Perhaps part of the success¹ of email is that it can take so many possible forms. Technically an email can either be:
Both have their strengths. I don’t send many² personal or business emails in HTML. The applications I build rarely send email in plain text alone (links and some typographic control are nice, at a minimum).
More importantly, even though emails are generally all given the same visual weight as they arrive in your inbox as an unread block, their contents can be widely varied.
- An email can be a single sentence.
- An email can be twenty paragraphs. God save me.
- An email can have photos, diagrams, videos, or attachments of any kind.
- An email can be an interactive, highly designed, masterpiece of a web page.
- An email can be a bizarre collage of hot pink Comic Sans in huge type and strange GIFs.
- An email can be a string of other forwarded emails so deep you can only read one character at a time on the right edge of the window.
Because an email can be anything, and nobody is confused by that, makes it a very powerful medium.
¹ Can we call email “successful”? I’d say without a doubt we can. More on that later.