Josh Parnham

Email Is Broken - Stop Trying To Fix It

Email. The humble “method of exchanging digital messages” initially developed in the early ’70s that’s still the essential backbone of almost all online interactions. We communicate via email, we share files via email, we use email to login to almost all our online services, etc, etc, etc.

And as it stands today, email is pretty awesome:

  • It’s ubiquitous - roughly “Eighty five percent of people around the globe who are connected online send and receive emails”, according to HuffPo.
  • It’s completely decentralised - no one party is in control, so conflicting interests never threaten it’s viability. Also, the decentralized nature means there is not a single potential failure point.
  • The learning curve is fairly minimal - since it’s deeply inspired by physical messaging in the real-world, conceptually understanding the entire emailing procedure isn’t too challenging.

But even though email really is fantastic, most people don’t enjoy using it - they feel disconnected, their usually inefficient workflows makes it difficult to process a number of messages in a timely manner (the pain intensified when receiving many hundreds of messages a day). They also must encounter the joy of spam, both from spammers and also legitimate services/businesses that get hold of their address. These negative experiences that people continuously experience and can’t escape from often lead them to view email as a fundamentally broken system.

So how do we go about “fixing” email in thier eyes? How do we make it easy and pleasurable to process a large number of messages? Well in the last several years it’s become all the range to attempt to “reimagine” the client experience - shifting away from the more traditional folder hierarchy. Emphasis is then shifted to worflows that usually try to focus on actions that must be performed on each message and its attachments, popular examples of this concept that I’ve seen recently include:

However, of the above 5 clients listed above, Fluent is the only one that you can actually use right now. The others are either sitting tight as a “beta”, or are merely prototypes crying out for some developer love.

These new clients simply aren’t catching on - maybe because the majority of emailing is done through webmail, or perhaps because developers have no interest in putting time and effort into working on a mail client.

Irregardless, I believe is that the concept of radical new clients is something that is inherently flawed. Imagine you have a really old car motor, this motor has been in operation for many many years, and whilst there may be new motors out on the market, you continue using this motor in your car because it’s too much of a hassle to move to one of the newer ones (In this analogy, this old motor is email). The idea of these new clients is that if they come along and radically change the exterior of the car, this will somehow create a more pleasurable and rewarding driving experience. This is simply impossible, because at the heart of that “brand new” car is still that old and worn-out engine.

Ultimately, instead of trying to reimagine the client experience, we should all work towards changing people’s mentality when it comes to processing and utilising email. This is because it’s fantastic at what it was originally designed to do - exchange conversational messages, but nowdays it functions as a huge number of services rolled into one. So for example:

Instead of reimagining email, lets redefine email back to the discussion-centric standard that was proposed all those years ago, then we can use all of these fantastic and innovative new services to do what email inherently shouldn’t be doing. This delegation of tasks to different services means less strain on people’s inboxes and overall, a (hopefully) more satisfired and productive digital world.

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