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Posts tagged with ‘email’

Is there another form of communication besides email where the acknowledged goal is to hide all of the communication? Email has evolved into a weird medium of communication where the best thing you can do is destroy it quickly, as if every email were a rabid bat attacking your face. Yet even the tragically email-burdened still have a weird love for this particular rabid, face-attacking bat. People love to tweet about how overwhelming it all is. They write articles about email bankruptcy and proclaim their inbox zero status. Email is broken, everyone agrees, but it’s the devil we know. Besides, we’re just one app away from happiness. A tremendous amount of human energy goes into propping up the technological and cultural structure of email. It’s too big to fail.

An Idea For Outlines To Squeeze Email

I got a pitch from PointDrive today, and the software employs an outline kind of approach to partition a sales pitch.

It made me think about outlining in email, as a way to make email easier to read.

Imagine if all (or many) email tools shared a common understanding of something like markdown, and if we could create emails that could be scanned in a compressed mode and otherwise expanded — either one piece at a time or all at once — to make the triage of email easier.

So Imagine that I sent an email with this as the body:

Dear Carla -

With regard to the recent call, here’s some thoughts:

* I could come to SF the week of 17 February, but it would be difficult.

** I have several commitments that week, and also have visitors coming to town, and all of those are difficult to move. 

** I know I said this was possible, but it is no longer a good option.

* the week after, the 24th, is also out.

** Different reason: I will be in London at a conference, speaking, and staying for some meetings. Might be in France for part of that week, too.

* Looks like the first time I could get out there is in March. The week of the 3rd is good all week, the early part of w/o 10th is open. 27-28 Feb I will be in Ottawa.

** That Ottawa trip is a Future of Work workshop, FYI

Let me know what works for you.

- Stowe

Carla, when opening this in a outline-smart email tool, and if her default was ‘compressed’ mode, would see something like this:

Dear Carla -

With regard to the recent call, here’s some thoughts:

* I could come to SF the week of 17 February, but it would be difficult.^

* the week after, the 24th, is also out.^

* Looks like the first time I could get out there is in March. The week of the 3rd is good all week, the early part of w/o 10th is open. 27-28 Feb I will be in Ottawa.^

Let me know what works for you.

- Stowe

I am using ‘^’ as place to indicate that the outline element has children.

Carla might be happy with this level of detail for the purposes of scheduling. If she wants more info, she can click on a line, and the children pop. For example, the first outline element:

Dear Carla -

With regard to the recent call, here’s some thoughts:

* I could come to SF the week of 17 February, but it would be difficult.

** I have several commitments that week, and also have visitors coming to town, and all of those are difficult to move. 

** I know I said this was possible, but it is no longer a good option.

* the week after, the 24th, is also out.^

* Looks like the first time I could get out there is in March. The week of the 3rd is good all week, the early part of w/o 10th is open. 27-28 Feb I will be in Ottawa.^

Let me know what works for you.

- Stowe

Note that the outline could be arbitrarily deep, although these examples are only two deep.

In any case, perhaps some email company will implement this and we can see if it’s helpful. Or someone could hack a Chrome extension, perhaps.

NY Times Loses The Hyphen In Email

The NY Times, the guardian of old-fashioned journalistic English, has acceded to the incremental vocabulary changes caused by the internet, although they still insist it is the ‘Internet’:

Eric Levenson, 'To Tweet' and 'Email' Are Now Fit to Print at The New York Times

e-mail is now email. ”By popular demand, we’re going to remove the hyphen from e-mail,” wroteTimes editor Patrick LaForge in a post on the newsroom’s internal blog, he confirmed in an email. TheTimes had been one of the last holdouts still using the hyphenated “e-mail,” a vestige of the "information superhighway" era of the Internet. The AP stylebook removed the hyphen in email in 2011. But the e- prefix is not completely dead at The Times;e-book will maintain its hyphenated status.

Tech words as verbsThe Times loosened its allowance of the verb “to tweet” in their writing,Times national political writer Amy Chozik tweeted. Still, Corbett explained that the style guide continues to discourage using “tweet,” “google,” or “friend" as verbs too often, because their use is too informal.

Capitalization changes: It’s the end of the line for “Web site,” which can now be written as “website,” without the capital W. “Internet” will continue to be capitalized.

I wonder if that means that Times writers can write ‘web’ now, too?


Should you check your email? This brilliant (and tragicomically true) illustrated flowchart by Wendy MacNaughton is now officially one of the best infographics of the year.

If you wander through this there is no option for ever checking email from co-workers.


Should you check your email? This brilliant (and tragicomically true) illustrated flowchart by Wendy MacNaughton is now officially one of the best infographics of the year.

If you wander through this there is no option for ever checking email from co-workers.

