Vinton Cerf, a co-designer of the TCP/IP protocol whos considered a father of the Internet, told attendees during his opening keynote at the Email Technology Conference here Thursday that e-mail should be thought of as "a metaphor of your workspace."
"I spend more time on e-mail than I do on anything else," Cerf said. "[And] I would prefer to get most of my electronic communications in there."
But as more types of messaging move into the e-mail inbox, the consequences of intermingling them must be considered, he said. Cerf said he already receives voice mails and faxes as e-mail messages and would like to store other digital objects within e-mail.
When voice mails become e-mail messages, they can be easily forwarded to others—turning what many have considered "ephemeral" messages into a permanent record, possibly even becoming indexed by search engines such as Google Inc., Cerf said.
At the same time, the current ways of managing and organizing e-mail are not always suited for handling multiple forms of messaging, especially as the volume of messages increases, said Cerf, a senior vice president of technology strategy at MCI Inc.
"I think of e-mail as being close to a general filing system, but its not," Cerf said, noting that he has created more than 6,000 folders for organizing his e-mail.
Users remain frustrated over the inability to put tagged messages into multiple folders or categories or to easily specify that an outgoing message be stored somewhere besides the "outbox." He called on the e-mail vendors and technologists at the conference to rethink the role of e-mail.
Turning to the increasing prevalence of spam, Cerf called unwanted e-mail "the scourge of the Internet." He somewhat jokingly suggested that spammers be subjected to public flogging as a deterrent to sending unsolicited, mass e-mail.
He said a good first step toward fighting spam would be better mechanisms for authenticating it. Major vendors and ISPs are working on authentication methods, particularly prevent spoofing, a practice where spammers disguise an e-mails domain information. Microsoft has merged its Caller ID proposal with the Sender Policy Framework (SPF) protocol, while Yahoo has touted a proposal called DomainKeys.
"That gives us at least a beginning for a mechanism of control," Cerf said of authentication. "Right now, theres no standard way for discovering the origin of mail."
In his keynote, Cerf also recapped the development and growth of the Internet and stood behind efforts to move to IP Version 6 and internationalized domain names.