Actual email chains as a format for a blog post

I’ve done it a few times, like this and this, but I almost thing I should do it more. There is something appealing at looking at how other people actually write and respond to emails, outside our own direct circle.

Here’s one between Jeremy Keith and  Manuel Matuzovic that led to a little conference happening. That’s my central thesis behind this site. Email leads to big good things happening.

Email Microtasks

Imagine you’re doing that thing we all do where we rather mindlessly scroll through feeds. Twitter feeds, Instagram feeds, Facebook feeds. Only now, sprinkled in there, are little jobs to do. Clive Thompson for WIRED:

The researchers created an AI app that looked through documents you were writing in Microsoft Word. It extracted simple editing tasks, like making a sentence less wordy. Then, using a Chrome plug-in, the software would slot these jobs into an item in your feed, one every 2,000 pixels. The researchers gave the tool to a test group, who began duly doing the little work tasks, a few each day, when they saw them while scrolling through Facebook. Every time they finished one, the AI would automatically insert it back into the proper Word file.

“Microproductivity”, they say.

As I was reading the article, it seemed to me email would be the perfect fit for this kind of trickery. Low and behold:

Email is already “just a bunch of microtasks,” as Rob Howard, Microsoft’s general manager for Office 365, tells me. The company has just made it explicit and tethered those tasks to your macro work.

But they were kinda talking about how these Word documents that need work on them could generate emails (rather than be injected into a Facebook feed) that request the little job to be done instead. I was thinking about it the other way, what if you’re browsing Facebook and have to quick deal with an email in your inbox before you continue?

Submission & Rejection

Chris Monks is McSweeney’s editor. Over on Vulture, he goes into his email load for article submissions. 200-300 submissions a week, which he reads and responds to every one of them within a week. Hence his rejection emails are basically one liners like

This doesn’t fail to amuse, but I’m afraid I’m going to pass. Thanks for the look, though. Hope you’ll keep trying.

To which he gets responses like “pansies”.

The correct answer?

Being a jerk works against your own interest, because in all likelihood, an editor will no longer consider your work for their site. There are tons of other writers who are able to come to terms with a “no” and carry on with their writing lives. An editor will continue to focus their attention on those folks and leave you and your jerky wallowing by the wayside (i.e., the spam box). So, the safest choice is to put down the can of gas and box of matches and let the bridge stand by not replying to a rejection altogether.

You wouldn’t have read the email.

That is one big strike against email. Despite how effective email is on so many fronts, it has this weird characteristic where any given email just might not be read. While that’s obvious for something like a marketing email, even strong-social-contract emails like an email from a friend or boss have some strange wiggle room. Oh, I must have missed that email is somehow an acceptable response if asked about a particular email.