Even Gen Y uses email to communicate with “old people“, despite their preference for SMS, IM, and social networks. How many accounts do you have? Probably at least two, one for work communication, one for personal mail.
Boston College has recognized this trend, announcing that incoming freshmen will not receive email accounts, but rather a .edu address that can be forwarded to an existing inbox.
A common enhancement request for Connect and Mix to add subscriptions by email, which has led me to start thinking about ways we can integrate with email, a la TripIt and Sandy, which will unfortunately be shuttering its service next week.
Incidentally, an Open Source project has started to recreate Sandy, if you’re interested in helping or providing requirements.
Anyway, email provides an established and easy way to communicate, but it has its problems. For example, it’s not very good at threaded discussions among several parties. To work around this limitation, people generally reply to all, causing frequent (and ironic) backlash from mailing list members who don’t want to be spammed.
Most people complain that they have too much email, leading to declarations of email bankruptcy and the like. So, I’m always a bit surprised when people volunteer for more email, e.g. from Connect. I suppose it’s a natural desire to use a single interface for information, rather than logging in to the network to check on updates.
I wonder why RSS hasn’t been more successful conquering this problem. Everyone uses email, and everyone uses a browser. So, if you want to consolidate into a single place, why not use RSS instead of increasing the clutter in your inbox?
I guess RSS suffers from an image problem, i.e. most people have no idea what it is or why they should use it. The inclusion of feed readers into email clients goes a long way toward helping, but again, most people blank out when you mention RSS.
Anyway, back to email. A few weeks ago, one of the mailing lists I belong to served up an interesting case study about email. The list is for Mac users, and someone sent a question asking for feedback about buying a Macbook vs. a Macbook Pro.
The question generated at least 30 replies over the course of a week or so, and not a single unsubscribe me tirade. Sure, it’s an opt-in list, but this tells me two things. One, people don’t mind interesting email, where interesting is highly subjective, and two, it underscored how email fails at a threaded discussion.
Problem 1, the person asking the question had a bunch of useful information, scattered over many emails. Problem 2, people giving advice didn’t have easy access to what was already said, which caused duplication. Problem 3, if anyone ever has that question again, there’s no good way to search the list’s history, which leads to reiteration, annoyance and tirades.
What’s the solution? Forums and blogs do a much better job of this, which is why Connect and other social networks follow the object+comments model. A group on Connect would meet the requirements of this type of mailing list much more completely, but as I mentioned before, people crave email interaction with Connect.
Again, I’m not sure why, but I’m trying to think of ways to accommodate this. Beyond stuff like, subscribing to activity, providing a create idea/question template that can be parsed or creating comments by replying to the mail we generate when you get comments, what other cool interactions (like TripIt and Sandy) could we do?
Maybe one missing thing here is desire. Why did a simple question about Macbook vs. Macbook Pro generate so much interest, even though people complain about too much email?
Apple is interesting. No doubt about it. The “Have an iPhone?” group on Connect has 600 members and is the largest group. The mailing lists for iPhone users and Mac users get heavy traffic. The posts I do here about the iPhone generate a lot of traffic.
So, if your users don’t want to be bothered to go to your web app to check on content, I guess you have to make it easier for them to interact, e.g. by using email interaction.
A bit meandering, but the question is this: what are the best ways to integrate with email, striking a balance between desirable functionality and annoyance?
Sound off in the comments.