You Know You Love Email

Photo by dcJohn on Flickr used under Creative Commons

Photo by dcJohn on Flickr used under Creative Commons

Everyone loves to complain about too much email.

But face it, you know you love it, or at least, you have a love-hate relationship.

Email is today’s busy meter. You know, that measuring stick that shows how busy you are. By the way, is it uniquely American to brag about how much work we do? Seems like everyone does it, and email is an easily translatable way to measure busy across jobs because everyone has an inbox.

For example, tell someone you have 500 unread messages each morning. You’ll either get a headshake, sorry-for-you, sentiment because, wow, you’re busy, or you’ll get a topper who gets double that, on a weekend.

Every new product needs an email hook (a.k.a. bacn) if it wants to succeed. The number one requested feature for Connect is email digests for group activity, same thing for Mix when we managed it. I’m not fundamentally opposed to building this feature, but I doubt it would increase use very much.

It’s funny that many of the people who want email from Connect also complain they have too much email.

If Connect sent bacn to group members, that mail would join a host of less important, unread mail collecting in people’s inboxes. Once opened, digest mail from Connect would be read only. So, the person would still need to go to Connect to comment.

So, I removed a barrier and replaced it with the same barrier, i.e. the need to login to Connect to comment. I suppose I saved some time by making it easier to see what, if any, content is interesting. Still, this doesn’t feel like a big win.This is why feeds fail too because if you add them to an inbox, new items make you feel more busy, with more unread mail.

Email has a psychological hold on us. For many, it’s the only way to document that you work and what you’ve done, e.g. say you work on a project that’s eventually canceled. What’s the easiest way to prove you actually worked on it a year later?

Provide the email.

There are business and legal ramifications around email too, so it’s always good to have records.

I hate deleting email, so I’ve been saving it locally for years and using Google Desktop to search it.

I recently reinstalled Jaunty, after a couple months of kernel panic, and when I rebuilt my local Thunderbird inbox, I realized it how slow it had become with eight years of email, amounting to Inbox and Sent files of several GB each.

When I came back to Oracle in 2001, my inbox was capped at 100 MB on the server. This hadn’t changed since the mid-90s. So, every couple months, rather than delete all my Trash and Sent and weed through my Inbox, I started saving messages locally.

Seems funny that my 10 GB harddrive was 100x bigger than my Inbox.

A few years later, I got bumped to 250 MB, but that tends to fill up pretty fast, especially since the corporate signature ranges from 4-10 KB, depending on how much is in there.

Why save it all?

Psychologically, I need a record of what I’ve done here. In this business, they’re aren’t a lot of concrete ways to show what you’ve done. Maybe you worked on a feature or launched a product, but most of the day-to-day stuff happens in email.

I decided to cut down that inbox into years to speed up the load time, which provided insight into how much email I sent and received, year-over-year. I guess 2006 was the height of busy for me, which makes sense because I managed a project across several geographies and time zones that year.

It’s not going to be replaced any time soon, and I’m starting to think services that tightly integrate with email have it right. So, rather than just build email digests for Connect, what we need to build is reply functionality too and posting functionality, like Posterous.

So, if the bacn you got from Facebook or Twitter allowed you to take action, would it be more useful/less annoying?

I love email, just as much as you do. You know you do, admit it.

It’s easy, you trust it, and everyone has it.

Find the comments.




  1. The Oracle blogging platform sends me a mail for every comment I get. If I could reply immediately to the poster [b]and[/b] have the reply posted as a comment on the blog Id be in blog heaven. Instead, I have to open a link in a browser, login, yada yada yada finally getting an answer up to the blog comment 10 minutes later :0(

  2. Exactly. I'll bet you'd like it even better if you could go full Posterous style and compose and post from email. IMO a full integration is better than none at all, which is better than partial, at least in this case.

  3. is the most annoying email. You can be a free member, but if you take action to reply to mail they send, you get into the app, compose your message, go to send it – and then get presented with an “upgrade to gold membership so the person you are sending to can see this message!” But at least you can see the threads about people remembering the Manson girls (not making that up, two went to my high school and lived near me).

    The more fundamental problem is, how do you (the general clueless user) know you aren't about to get redirected to a hacksite?

    I finally signed up to facebook, what's the first thing it does? Tries to access your address book. Can't access my mail app, funny thing. And the general user, and their friends who aren't users, wonder why someone they don't know is sending them invites to view their pictures.

    Just finally brought up Thunderbird, with two decades of email, since CS4 (the compuserve app, try googling that) finally shut down. So I had to move my personal web page somewhere, so I moved it to my general isp. Now most businesses can't get to my web page because nannyware blocks it as adult and sexual content. I wish. Naturally I only noticed that after a week or so of sending out business emails with my same old web site url (which I simply redirected from c$erve to Gee members, cox, what could be adult or sexual about that?). Their support didn't even respond to my inquiry about that. Which is natural, because the blocking is completely outside of their or my control. Fortunately I use other ISP's, but it's Yet Another Useless Non-Productive Web Presence Task.

