Hating Email, and Loving Hey

I… really hate email.

By the time I left my last company I had successfully trained everyone around me to stop sending me email, or at least not expect me to have seen anything they sent me. My friends are similarly trained.

The thing is, I don’t actually hate email.

I hate traditional email clients and the bullshit usage patterns the force on us, and I hate the bullshit way most employers use email.

I’m _loving _Hey, because it solves the first problem.

Let me explain. I apologize, that this is a little ranty, but I’ve been dealing with this BS for decades and it negatively affected my ability to communicate with friends, family, and coworkers.

Here’s where we’re starting from.

Essentially every web site I have an account on, or buy something from sends me email. I want less than 1% of it. Marathon sports just let me know that “Sketchers Performance Footwear is Here!” and that “Dad Deserves the best!”.

I also get “recruiter spam” and other solicitations that may be “personalized” for me and not directly trying to sell me crap and thus doesn’t count as “spam” for the purposes of automatic filtering. I want none of it. “Kay! We have an urgent need for a developer with 5 years of [tech that’s not on my resume]!” “Hey masukomi, we can apply [buzzword] ‘technology’ to masukomi.org to boost your [other buzzword]“

My inbox is MY inbox. It’s not their delivery basket. No-one should get to say what shows up in my inbox but me. I’m the one who has to read it. They don’t get to decide what I have to read.

Make no mistake, you have to read everything in your inbox if you want a clue what’s there. You may just be reading the subject line, but you’ve still read it. You still need to decide “do I want to open this?”. I do not want to be wasting my mental bandwidth and limited decision making power on something that I never asked for and don’t want.

So, the starting point, the baseline, of this discussion for most folks is an inbox that is filled with thousands of emails from people trying to sell them stuff or get them to do something they don’t want to do. Somewhere in that torrent are a couple emails from friends or family. Maybe. Hard to tell.

I declared email bankruptcy in May of 2018. Since then I’ve unsubscribed from dozens of mailing lists. It’s June of 2020. I have just under twenty two thousand non-spam emails. Essentially none of them are from anyone I care about. I’ve seen maybe 1% of those that are from people I care about. That’s roughly 34 emails a day. I think my friends, so thoroughly trained to not bother sending me email maybe send me 1 email a month…maaaybe. I hear about them after the fact: “oh, you don’t know what’s going on because it was in an email thread.” Let’s say they have actually sent me one email per month. That’s 0.09615% of my email that 1 actually care about. Let’s add in the notes from my credit cards when there’s a suspicious or notable charge. Let’s be generous. Let’s say that those increase the email worth having my an order of magnitude. Now 0.9% of my email is worth having.

ZERO POINT NINE PERCENT of my email is worth having.

Or, to put it another way, if I bothered to actually address my email 99.1% of that time would be spent looking at things I don’t want to see, most of which actively annoy me.

And we still haven’t touched on the work email, which honestly, isn’t much better, what with the email threads you don’t need to be CCd on, the digests from software you’re forced to use, and literally thousands of notifications and alerts you don’t need (if you’re a developer). Alert Fatige Anyone?

So, how does Hey help?

The biggest difference is that, no-one gets to put anything in my inbox without me approving them. Everything goes into the “screener” where I yes/no every sender. So, yes I have to deal with emails from them, but only once. Not every time they try.

This is a bit more up-front work. For each new sender I have to decide if i want it, and if I want it in my “Imbox”, or in one of the other 2 bins. But this 1 time per sender task means that my “Imbox” is going to only have things I actually want to see in it.

I’ve heard people argue that they want this to be automatically done. That they like how Google automatically shoves things into “Promotions” or “Updates”. Well, Google does have the best AI in the business, and incredible quantities of training data. But, that brought me from 26,000 emails down to 6,500 so I paid SaneBox to bring it down to 2,100. My current Inbox in GMail is displaying a full page of emails (and another one if I scroll down) with literally none that I actually want in my Inbox. So, even with the best AI in the business the results are still terrible. There’s still way too much for me to deal with that I shouldn’t have to deal with.

Filing by sender solves this. This isn’t perfect. Because if some company uses the same email address for their billing as their newsletter then you either don’t see the billing promptly or you always see the newsletter you don’t care much about.

I’m ok with this. The reason I’m ok with this is that I don’t want the !@#$ newsletter anyway. And yes, some of them are actually worth reading, but 99.999% of the time my time would be better spent reading a book, or writing some code, or petting my animals, or simply staring out the window and breathing for a minute. Newsletters are, in general, the high calorie, nutrition free food of the internet.

The second biggest difference is that notifications are off by default. My phone isn’t pinging me about all the 33 emails a day that I actively don’t want. Of course, because of the screener there isn’t much in my inbox anyway. Yes yes, I’m sure some of you are yelling that it isn’t going to ping me about things auto-filed to “Promotions”. It doesn’t matter. Every notification I do get is still something I don’t want. There are a lot of emails that are important for me to see but are not important for me to be notified about. I just got an alert from Gmail that Hipstamatic wants me to buy some new filters in their app. Yay. I don’t even know why I was on that mailing list.

Those two things remove the vast majority of my problems with email.

On top of fixing most of my problems with email by implementing two very old ideas, they then went and made hundreds of tiny usability changes to how you interact with your email. Some of them like being able to “Read together” or addressing all your “Reply Later”s in one screen are dramatic and awesome. Some of them, like always showing tiny hints about keyboard shortcuts so that you learn them as you go, or having a button available where you can see the list, are tiny and awesome.

The privacy improvements are pretty sweet too.

Is Hey perfect?

Nope. But, for me it’s a thousand times better than everything else. I’m happily throwing my money at them because, I don’t really want to build an email client despite how many times I’ve been tempted.

I’m happy so far, but what I’m really hoping is that this is the kick-in-the-pants developers need to get off their asses and rethink email. Not, make yet another client that looks like every other email client but “lets me treat my email like a todo-list” or whatever bullshit continues to put the senders desires before mine.

I want more people to write clients that say “Hey, you know what? This is your inbox. It’s not about what they want. It’s about what you need. It’s not about seeing all their crap. It’s about not missing the things that are important to you, and not wasting your time.”