95% of the e-mail I send is not private. I’m writing to my friends, and the conversation is not personal. Actually, I’d be stoked if someone overheard our chatter, and decided to weigh in as well.

Transparent E-Mail is email that you send to someone, and is simultaneously posted to a section of your blog or wiki (or WikiWebLog).


The idea is that the mail is caught by Google. For example, if someone’s trying to solve some technical problem, they may find the answer in an email exchange you had with a friend.

It’s also useful for getting an idea of what a friend is doing. You can glance at their public email to see what they are up to, what their interests are, what they are doing.

With publishing on WWW you have also the advantage of linking to old emails.

How to Implement

Following the strategy of SideSystemsFirst,…

Write a plug-in to your WikiPedia:Mail_transfer_agent. If the first line of the text of the e-mail reads, “BLOG,” then perform an IntComm:XmlRpc call to your PersonalLogServer.

Or perhaps from the other side - just have a wiki that you can send emails to and cc to it. I think this was implemented in the commercial JotSpot and Socialtext wikis and for sure Twiki has a plugin for that as well. The subject line can become the page title. This has the additional advantage that everyone sees that the email is being sent to a public site.

Privacy & Consent

There are privacy issues: Does the person on the other end of the line know that what you are saying is public? If they respond, and you quote them, that’s probably not good. But if they know, and don’t mind, that’s okay.

This sort of privacy issue makes this difficult.

I don’t know that there’s actually a TechnologySolution to this. I think you just have to use some sense.

Alternatively, there could be ListServ? type mailing lists that people subscribe to, and give their consent for transparency upon joining. The ListServ? archives could be wiki pages.

Related Ideas

See Email2Wiki, OverHear


I intend to export this page to IntComm, so if you don’t mind, I’d like it to be licensed PD, for now..!

This page is ripped from an old blog post of mine.

“some sense” should probably translate to “you should specifically tell this to people”, because there is some presumption that email is private by definition. maybe adding a standard disclaimer as a signature would do the trick. me, i would probably feel obliged to ask everyone for permission, which wouldn’t bother me.

Yes, many people mistakenly assume that email is private. So it would be polite to ask everyone for permission. – DavidCary

I barely have time to keep up with my own email. How the heck am I going to keep up with yours too?

(laugh) The idea is that it’s caught by Google. ;)

Also, if there’s some logistical planning or something; You can go see what the people involved are saying to each other.

If you want to see if someone’s particularly busy, or just what they are up to, or even what their interests are, you can just glance over their mail.

It was an idea that preceeded OverHear.

Couldn’t I just set up a publically accessible mailing list that anyone could post to, subscribe only myself and then give out the mailing list address as my address? Done?

Good idea! :D

People could even drop you notes there, if you find a way to work around spam. :)

My friend just suggested a gmail tag “public” that would allow search engines to find the mail with that tag. Downside, of course, is that this is dependent on google and gmail. Or what if we forget about gmail supporting this. We start tagging public and then we write a robot to go check from time to time and republish those public emails somewhere.

I barely have time to keep up with my own email. How the heck am I going to keep up with yours too?

Good question. It’s a bit paradoxical, but transparent email may reduce the time you spend on “your own” email in several ways:

  • If people can do a quick search to see if you’ve already heard the latest email joke/hoax, perhaps you’ll only get mere dozen or so copies :-).
  • If you want to tell someone about some critical meeting or status report, you can do a quick search to see if they’ve already recieved the memo from someone else – and if so, you can move on, saving the time to write an email, spell check it, etc.
  • If you (or, more accurately, your software) sees that you got the same spam that several of your friends recieved, and the first 3 that opened it rejected it as spam, then your software can automatically delete it for you.
  • If you get basically the same question from lots of different people, you can write up an answer once and for all. Then the next person who has that question can immediately find your answer, without you even being aware of it.
  • If you (or, more accurately, your software) gets mail that seems to be from LionKimbro, but Lion Kimbro’s public mail archive contains no such message, then your software can automatically delete it as a forgery. Alternatively, if you get email from some account you’ve never heard of before, and their public mail archive shows they sent a million emails today, your software can automatically delete it as spam. (But what if it’s a private message that he doesn’t want to post to his public email archive?)

I see someone is already setting up a transparent mail server: ”from this page you'll be able to see copies of all the e-mail messages that have been sent to and from anybody using an account at

Needless to say, I actually love this idea, even with my objections above. I hate email, and would hate it less if I had this. By the way, is a pretty cool site to look around, even without the cool public email plan. This guy wants to give away a ton of cash and do so in an open and transparent manner. I love it!

In the article "Email Clients That Don't Consume and Produce Feeds are Doomed", mcgough says: “For many years I have thought of email as both a communication & a publishing platform … I have more than 15 years worth of useful messages that I’ve saved from public discussion groups, such as Usenet, and I would love to make these available to everyone.”

Hmm, …

(regarding the article:)

If your addressbook can publish an RSS feed, why bother?

Why waste time wrapping vcards into RSS, when you could just publish them directly?

Who wants to read vcards in their aggregator? If your argument is: “Well, it wouldn’t be an aggregator, it’d be a special purpose app, …” …then why would that app read from RSS, rather than reading the vCards directly?

I suspect what’s happening is that the phrase “RSS” has become synonymous with “public” and “machine-readable” in people’s minds. And so, they’re going: “Oh, RSS is public. If I want to make data public and machine readable, I want to put it in RSS.”

Where is the public in RSS? The webserver.

Your blog is publicly visible because it’s plugged into Apache, and you set the permissions public, not because it’s RSS.

Put your addressbook’s vcards directory (if it has one) into Apache’s public directory, and (A) they’ll be public, and (B) your friends will hate you.

(As for the latter, that’s why we need intelligence community styled security designators for everything. Our very simple tri-part personal-group-public system will not survive more than a decade, I suspect.)

I like the ideas of making some email public, and of emailing to a wiki to make it public. This could eventually help people recognize when it is more useful to just use wiki and skip email period.

Reminds me a little of this interview with Ross Mayfield from Socialtext

Maybe we need a seperate mail day-page system. Mails to a wiki could go to MailPages?, a set of day-pages with an own mail-calendar and WiderMailCalendar? similar to the events day-pages on Solitude-wiki: events.

Email to wiki can also work as forum attached to a wiki.


Define external redirect: MailPages WiderMailCalendar ListServ

EditNearLinks: JotSpot WikiWebLog IntComm