIDES FEATURES THAT FACILITATE COLLABORATION BY EMAIL COMMUNICATION, AND PROVIDES FOR WAYS TO USE EMAIL CONTENT IN MEANINGFUL WAYS”, filed Jan. 3, 2007. The entire contents of the above-referenced applications are hereby incorporated by reference.
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Electronic mail (hereinafter “email”) has become one of the most widely used communication tools in the world. Most people use email systems at their workplace and at home, and with the increasing number of emails sent and received, the shortcomings of existing email systems are becoming clear.
One drawback to existing email systems is that managing emails, new incoming and new outgoing, and their subsequent replies and forwards, is increasingly difficult with the growing volumes of emails, and more often than not leads to cluttered inbox, sent, and deleted folders. The inbox folder often becomes cluttered because emails, new incoming emails as well as previously read emails, are stored in the inbox folder until a user manually moves the emails out of it. Emails get cluttered in the sent folder because new emails sent out by the user are stored in the sent folder, and replies and forwards sent by the user to others are also stored in the sent folder.
Over time, the clutter keeps increasing, and it is quite common for users to have hundreds of emails sitting in the inbox, sent mail, and other named folders. It takes considerable effort to move and keep moving the emails into other named folders, to keep the clutter from growing. As the emails are moved into named folders, the named folders themselves get cluttered with repetitive emails. The user is afraid to delete any email (in inbox, sent or named folders) for fear of losing something important, and because of time constraints is unlikely to sift through these emails in order to reduce their redundancy.
While each email does contain some new data in the form of the latest email message, it likely contains a repetition of earlier emails as an appendix, which may be in the form of “quoted” text continuing after the new message or in the form of a separate file attached to the email. When the number of participants in an email increases, the potential for clutter increases very rapidly and in direct proportion to the increase in number of participants. Some users may spend the time and effort to move emails on a particular subject, or grouping, into specific named folders, reducing the amount of clutter in the inbox, sent and deleted folders, but many or even most do not.
Another drawback to current email management approaches is that identifying, extracting and using data residing in emails can get extremely cumbersome because the data may be resident in conceivably twenty, thirty, forty or more than a hundred emails on a particular subject. These emails may also reside in different folders, such as the inbox, sent and other named folders, and possibly in the deleted folder too. It can become impenetrable, if the need for data tucked away in various emails arises after several days when one's memory may not be as sharp, or if data is contained in emails with several subject headings. Information on a particular topic cannot be easily collated from various emails, and printing the various emails for a hard copy reference is a voluminous job with diminishing utility as the number of emails grows.
In general, current approaches provide two ways to meaningfully use the data contained in multiple emails. One way is to highlight the required text, a few words or several lines at a time, in an email that is open on the user's screen, and copy it into another document (word processing or email or other), and then to repeat this process over several emails. Another way is to create an exported output of the email into a file, instead of paper, and then use the output of the resulting file in another document which may be a word processing document, or an email or some other document, and then to repeat this process over several emails.
Many email management systems provide search facilities to identify the emails that may contain specified words or phrases. The search result identifies the emails that satisfy the specified search criteria. But once the emails have been identified, either by manually going through several emails, or by the quicker search routines, the problem of extracting the data and using it from the several identified emails remains. The problem can be partially addressed by going into each email, one at a time, and using one of the two ways described above, highlighting or using an export function to create an output file, to extract and use the data. As the number of emails increases, so does the effort. These limitations, combined with the clutter of large numbers of emails, make it extremely difficult to use the data from the emails in a meaningful manner.
Another drawback to current approaches is that data is repeated over and over in replies and forwards, both sent and received, using valuable disk space. Additionally, particularly at the corporate or enterprise level, backups and historical records maintenance become more cumbersome and costly. The extent of data repetitiveness in emails, and redundancy due to multiplicity of mostly identical emails, can be quite a serious problem in terms of how much storage space is used for periodic backups as a security measure and for archiving, tasks which may be statutory requirements for many companies. If multiple copies of emails are eliminated or avoided in backups, it may be possible to reduce the manpower and memory requirements of email backups and archiving.
Another drawback to current approaches is that as users keep sending and receiving emails, the subject of the emails evolves, but emails are sent using the same subject heading. Sometimes a subject heading may be changed to reflect a new evolved status of the old subject, but the content of old as well as new subjects may continue under the new subject heading. In essence, the current system of emails allows a subject heading, but does not allow any organized way of enforcing that subject heading (i.e. limiting the discussion to that subject heading).
