So in my daily interactions with the convenience of communication through voicemails, emails, and now social networking I’m thinking that the direction email is going to move is that follow the social networking trend. I think the concept of a trusted network of friends will embed itself into the email concept. Similar to the spam-blocking concept of whitelists and blacklists, I’m thinking people will confirm trust in certain entities (friends, coworkers, businesses), where as other entities — new acquaintenances, businesses, etc. will have to apply for trust status. By defining what entities are trustworthy, you can easily prioritize friends emails, maybe even based on a priority based on how close we are to them, versus a random spammer that we’ve never received an email from.

This concept of whitelists and blacklists isn’t new, but the way social networking creates networking of whitelisted individuals allows people to build their whitelists in an interesting way, instead of just typing in email addresses, you basically become ‘friends’ with people you know. I’m hoping that social networking frameworks evolve so that you can become friends with individuals are in social networking systems that aren’t the same as yours (facebook vs. myspace, etc.) — some sort of standard format profile with a distributed management of trust relationships.
I’m not sure how we’ll fix the problem of spammers spoofing email addresses, which could obviously translate to them trying to spoof our friends’ email addresses. The email delivery system could be upgraded to install more trust, or perhaps we could digitally sign our emails using PKI to verify our identity. Digital signatures haven’t caught on yet, but once we begin establishing trust networks of people, the next logical step is to prove their identity.