I do admit it: I like the IMAP protocol. I regularly use multiple computers and my iPhone, and I read and write email on all of them. IMAP makes that convenient: I have the same view of my folders and my inbox on every computer. We also use a Webmail client that uses IMAP as its underlying technology, so even via webmail, everything looks the same. And apart from the fact that I quite enjoy the way that I can look for all stuff that was sent my way, I much more like the fact that I have just one folder of email that I sent out. It doesn’t matter where I am when I send something off: it all ends up in my sent box on our mail server.
IMAP is a well-specified protocol. One can argue whether it’s a well-desgined protocol, or whether parts of it are a total nightmare to understand and implement. But is is that, well-documented. Given enough programming talent, you can sit down and write either a client or a server for it. (And given the track record of various IMAP clients in the wild, it does take a certain kind of dedication and a good load of skill to really get it right.) But it’s not a technology that lets you guess what a certain field on all requests might mean or why the answers look so different on every second friday of a month starting with J.
The fact that it’s documented means multiple implementations exist. That means if you want, you can set up an IMAP server and just use that; or pay somebody to do just that. Personally, I’m not so fond of the idea of giving all of my email away to somebody who I don’t really know all so well, so my IMAP store is on a server that we run ourselves. But if your preferences are different, there are plenty of services that allow you to use their IMAP server, and be happy with that.
This is where I believe cloud services should be heading. Like so many, I’m a fan of Evernote (I’ve written about that). I’m impressed by what Google Documents can do inside the browser. But for either company: do I know who else has access to my data? What laws are even applicable for stuff that I put up? I’m sure that both Google and Evernote are subject to US subpoenas, but what about german legal demands to hand over data? Or, say, those originating in India? What happens to all the data should Evernote or Google fold? I’d love Evernote even more if there were a way to run a server of my own – because then I know for sure who has access to my data. Or the protocol they use were well-specified so that others could also contribute to a public server my Evernote client connects to.
Ah, if it only were so easy as with IMAP.