The first is the idea that started the project: a message reader integrated into the browser, which uses Firefox features like tabs, bookmarks, history, the awesomebar, the sidebar, etc. to present messages.
Internet users live in their browsers, and much of their messaging is web-centric (feed items, tweets, messages sent via social networks, etc.). A message reader built into Firefox can aggregate those messages, store them locally (where their recipients have control over them), and provide a unified interface to them no matter where they come from and what protocols delivered them.
And it can help users uncover unknown sources of useful messages, like feeds from websites they frequent and updates from social networks to which they belong.
Snowl’s biggest weakness relative to web-based alternatives (webmail, web feed readers, messaging apps built into social networks) is that it doesn’t persist messages to a remote datastore, so users can’t access them from anywhere. But it certainly could do so using Weave, CouchDB, or some other technology for synchronization to cloud storage.
Social Activity Tracker
The second potential direction for Snowl is for it to utilize feeds and social network APIs to keep users informed about what their friends are doing on the web. In other words, it could take up the mantle of The Coop, the idea for a Firefox-based social activity tracker that labs prototyped in 2007.
Just as with a message reader, a social activity tracker built into the browser would be in a unique position to expose useful updates to users across all of the sites they visit.
Snowl would need some modifications to behave in this way. In particular, it would need to get better at retrieving and aggregating lists of friends across multiple social networks. But its architecture is already well-suited to the task in a number of respects, since social activity is frequently exposed through messaging protocols, which Snowl has been designed to support.
Better Feed Reader for Thunderbird
The third potential is to integrate Snowl into Thunderbird as a better feed reader for that application.
Snowl integrated into Thunderbird could break feed messages out of their “separate folder” ghetto, integrating them into the stream of messages from other sources, and provide a variety of useful views on them. And it would bring Twitter messaging to Thunderbird, too. Plus, Snowl developers would gain exposure to some of the interesting and innovative work happening in Thunderbird these days, which could benefit Snowl on Firefox.
The biggest challenge would be integrating Snowl into the very different capabilities provided by Thunderbird. Recent improvements to Thunderbird’s extensibility and support for browser-like features such as tabs will make this easier, however.
I think all these directions have potential and are worth exploring. And while I’m going to remain focused primarily on Snowl as a message reader for now, I’ll be conducting experiments along the way to learn more about the other possibilities. I’d also love to see other folks tackling them, so if you’re interested in doing so, let’s talk!