Current email management approaches have no organized way to manage subject headings as they evolve or change into subheadings. In one case, the subject heading does not change, but the content of emails may be on revised but related subjects (evolution of the original subject), thus making data collection and analysis from emails even more difficult than already described. In another case, the subject heading changes to reflect an evolution from the original subject, but some email users may continue to send text based on the old subject but use the new subject headings, thus once again making it difficult to delete or organize the emails.
Another drawback to current approaches occurs when the subject itself does not evolve, but there is simply a natural passage of time. Current approaches do not permit a systematic way to continue emails on an old subject after a period of absence of emails on the subject. If a user receives an email on an old subject after a long break, the potential for the email containing one or more of the following is rather high: the sender may fail to append older emails exchanged on that topic (i.e. a new email instead of a reply/forward to an older email on the subject), or fail to write the same subject in the subject line, or worse, send an appendix of other irrelevant emails while sending the email on the subject. Currently, the user has to review the clutter of emails in various folders to obtain a history of that subject. This makes it very difficult for the user to ascertain the context behind the new message. Thus, the new message may be difficult to understand.
The approaches described in this section are approaches that could be pursued, but not necessarily approaches that have been previously conceived or pursued. Therefore, unless otherwise indicated, it should not be assumed that any of the approaches described in this section qualify as prior art merely by virtue of their inclusion in this section.
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In accordance with one embodiment of the present invention, there is provided a mechanism for generating a composite email. As used herein, the term “composite email” refers to a set of information that includes content automatically extracted from a plurality of individual emails. With this mechanism, it is possible for a user to view content from multiple emails without having to manually open and extract content from each of those emails.
In one embodiment, when an initial email pertaining to a particular topic or subject is sent to start an email conversation, a unique identifier is associated with that email. All subsequent emails in that email conversation (e.g. responses to the initial email, response to responses to the initial email, etc.) will also carry that unique identifier. Thus, the unique identifier associates the various emails with each other so that they can be treated as being part of the overall email conversation.
In one embodiment, when any email in an email conversation is accessed by a user, the mechanism extracts the unique identifier from that email. The mechanism also extracts content from that email. Based at least partially upon the unique identifier, the mechanism accesses an email conversation data structure that is associated with the email conversation. This email conversation data structure contains information indicating which emails are part of the email conversation. The mechanism selectively accesses one or more of the emails that are indicated by the email conversation data structure as being part of the email conversation, and extracts content from those one or more accessed emails. The mechanism then automatically generates or composes a composite email. The mechanism includes in this composite email the content extracted from the email that is being accessed by the user and the content extracted from the one or more accessed emails. This composite email may then be displayed to the user. By performing the processing discussed above, the mechanism enables the user to easily view the contents from several or all of the emails in the email conversation without having to manually search for each email, manually open each email, and manually extract information from each email. Thus, viewing the contents of multiple emails in an email conversation is made quite simple. In one embodiment, none of the emails in the email conversation contain repeated text that is copied from previous emails in the email conversation (e.g. if an email is a reply to a previous email, it does not contain a copy of the text in the previous email; rather, the reply includes just the new text entered by the sender of the reply); thus, none of the emails in the email conversation contain redundant content. Because of this, the content that is extracted from the various emails and included in the composite email is inherently non-redundant.
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
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The present invention is illustrated by way of example, and not by way of limitation, in the figures of the accompanying drawings and in which like reference numerals refer to similar elements and in which:
FIGS. 1A and 1B show sample systems in which one embodiment of the present invention may be implemented.
FIG. 2 shows a sample user interface that is provided by one embodiment of the present invention to enable a user to create an initial email of an email conversation.
FIG. 3 shows a sample user interface provided by one embodiment of the present invention in which a composite email may be displayed.
FIG. 4 shows a sample email conversation data structure that is used, in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention, to maintain information indicating which emails are part of an email conversation.
FIG. 5 shows a sample display of containers that a user may see when a user accesses his/her email account, wherein the containers may be used to store various emails in the email account.
FIG. 6 how reminders associated with emails may be presented to a user in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention.
FIG. 7 is a block diagram of a general purpose computer system in which one embodiment of the present invention may be implemented.
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In the following description, for the purposes of explanation, numerous specific details are set forth in order to provide a thorough understanding of the present invention. It will be apparent, however, that the present invention may be practiced without these specific details. In other instances, well-known structures and devices are shown in block diagram form in order to avoid unnecessarily obscuring the present invention.