Intro without the Intrusion

Intro without the Intrusion(Ping! Zine Web Tech Magazine) – The relationship between webmail providers and native email clients has always been a tricky one. Webmail providers always want users to login via a browser, but inevitably some people want to use a native client. Back in the desktop days the solution was simple: deliver a feature-rich web interface that was easier to use than a client. While it wouldn’t win every user back, you were giving yourself every chance to maximize users’ eye-time.

Smartphones added an extra hurdle for mail providers, and by placing a native email app front and center in iOS, Apple ensured a whole raft of new users moved off the browser. This is a mail provider’s worst nightmare, and to make matters worse, LinkedIn has just announced a service that could solve the conundrum that has plagued webmail providers for almost two decades.

But has anything been solved at all?

The idea of LinkedIn’s new App, “Intro,” is to provide the user greater connectivity to their contacts all within the iOS Mail App. Many thought that extending the iOS Mail client in this way was impossible, but LinkedIn has found a way round this by routing users’ email through its own servers and inserting LinkedIn specific data into the message.

Having LinkedIn’s wealth of data and your email connected in one place is understandably desirable for many; but is this the right approach? Once installed, all mail is sent through LinkedIn’s servers, modifying messages with LinkedIn data. But as a result, Intro is creating a single point of failure that can impact all of your email since your data is now being fed through its server as well as your email provider’s. Efficient messaging should pass through as few points as possible, and the implementation of an additional step means that if the LinkedIn servers are down or backlogged all your incoming email could be blocked.

It goes without saying how important data security and privacy are, considering what we’ve heard over recent months. By adopting LinkedIn Intro you are in theory opening a central funnel from where all your mail could easily be compromised. In a post-Snowden landscape there are already enough trust issues around email without adding an extra pair of eyes to the mix.

We all enjoy the convenience and productivity of pushing our interactions through mobile devices, and this synergy of social feeds, mail and apps is a trend that’s only going to increase. However, LinkedIn’s approach is too intrusive. Rather than ‘push’ this data through servers to brand it, a more natural way to collate this data is to ‘pull’ it from a number of sources using open APIs that the end-user has authorized. This lends a hand to the benefit of peer-review, and as a result there are no nasty surprises or back doors hiding in the code. It therefore keeps the user fully in control and doesn’t create any single point of failure or the potential for unauthorized access. It’s our data, let’s keep it that way.

By Rafael Laguna, CEO Open-Xchange