(Source: , via explore-blog)

Orchestra’s Mailbox makes email triage effortless - Stowe Boyd via GigaOM Research →

I managed to get invited to Orchestra’s Mailbox launch — if you try to sign up today there are 433,636 people waiting — and the app kills. It implement the email triage I have been doing with external task management tools like Asana and Todoist for years. And it’s so fast because of the gestural interface.

Here’s ‘swipe left to snooze email’ —


— which leads to a second screen where you can quickly assign a day when the snoozed email should be returned to your inbox from the Gmail archive. Yes, it only works on Gmail accounts, and only runs on iOS, at the present time.

My bottom line from the piece at GigaOM Research:

Inbox triage has long been a necessary chore, but Mailbox makes it simple and intuitive. My bet is that Mailbox will be an enormous hit, and will become one of the apps that define and confirm the new gestural UX that we are moving into so quickly. Also, I am sure that all other email clients will knock off the principles of email triage à la Mailbox. I envision a browser version of this working PCs in combination with Leap Motion, but it’s killer as is, and for people on iOS devices it will quickly become the default mail client of choice.

Go read the whole post, if you want.

PS Apple should buy them immediately.

Social Networks Will Kill Email?

Skimming a Forbes Insights report, and this popped out:

The @Work State Of Mind Project via Forbes Insights (download here):

Social networks are important for conducting business. About two in three respondents (67%) said that such work-related networks play a significant role in business, and 56% said that personal social networks influence their determinations. But business- related networks are clearly more important than ones more focused on personal life. “Highly focused tablet/smartphone apps with closed social media built in will replace email,” says Warren N. Bimblick, senior vice president of strategy and business development for Penton Media.

First, I followed Bimblick on Twitter (@wbimblick).

Then I thought about this prognosis. One of the aspects of email that has made it universal is that anyone can can send anyone else a message given their email address. It’s open at a fundamental level.

A social network like Twitter is both open and closed: anyone can mention me — send a public message — but only those that I follow can send me a private message (a direct message in Twitterspeak). This is a powerfully subtle aspect of Twitter: the only means for the unfollowed to reach me is through public discourse.

I think there is a place for a Twitter client that fronts as an email client too, as a transitional stepping stone away from inbound email, and also to deal with the reality that not everything worth being said can be compressed into 140 characters (see Liquid Email). I wonder if Twitter is going to build this, or not?

For many, email is now the master communication channel. But it’s actually a pretty poor one in this age of mobile computing. Email needs to beaten down into just another channel of flowing information.

- MG Siegler via parislemon

Siegler is wising up to my desire for liquid email, although he doesn’t call it that. What do I mean by liquid email?

Liquid Email, Stowe Boyd

I am using the term liquid media to represent this new soupy, swirling, turbulent cascade of various media types being pulled into the streaming mess of today’s social media. We see images resolved in Twitter clients without leaving the Twitter stream, and Flipboard yanking articles free of their moorings on the NY Times or Wired, and previewing them for us in the article stream. Every sort of media will be pulled into the flow: soon, television will be repurposed as yet-another-media-type and played in the stream like audio is now.

This is all happening because we will naturally gravitate to the place with the fastest tempo, because the best stuff appears there first. Paradoxically, the places with the strongest flow will seem the most calm, because we won’t be jumping from the stream to the browser and back again a hundred times a day: we will stay in the stream: media content will be harvested, and pulled into context for us.

I think this is going to happen next with email.

Email has its own context: the inbox, the email apps, Outlook. The metaphor is now second nature to us: email comes in, from anyone having our email address, maybe is filtered and categorized, but mostly is shown as a chronological list of discrete messages. If we are lucky, our email tool ties together email threads, although that mechanism is semantically flawed, because a single email can deal with many topics. As a result, email is as messy as we are. But more structure won’t help email. The problem is the metaphor, and as a result, how the metaphor channels our thinking about communication.

Using a beta version of Nimble has caused me to think about a fusion of Twitter and email. That product manages to support both email and Twitter, but not in the way that I am envisioning, although the app is inventive and likely to be a good social CRM offering.

Imagine a liquid model of email, based on Twitter being my preferred context for communication:

  1. I receive email in Gmail. 
  2. A new Twitter client (or a new version of Twitter) — let’s call it Liquidate — captures all my incoming emails from Gmail, and drops a shortened link into my stream for each, with the subject line as the tweet, and associating the email address of the sender to their Twitter handle, if known.
  3. The fact that this is an email would be made obvious in the UI, and I could open the text of the mail — and bring it right into context — by clicking on a link.
  4. I could read the email text, and then respond to the sender either by a Twitter message, direct message, or another email, depending on the circumstance, and based on various criteria, like whether the sender has a Twitter account.
  5. If I opt to reply by email, the client would send that into Gmail, and I would always have Gmail as a repository, if I want to search there.

