As you might not find surprising, I’m e’re alert for innovations in email. Yesterday, I came across a cool new service called PhilterIt, which filters and symbolizes email from brands and priority accounts. Users drag an email from a brand to their brands dashboard, creating a filter that will house all incoming email from that brand. The filter is represented by the brand's logo, and unread emails are presented by a numeric badge.
PhilterIt’s value seems to be around organizing and giving you quick insight into your daily deals email. Given the proliferation of these, it’s not a bad idea. As a prioritization service, it seems a bit less useful, because the sender photos provide no information on the emails’ contents. However, limited though PhilterIt’s audience may be, its core functionality is yet another stepping stone on the path to a completely symbol-based communication system.
The first communication system was nonverbal, the second, oral, the third, symbolic, the fourth, written. Now symbols are again becoming a mainstream form of communication, but this time, they are symbols based on words. The most widespread example of this is Google Image Search: give a word, get a picture. There's the reverse image search engine TinEye and similarity image search engine Retrievr. There’s Pinterest, which is geared more towards browsing and serendipitous discovery. There are the purely or mostly visual e-tail and social sharing sites: Fab.com and The Fancy. There’s the animated gif craze (what should we call #makeitstop). There are visual-centric quick-blog platforms like Tumblr and Posterous. There is the personalized art recommendation engine Art.sy….
Then there is the rise in popularity of data journalism: stories about numbers must be accompanied by the numbers themselves, visualized in web applications like Tableau and Google’s Chart API and Fusion Tables. These do what information visualizations have always done: illustrate numbers—but now, the user can interact with the information, can click on specific sections and adjust ranges and, if desired, go behind the representation to the raw data itself.
The possible causes of this shift are myriad. Maybe it’s because we have more ways and less time to communicate, and so feel impelled to compress our messages as best we can. Maybe it’s because TV shows and films and records are no longer restricted to TV sets and theatres and stereos. Maybe it’s because our fingers are tired. Whatever they are—and they may be all, or none, of the above—their effect is a sea change in how we create, deliver, and process information. Abstraction is the new contraction, or , though personally, I’m reluctant to swap my signs, with their (relatively) easy dissectability for symbols, whose range of meanings are myriad and fluid.
What about you? Do you use any visual-centric communication platforms or services? Which ones?