Down with contact forms

Strong opinion from Tobias Van Scheider:

The only time contact forms are worthwhile is when you are trying to collect very specific information for the purpose of helping someone or completing a task. Otherwise, forms are a relic from web days past.

Eh. I don’t think forms are a relic from web days past. Email is older than forms, if we’re gonna compare them like that. But I take the point, particularly this feeling after filling out a form on a site you have no experience with:

You more likely wondered if the form actually worked, and if it did, whether you would ever receive a response.

I know my email sends when I send it, and gives me the opportunity to send that email in whatever format I think will be the most useful. And I agree a contact form on a portfolio site like Tobias builds for a living… maybe not the best fit.

But just offhand, forms can do lots. You can route messages based on a dropdown selection. Forms can be integrated with other services. For example, saving the submitted data to a database, subscribing the user to a mailing list, or putting them into a CRM. Forms can help filter spam (as well as generate it if you aren’t careful). Forms can help submit contextual information, like what browser a user is using and the like.

I ain’t trying to dog on email. I prefer that people just provide their email for contacting when possible. I’m just not anti-form, either.

Auto-Archiving Auto Responders

I suppose if I email my home insurance agent needing to ask a fairly urgent question about my home insurance, and they happen to be in Hawaii for the week and aren’t answering emails, I’d appreciate an auto-responder email.

But that’s maybe it.

94% of the time I don’t care about auto-responders, and particularly not when I’m sending something like an email newsletter (but doing it from a real email address in case people want to reply to it) and get auto-responder emails from that.

Cool news though, some email clients can detect auto-responders. Once detected, rules can be made to get them out of the inbox.

For example, at CodePen, we get a good amount of auto-responder emails from day-to-day support work and from some of our transactional and marketing email. Why deal with that by hand? We we Front as an email client, and Front supports pretty powerful rules.

An important aspect here is that the detection needs to be able to look at email Headers. That’s where all the info is. Front can do this. Gmail (the web client) cannot, unfortunately.

Here’s our setup:

The only accidental capture we saw while testing this was some particular email that AWS sends us, so we added a tiny extra rule to allow that from: address.

Works great. No more auto-responder emails in our inbox.

Quadruple Your Email Open Rates With These 4 Subject Line Strategies

Clicccckkkkk baaaaiiiiiit.

Nonetheless, it got me thinking about email subject lines.

For example, the CSS-Tricks Newsletter has this subject line exactly every single week:

📝 This Week in Web Design and Development

That’s maybe a missed opportunity. Every week I could hand-craft it instead focusing in on a particularly dramatic thing in the newsletter. Stephanie Burns, interviewing Sara Anna Powers, called it “Leveraging Curiosity”, which does make sense to me.

This week our newsletter opened with a bit about a Slideout Footer. So why not just say that in the subject line? It might pique some curiosity, give people immediate context, and make it more searchable later. Sounds good to me.

Our newsletter is is RSS-powered and goes out through MailChimp. MailChimp allows “Merge Tags” in the email subject line, so I can set it up like…

Merge tag in a subject line in MailChimp, like *|RSSITEM:TITLE|*

The RSS title will be the title of the content, so this week, I’ll try having a fancier title than we normally do.

I can check the data after sending, but I’m not sure if I’ll care that much about the data. If it comes across in email OK, I think it’s an improvement no matter what.

Apps that are UI for Gmail

Interesting how many there are.

Basically wrappers:

Wrappers with heavily re-done themes:

Unique UIs:

Full-blown clients (not really Gmail-specific)

Unsubscribing worse than reporting as spam?

Here’s a little fun coronavirus spam:

In Gmail, if I click the “Report spam” button, I get this:

That “Report spam & unsubscribe” secondary button action feels dangerous. If I click that, I’m telling the spammer “I got it, thanks, I’m a human being over here with a a real email address that actively manages it” signaling, of course, please email more spam again soon. Weird that Google offers that.

Learn to Work with Email

There is a 2014 blog post from Karl Dubost called Apprendre à travailler avec le mail. Coralie Mercier translated it to English, because it had a Creative Commons license. What I’m going to do here is republish that English translation, but clean it up in a few bits to read smoother. The rest of this post is that.

Again, this isn’t my writing, it’s just right up the alley of this site so I thought I’d dig into it by way of some recreational editing.

Continue reading “Learn to Work with Email”

Remote Work & Email

All the coronavirus stuff has people working from home in huge numbers, and thus a lot of recent writing about working from home. Some of the advice is kinda funny.

Funny how the big flagship companies that do it already, like Automattic, are being pinged for advice. They aren’t big on email, it turns out:

We use our own WordPress blogs, called P2, instead of email as our central hub of communication so people throughout the company can access every team’s long-form notes, documents, and priorities. We’re bloggers by heart, so we blog a lot. There are other similar tools, like Basecamp. Make it your new office.

I’m big on Notion.

Some people are doing a great job in sharing hard-earned advice, like Greg Storey. Here’s a tidbit from his recent advice post that gets into email:

It doesn’t take much for the volume of messages in Slack (or Teams) and email to pile up. To top it off, most people don’t care enough to practice proper etiquette when communicating digitally. My personal favorite is the three-foot-tall email-chain that’s been going on for weeks until you’re CC’d with zero context, only a “FYI.” Yet you’re expected to digest the “conversation” and make a quick decision.

We should, ya know, be better at email.

ProtonMail vs Mailbox.org

Daniel Aleksandersen comparing these:

Both of these email service providers focus on customer privacy. Both offers webmail front ends with support for Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) end-to-end encryption in addition to PGP for at-rest encryption of all messages directly from the web browser.

So how do these two services with similar goals compare head to head?

ProtonMail is better designed, but more expensive and more proprietary. Daniel prefers Mailbox.org because of the open standards and data portability.