In essence, I would be treating email messages as just a long format tweet, and using Gmail as an appliance to carry that message from my streaming context out to a world that has not completely switched to Twitter or liquid media. But the activities associated with ‘email’ would be carried out in the streaming context, and the email would be just another sort of media pulled into and then pushed out of the stream. And again, I would always be able to go to Gmail directly, if needed.

I have other thoughts on this, based on using Sparrow recently, which I will have to spell out in the next few days or weeks.

Sparrow’s Dropbox Integration: A Security Nightmare

I have been using Sparrow as my email client instead of the web-based Gmail interface. It is a productive experience, and with a few caveats — I wish they had an undo button, and a way to access all my mail aside from search — I’ve been happy.

Since I use DSropbox extensively I was interested to see that Sparrow supports a Dropbox interface. However, after exploring it I have turned off the option, and I think others will want to as well.

The bottom line: Sparrow’s integration with Dropbox rellies on use of the Dropbox public folder, which means that any attachments that are shared via the Dropbox integration are accessible to anyone. And this is a dangerous option for most business users, who’d like more security than that.

The biggest problem is that Sparrow’s team aren’t very explicit about what’s going on. If you read the two short descriptions they provide online, no mention is made of the use of the public Dropbox folder (see, and

I only discovered this by seeing the URL of a test attachment go by, and then by asking their support about this:

The alternative approach would be complex but useful: creating a unique Dropbox for every sender-recipient pair, and automatically inviting the recipient’s to share those folders. That was my hope, but that’s not the way they pursued it.

How would it work? Say I sent mail with an attachment to my pal, Gerd Leonhard, who (hypothetically) uses both Sparrow and Dropbox. Sparrow would create a folder called stowe-boyd-and-gerd-leonhard in my Dropbox, and share it with Gerd. The attachment would be placed there. And when he opened the mail on his side, in Sparrow, clicking on the link would open the file from the corresponding folder on his hard drive.

[Note: this grow more complicated when multiple recipients are involved. Perhaps the Dropbox folder would be the name of the initial subject line, or the sender could provide the name of a Dropbox folder they wanted to use.]

The various problems in this pretty picture arise when the recipient of my email doesn’t use both Sparrow and Dropbox. Sparrow would have to deal with all the messy use cases by creating URLs that could be resolved by them, yielding attachments as needed, after confirming that the requesters have access rights, but this would require retaining active access to the Dropbox. The simplest way to do this is to direct recipients to claim a preconfigured Dropbox account, possibly.

So maybe the Sparrow team will take another pass at this, once they think about it.

There is a wonderful simplicity to the idea of a light weight email client relying solely on Dropbox for attachments, so long as Sparrow’s team steps up and builds something more secure.

Staff to be banned from sending emails - Telegraph →

Henry Samuel via The Telegraph

Thierry Breton, CEO of Atos and a former French finance minister, wants a “zero email” policy to be in place within as early as 18 months, arguing that only 10 per cent of the 200 electronic messages his employees receive per day on average turn out to be useful. Instead he wants them to use an instant messaging and a Facebook-style interface.


"The email is no longer the appropriate (communication) tool.

"The deluge of information will be one of the most important problems a company will have to face (in the future). It is time to think differently." Reading useless messages is terrible for concentration, as it takes 64 seconds to get back on the ball after doing so, according to a recent study by the social and business responsibility watchdog ORSE. "Poorly controlled, the email can become a devastating tool," it warned.

"The email is a real problem," Nicolas Moinet, information and communication professor at Poitiers University. "We have now reached crazy situations where employees go to a meeting, continue to send emails and then ask colleagues present to send them an email to know what was said during that meeting," he told 20 Minutes news website.

The younger generation have already all but scrapped the email, with only 11 per cent of 11 to 19 year-olds using it, according to, and online social networking is now more popular than email and search.

"Companies must prepare for the new wave of usage and behaviour," said Mr Breton.

He wants staff to use chat-type collaborative services inspired by social networking sites like Facebook or Twitter.

I predicted the death of email back in 2005, saying it would take 5-10 years and that something based on instant messaging style communication would replace it.

I was openly ridiculed at Supernova in 2005 for saying email sucks at what we want to use it for, generally — communicating with people that are known to us — and it is really good at what we hate about email — the ease of emailing to people who aren’t known to us.

Amy Wohl asked if I was unaware that email was the killer app of the internet, for example. Esther Dyson shook her head. Some unnamed fellow in the back was furious, furious that in a session called ‘The Future of Email’ I suggested that the future of email was its eventual demise.

But it is all becoming apparent that email will soon join fax and telegrams on the dust heap of obsolete media.

