Editor’s note: Dave Girouard is founder and CEO of Upstart, a company that lets college grads raise capital in exchange for a small share of their future income. Previously he was president of enterprise at Google. Follow him on Twitter @davegirouard.
“Nobody uses email anymore – you get too much of it” – Yogi Berra
In last Sunday’s New York Times, we were treated to another rant about how dysfunctional and burdensome email has become. This particular piler-on lays the blame at “how stagnant the format of email has remained, while the rest of communication and social networking has surged light years ahead.”
Really? If you ask me, I think the problem exists largely between keyboard and chair (see illustration).
I don’t mean to say that email providers can’t do a better job of serving their users (raise your hand if you don’t want Gmail to be faster), but innovation in email is anything but stagnant. In my view, the 30-year old “Simple Mail Transfer Protocol” (aka SMTP) has served us remarkably well, and continues to do so.
I’ve always felt that the “overwhelmed by my inbox” meme was a combination of humblebrag and mismanagement. Those Twitter posts bemoaning too much email often sound like somebody complaining about too many invitations to the prom – an “everybody wants me” or “I’m in such demand” kind of boast. In reality, a lot of people do have too many messages in their inboxes, but it’s hardly the fault of email itself. They’re just doing it wrong.
Another popular bromide suggests email is an evil time suck that prevents us from getting work done. For many – particularly engineers, designers, artists, or writers who need extended periods of concentration – this is undoubtedly true. Email can be a distraction that breaks our concentration if we allow it to do so. But for many of us, email actually is our work – or at least a vital part of it.
If I followed the popular guidelines suggesting one should only check email once or twice a day, I can virtually guarantee it would slow down our progress at Upstart. To a large extent, email is how we communicate and get things done. At Google, my prior employer, I can state confidently that the company would (and did) grind to a halt if email weren’t available.
I’m bemused by the CEOs who declare their companies are giving up email. Why? So they can go back to those oh-so-productive in-person meetings and phone calls? We tried that. It was called the ’80s. For what it’s worth, I’m a big believer that there are many conversations that are better had on the phone, or in person, but that in no way minimizes the monstrous productivity improvements that email has wrought. What company has lasted even a month without email?
The ultimate obituary for email is that it’s for, well … old people. Millennials will tell you that email is where they go when they want to write a formal letter (how us GenXers thought about actual letter writing) or to get my Amazon receipts. There is some truth to this. Without question, text messaging has taken its rightful place as a superior and universal tool when the message is short, and the timing is now. And we should be glad to get that stuff out of our inbox. Yet somehow it hasn’t left our inboxes barren.
And what of Facebook and Twitter? Or those myriad enterprise social apps that spell doomsday for email? There’s a reason why the newsfeed of your favorite social app can’t and won’t replace email. Using a social stream to contact somebody is akin to driving past your friend’s house in order to visit them. Yes that’s right – just smile, wave out the window, and keep on going, rather than pulling into their driveway. That’s the newsfeed. The more these social products attempt to implement more directed forms of messaging, the more they create half-baked (or even lesser) versions of email. I should admit that there’s one area where Facebook has left email in the dust: you never need to remember or update another email address. But the price you pay, in terms of reliance on a single and proprietary platform, is steep. This is an obvious shortcoming of email that should be fixed.
By the way, if email is dead, why is it that every social/local/mobile app in the world is intent on notifying you via email every time a butterfly flaps its wings? Because that’s the only place you’ll reliably receive the notification and re-engage with their app.
Listen here, email haters. That protocol from 1982 called SMTP, and the ecosystem of applications and services based on it, are blessed with certain virtues that we’ve all taken for granted. First, it’s not controlled by any one company. Like SMS, SMTP is a very basic communication protocol that allows for virtually unlimited innovation around it. Threaded conversations? Check. Priority inbox? Check. Forgotten attachment detector? Check. And as Mailbox has shown, by building a simple feature that pushes emails off until a time you feel like receiving them, you can build a company that will receive countless term sheets from venture capitalists (presumably in your inbox).
To the piler-on at the New York Times, I have a few suggestions to relieve the dread you apparently feel each time you come face to face with your inbox:
1. Use a modern email service that has features that put you in control. I’m naturally partial to Gmail, as almost half a billion people on the planet seem to be.
2. Turn off social network notifications. They seem to be such a huge source of your angst, yet they don’t need to be. Just turn them off.
3. Don’t sign up for mail lists unless you really need to. Nobody can force you. Ok, maybe your boss can. But this is mostly in your control.
4. Filter stuff out of your inbox that isn’t urgent. The glory of virtually unlimited email storage (an innovation of the last eight or so years) is that you don’t have to keep everything in your inbox, yet you can find it when you need it or browse through it when you have time.
5. If, after carefully considering and adhering to the advice above, you’re still inundated with a tidal wave of unwanted email, you might consider being grateful that people actually take the time to write you.