    I can understand the allure of anti-social networks.

    Funny, a year ago I replied to the death of an inbox post with a reference to meatworld. A few weeks ago I referenced your reference to the term meat space with a posting I made ten years before (exactly, which made it strange enough to bother), but that disappeared into the ether. Or maybe I'm just dreaming all of this because I have 1000 unread emails after spam removal, not including the mail mentioned above. But none at work, except for oracle-l digests. I read that as a digest because otherwise it is way too annoying, I'd have to turn off email notifications. But reading it as a digest is awful, the way people top post including what they are responding to. If you post, it goes straight to spam-generators.

    I think the trick is to organize domains and email addresses so you can ignore most, and only important things get to bother you. Any product driver would need to account for that somehow. The amount of control you perceive you have over metering email is pretty directly related to how stressful you see it.

  4. Death of an Inbox was 2 years ago dude. It's been a while, and you may be the first person I remember who said meatspace. I love that one.

    My wife had issues with Classmates too, their upsells seems pretty shady.

    I don't have a trick with email. I keep up with it and eliminate bacn and spam when I don't want it. Frankly, I don't get what's so hard about staying on top of it.

    That said, it's odd to me that people who can't keep up ask for more, which is why I've begun to think amount of email is a busy badge to some. Would be nice if all that email actually did something, a la Posterous, Sandy, TripIt, etc.

  5. Why I like/love email:
    1. It's passive. I prefer sending email questions to people (most of the time) because they will have a chance to answer it when they get time. It's not an interruption.
    2. You said it, you have a record. I don't think of it as a CYA thing (there are exceptions of course), but when you are dealing with very technical stuff, it's nice to have it in writing from the SME.
    3. You can send an email to anyone. Anwhere. Anytime. How freaking cool is that? I emailed my former CEO a couple of weeks ago asking for clemency (didn't get it), but still….

    Why I hate email:
    1. There's a record. 🙂

    I'm a fanboi (sp -10) of email I guess.

  6. > Death of an Inbox was 2 years ago dude

    Check out what's next to each reply name 🙂

  7. Incidentally, that was more “woah, two years already” and less correction.

    Re. the time being off, must be related to Disqus, since we were on regular old WP comments for a while and then imported them into Disqus.

  8. What do you mean, “resonates for those of us who remember what is used to be like?” Yo no follow.

  9. Meaning, remember when it cost a bunch of money to call people in other states? Or how long it took to send snail mail to them? Let alone other countries? You must know that all too well, having moved around a lot.

    Email took away all the geographical constraints.

  10. None intended. We tend to forget how big the World used to be before the Interwebs made it small.

  11. I know, I was just checking to see if you knew the reference…Tommy Boy

    The followup line to that (by David Spade) was:
    “Well I should hope so, I'm laying it on pretty thick.”

    I certainly would have been able to maintain friendships more easily had email been around back then (wow…did I just say that?). I remember exchanging letters once or twice with a few phone calls between before it just kind of died on the vine.

  12. Yeah, I remember parents being all freako about calling relatives on the other side of the country. Now I get on the wife (and soon the kids, I'm sure), “let's remember we get roaming charges…” and worse, local long distance or whatever the hardwire is called (for calling across my local county) costs money, but the cellphone doesn't, but the cellphone doesn't work well at the hardwired location… and the different hardwired lines have different rules… and the cable phone, were I to get it, which I won't because it's even worse than AT&T, can't call 911…

    I don't so much love email as am addicted to it. I can tell because of how I feel when it doesn't work. Cue the Zoloft commercial. And don't let me get a smart phone. 🙂

  13. Sounds like you live out of the way a bit. I thought SoCal down that way had better coverage, or do all the towers burn down each year?

    When I had Vonage, you had to opt in to call 911, which is a odd to say the least, but it worked great on DSL, not so much on cable.

    I share your addiction to email, as do we all I think.

  14. There's a hill directly between my house and the nearest tower, so I get all sorts of strange bounces and things changing as the atmospherics change. My wife for her work only uses her cell, and often she works from home having to use a phone connection for hours for government medical stuff (some of her patients have Medical, for example). Plus she's a technophobe and expects everything to just work. And none of it does, except (mostly) the hardwired phones. Her office is just across from the county court and sheriff station, in a building full of lawyers, and funny thing, cellphone works great there. The downtown “village” area is supposed to be getting free 24hour wifi Real Soon Now, but I haven't found out if that extends to the courthouse area. If it did, people would want jury duty 🙂

  15. why I hate email addendum…
    2. Sometimes difficult to “read” emotion.
    2a. Are they mad?
    2b. Are they sarcastic?
    2c. Are they crazy?

  16. I used to hate using emoticons, and I still do. But, just for the reasons you mention, I use them to make sure to add intent when my tone could be misconstrued. Or at least I try to do that.

    Mixed results.

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