Timeline 3D interface to Email

Sometimes a project takes a while. And there are long intervals of working on details but you really want to see ALL the emails associated with a project. I use Mac Mail for my email client and it has a function called Smart Folders. This allows you to define filters to winnow things down to just the subject matter that you want to see. But, when it is all said and done, there is usually a bit of TMI (Too Much Information). I wanted to be able to:

  • build a smart folder around a certain client
  • scrub out all the ‘noise’ emails. These would be things like duplicate copies, status reports, etc.
  • Be able to review the individual items on the list to allow for the scrubbing.

It should be noted that I don’t want to erase any of the emails, so I can’t ‘delete’ an item from the smart folder list, because that would delete it from the Mail Repository.

So, I started looking for something that would help. I tried selecting the list of emails in my smart folder and dragging them into Mac Numbers. Nope. I tried to drag them into OpenOffice Calc. Nope. I tried dragging them into Mac Pages. That worked... but 300 pages was a bit too much to read again. And, it wasn’t a new email at the top of each page.

I then started looking for timeline software. That is a difficult google search because there are tons of references to programming timelines, marketing timelines, new software release timelines, etc....

I did find a product called Timeline 3D by Adam Behringer at www.beedocs.com. This is $40 for 2D and $65 for 3D at the time of this writing. It has an ‘eval’ mode that prevents you from certain functions like print and 3D. This was not a problem for review though. So, I started to play with the product. It has series of importable events, but... none of them were email.

Well, I found a video by Adam that explained a bit of the product and I’m starting to like what I see. At the end, Adam was kind enough to publish his email, so I wrote to him about my need. Then, off I went to playing with it a bit more and munching over my desire to automate this. Cut and Paste was creating a useful tool, but it was taking WAY TOO LONG.

While playing with the software, I found that there was a URL field that could provide among other things, a link back to the email. This required even more Cut & Paste, along with viewing email headers to find the message id. If you put “message://” into the link provided on the event records in Timeline 3D, you could click directly to the email. This was GREAT!!!. But I’m still messing with too much Cut & Paste.

More googling and I find an Applescript snippet that will extract the message id from all ‘selected’ email records.

As I am playing around with this, I build it out a bit more to make a CSV with the from, to, date, subject, message ID, and up to 150 characters of the message body. Unfortunately, none of my spreadsheets understand the “message://“ syntax as a link.

Then, I get a reply from Adam and he provides me with a link to http://www.beedocs.com/help/articles/applescript.php where I can find a script to populate Timeline 3D. Thank you Adam for your quick and helpful reply :)

I’m in heaven. I have combined the two scripts and now have a simple method to:

  • select all the emails I’m interested in
  • run the script
  • work in Timeline 3D and cull out the noise emails.

In the end, I have a useful timeline of just the important stuff, and am able to create the closing report for the project without days of reading and research through all the emails with all their replies (nested N levels deep) and attachments.