Visit link: In Defense Of Email
Calling email overload “a crisis in communication”, TechCrunch Founder Michael Arrington issued a challenge back in 2008: “Someone needs to create a new technology that allows us to enjoy our life but not miss important messages.” The entrepreneurs at SaneBox read this and other articles by Fred Wilson and Bijan Sabet, and set out to build a better inbox. After a month of testing, SaneBox has really helped control my inbox and risen to Mike’s challenge.
Many solutions to email overload have been proposed with limited success. Arrington wrote about a service called “Attention Auction”, since renamed attn.me, where people pay you to get their emails read. Some folks just quit email. Companies try to ban it. Others write short emails and use systems that force you to keep it brief. Some kill your email subscriptions and someone even tried moving their inbox to the bathroom.
Another method to tame the inbox has been to remove the non-important stuff. As the number of emails keeps increasing, the only real way to solve email overload is to prioritize. Arrington manually did this when he wrote how he would “scan the from and subject fields for high payoff messages. People I know who don’t waste my time, or who I have a genuine friendship with” he would open.
Before Priority Inbox launched, the team at SaneBox, founded by Stuart Roseman, was in private beta testing a similar concept. Gmail’s solution surprised them. SaneBox VP of Growth, Dmitri Leonov, recalls those were scary times for the company. Many of their users switched to Gmail, but most came back shortly after.
I tried Priority Inbox, but SaneBox works better for me. It’s not going to magically eliminate all your email or get your inbox instantly to zero. But, your inbox shrinks and you stay focused on the higher priority messages. SaneBox says its moves 58% of the average users email out of the inbox. Your mileage may vary.
When asked why the small self-funded team at SaneBox believes it can solve the problem better than giant Google, Leonov says “this is a very difficult and expensive problem to solve – one giant edge case. The kind of personalized analysis that we do requires a lot of infrastructure on a per-user level, which is cost prohibitive for a free service like Priority Inbox.” After a free trial, SaneBox users pay up to $5 a month for the service, which claims to save people an average of 2 hours per week.
Sanebox’s solution lets you train your inbox, but unlike Priority Inbox, you can see all your trainings and adjust them. It’s also easier, quicker, and more powerful than building your own custom filters or email rules.
By reducing your inbox to important emails, you have less mental attention switching costs. It takes time to switch from important to unimportant emails. So the less time spent switching, the more productive you are. And you can get to the lower importance emails when and if time permits.
SaneBox says it’s like having a very good executive assistant who stops unwanted visitors at the door, keeping you more productive during the day. SaneBox is also modeled on the excellent GTD (Getting Things Done) ideas of David Allen, such as focusing on the most important thing “now” and avoiding distractions.
Before explaining how it works, you need to understand what it is not. SaneBox is not a plugin or a download. SaneBox is not in the spam control business. It doesn’t read the body of your email, change any headers or store email on its servers. Even though most of SaneBox customers use Gmail, it works with almost any email service.
Once you set it up, it scans your inbox headers to determine if the message is important and should stay in your inbox. It moves unimportant messages to the @SaneLater folder (or label) using its own smart filtering algorithms combined with your personal trainings.
Right off the bat, SaneBox works pretty well. If you add your social networks, it will prioritize emails from people you follow on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. If something comes into your inbox that’s not important, just move it to your @SaneLater folder. SaneBox’s algorithms recognize the difference between personal and corporate or bulk email coming from the same domain.
I find I only need to check my @SaneLater folder once or twice a day. It’s much quicker to go through these lower priority emails when they are all batched together. Your @SaneLater emails don’t get lost. You can always find them in their folder and they appear in searches.
SaneBox also sends a @SaneLater message digest list to your inbox at the time interval you set. You can always move an email from @SaneLater to the inbox, and these trainings can be remembered for that one email or all from the same address. Each contact training can be adjusted via the SaneBox settings page.
SaneBox has two other very useful features. Move an email to @SaneBlackHole and you won’t ever get email from that address again. It’s much quicker than building your own custom filter or unsubscribing.
There’s also a @SaneRemindMe folder for emails you want to make sure get followed up. When you send or reply to an email, add addresses to the to: cc: or bcc: like email@example.com, Friday@sanebox.com, Dec31@sanebox.com, or firstname.lastname@example.org (in 3 hours), and SaneBox will send you a reminder email at that future time. This feature is similar to what Nudgemail and followup.cc offers. But with SaneBox, if your email gets a reply, the reminder is cancelled.
SaneBox does have some competitors beyond Google’s free Priority Inbox. OtherInbox offers a free “Organizer” feature that sorts receipts, newsletters and social media emails into folders. OtherInBox was a TC 50 finalist in 2008. I found it took a long time to search through my emails and it didn’t do nearly as good a job as SaneBox. It also created more folders than I wanted. They were bought by email certification and reputation monitoring company Return Path, whose mission is to help marketers and publishers reach an audience. That’s quite different than a startup like SaneBox whose clients are its paying email overload sufferers.
Another player in the space is the paid service AwayFind. Its goal is to get only the 3% of super urgent emails to you even when you are not near your inbox. That’s a different solution than SaneBox which tries to get a majority of your emails out of your inbox.
See original here: Taming Email Overload With SaneBox