A large number of readers might hasten to make some gradualist arguments — its going to be around in some form forever, it has its uses, etc. — but trust me, it’s almost dead, and you merely have to look at the kids to see that it’s near.

A New Etiquette For Modern Communication

Frank Bruni spun up a good piece about modern communications confusion. A funny set of anecdotes about the thoroughly modern mess of communications: which way to get in touch with people?

Frank Bruni, Sorry, Wrong In-Box

Recently, I missed an interview because I was 20 minutes late and the subject assumed I was a no-show. I’d been texting her about my delay because we’d communicated that way before. But it turns out that she has two mobile phones, and was monitoring the one whose number I didn’t know. Meanwhile, she was sending me e-mails, but it didn’t occur to me to look for those.

But Bruni doesn’t make concrete recommendations: he’s just scratching his head and saying aw, shucks.

So here’s my recommendations for a new etiquette of modern communication:

  1. Never call a person’s phone (or Skype, etc.) without arranging a time first. Talking is a lean forward, rivalrous medium, and requires people to dedicate a block of time to that purpose, which is, generally, already allocated to some other use. The arrangement for a time to talk should be handled through a lean backward, non-rivalrous medium like texting, Twitter, or email. Many people (like me) simply never answer their phone unless they have a call scheduled, since it generally entails talking to someone who lacks modern grace, like someone from your cable company trying to sell you an upgrade, or your mother-in-law.
  2. Never presume that since someone has an account on a social network, like Facebook, that they regularly check it. Even if they have recent posts there, those could be coming from some automated connection. In my case, I never post to Facebook, but things float through from other apps. Just because it’s your favorite inbox, don’t assume it’s mine.
  3. Don’t use voice mail if you have any other alternative. Like a phone call, voice mail is a lean forward, rivalrous experience that requires the user to dedicate time to listen attentively to your message, and to write down any pertinent information with one hand while holding the phone to their ear with another. An imposition. I often don’t even have a pen with me. And many young people simply do not use voice mail. My son, Conrad, has never configured his voice mail, which at least has the benefit of informing callers that it is inoperative. In my case, my voice mail tells people to contact me by email, and I have configured Google voice to send voice mail to me as email, as well, just in case. Just don’t rely on voice mail, at all.
  4. To the degree possible, let people know your preferred mode of communication, rather than giving them a list. One mode of communication. If you don’t want people to call without arranging it first, don’t give out your phone number until you’ve made an arrangement to talk, for example. I took my phone number out of the signature in email, for example, but I left my Twitter handle. I have my phone number on my business cards, but I think I will drop that practice that in the next batch, for simplicity.
  5. If you want to initiate communication with someone, use their preferred mode of communication. I text with my kids, because that works best for them. I communicate with most of my closest friends via Twitter, but use email with my cousins. And I talk to my mother-in-law by phone because she worked at AT&T for a hundred years. Be flexible. The initiator has the obligation to take the time to work out what is best for the person at the other end of the communication.
  6. Don’t presume that since you have initiated a communication with some random person, that they are obliged to respond. In the context of work, some companies have policies that employees will respond to all calls or emails of an official nature within some prescribed period of time, like 24 or 48 hours. Fine. But outside of that context, and especially in the personal realm, no one has an obligation to call you back or respond to your email, today, tomorrow, or by the end of the month. Get over yourself. Most people, especially those of us living and working out loud on the web, have just too much going on and far too many requests for our time to guarantee any response cycle. It’s best to think of an email or a tweet as being like a comment on a blog: maybe it will elicit a response from the blog post’s author, and maybe it won’t.

I know that a lot of people will disagree with all or some of these recommendations. In particular, I expect that some folks will assert that it is rude to not respond to communications from others. My response is that these are new times, when communications cost the sender nothing. They don’t have to lick a stamp to send their junk to me. Everything I receive that is potentially spam, or an annoyance, or a request for unwanted involvement can be deleted and ignored, because I owe the senders nothing.

Of course, if I have a personal relationship with someone, then other considerations apply. My close friends get a fast turnaround, while others I know less well get a somewhat slower response. But don’t think that since I met you at a conference two years ago, and you are now selling some new software product missing a few vowels, or have some scheme you’d like to discuss, that I am obligated to get right back to you to set up a time to talk. There is a great deal of spammish behavior in quasi-personal communications, and I don’t feel the need to go along with the pretense of false camaraderie.

If you want to rise above the noise of the howling world all around us, be concise and clearly explain why you are contacting me, and what would be the best and single way to get in contact if I decide to. If it is interesting, I’m likely to respond, and eagerly. I’m not a misanthrope, I’m just crazy busy.

And don’t get your feathers ruffled if I don’t reply. In these modern times, it’s not an affront, it’s just how things work.

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