Where do all the emails go?

After they’re read, that is. Because many are extraordinary. Literary masterpieces, trashy fun, and everything in between.

I set out to build an archive for those. To curate and make public the largest collection of email threads.

Letters: the original reality T.V.

For most of recorded history, correspondence was carried out on paper. “Letters” were, in many ways, the centerpiece of what’s now recognized as historical literature; Paul to the Apostles, King Ferdinand to Queen Elizabeth, Plutarch to Euripedes, Lincoln to Douglas, Kazinski to the Washington Post, Nixon to Kennedy. The cultural breadth and literary merit of the “letter” is as substantial as any sub-genre of literature we have.

And the literary letter is by no means limited to public figures. Letters home from wartime soldiers, the pleas of refugees, sagas of travelers and lovers’ verses fill the library stacks.

Correspondences, public and private, contain a trove of literary nuance, genius, whimsy and absurdity. It’s two or more people engaged in the creation of real-time non-fiction.

Email as art, 1978-

In the last 40 years, I’d guess that email has usurped 99.9% of physical letter writing. Those same fraught, hilarious, tender, elegant, and sublime correspondences are still happening. They’re just electronic. Why do we think of email letters as any less profound than written ones? There is no reason to believe the world’s collective body of email correspondence is any less compelling than it was on the formats it replaced.

So I built ThreadArchive.org. Then I lost all the PHP files. I don’t want to talk about it. And now there is no ThreadArchive site. BUT, here’s what it was and can be:

It’s a big, texty repository for all email that finds it. With the best conversations curated and presented something like a literary journal/blog. It would be indexed and searchable. The categories abound (scroll to the bottom for list). Laugh with Nigerian spammer convos, cry with emails from the Iraq war soldiers who never made it back, voyeur with breakup emails, learn with scholars in passionate debate.

You get it.

It looked sort of like this. I didn’t have many screenshots and this was an early version:

Among the tiny innovations I custom built, were these:

-An email auto-responder/validator that invited emails sent or copied to submit@threadarchive.org to release their copyright, then put them in a curator queue.

-Allowed horizontal commenting on every paragraph line of an email thread, so that commenters could react to individual emails within that thread.

-There were “Featured Threads” wherein two correspondents of public interest, say Malcolm Gladwell and Micheal Lewis could correspond on a particular topic. Listeners (the BCC’s) simply attach their email to the thread (no TA account necessary). This feature is so exciting. Imagine, in the era of 144 characters, two public figures taking time for long form correspondence. At their leisure. Whenever a new email is shared between them, all those who have asked to be copied will immediately get the latest installment. The conversation doesn’t even have to end.

You get the idea. Exciting, right?

Here are those categories I landed on. So many more, I’m sure!

Standard

  • Health
  • Fitness
  • Funny
  • Absurd
  • Family
  • Divorce
  • Breakups
  • Weddings
  • Sports
  • Wisdom/Advice

Random

  • Craig’s List
  • Dating
  • Online Dating
  • College Admissions
  • High School Admissions
  • Kindergarten Admissions
  • You’re Fired
  • Admissions Mistakes
  • Military
  • Deployment

Current

  • Hillary Clinton Email Scandal
  • Sony Hack
  • Biden FOIA
  • Ferguson FOIA
  • Zuckerberg Property Dispute
  • Steve Jobs Trial
  • John’s Hopkins Admissions

Writing

  • Bad Grammar
  • Bad Spelling
  • ALL CAPS
  • Illegible

Live Threads

  • Fiction Writing
  • Fan Fiction
  • Debate
  • Critique
  • Q&A

Celebrity

  • So many…

FOIA

  • Wikileaks
  • Expose

Spam

  • Spam
  • Chain Emails
  • Famous Spam
  • Nigerian Scammers
  • Successful Scams