Everybody has an email

Even the kids these days. Schools give it to them or their parents set it up for them. 

They might not take it very seriously, preferring other ways to communicate, but they have it and understand it. Email is largely free and thus the one true global communication method on the planet, especially because email is almost always public.

I’ve already gotten a few emails from this brand spankin’ new blog already (đź’™). Here’s an entire email from Keith Pickering:

Email is basically the pinnacle of human communication.

For thousands of years, long distance communication was handled via text. If you received an important letter, you could hold on to it for the rest of your life if you wanted to. Then the telephone came out, and people apparently forgot everything that made letters great.

I can’t begin to tell you how I hate phone calls. If you’re shooting the breeze with a loved one, sure, a phone call is great. But for literally anything business related, I just can’t comprehend why people are so phone crazy. What a bumbling, stressful, inconvenient, inefficient form of communication it is.

When I have a phone call scheduled, step 1 is to freak out for an hour while I try to plan out every response I could potentially make. Step 2 is the actual call, then Step 3 is both parties forgetting the entire content of the conversation until it’s clarified via – you guessed it – email.

If I communicate with someone via email, I don’t have to take notes. I don’t have to fill awkward silence with “um”s while I’m thinking of what to say. I don’t have to worry, because I’m in complete control of what I’m getting across, and the other person will only see it once it’s perfect. Regular people have had email for what, 25 years?

It’s time for it to take its rightful place as our primary communication method.

I think a lot of people have a similar dislike of phone calls. I did for most of my life. I’m chilling out on that a little bit as I get older. Not sure why exactly. Perhaps it’s being a new dad and knowing how much more personal talking to family is when it’s their real voice. Maybe it’s just a realization that some communication is better when it’s more off-the-cuff and faster.

Anyway, I agree with Keith, email is the dang pinnacle of human communication and perhaps only isn’t hailed as the hero it is as much as it could be because of the mixed emotions it stirs up in people. We need to get into that soon.

Email is Public

An email can be from your business partner of a decade, a stranger who likes something you’ve said and wants to tell you, a troll from across the globe who wants to angrily finger waggle at you, or the computer system at the pharmacy letting your know your prescriptions are ready.

Most folks will give their email address to just about anybody, or make it entirely public. It’s often the only communication method they do that with. On the current version of my personal website, I put it in plain text right in the footer:

Email address in footer at chriscoyier.net

Your inbox is a wilderness in the way your incoming phone calls likely are not.

Phone calls are much more sacred. Most folks don’t publicly post their personal phone number. They don’t want phone calls from people they don’t know. I sure as heck don’t. They don’t want texts at all hours of the day. That’s what email is for, thank you very much.

They rarely post their address either. Perhaps a P.O. box or business address, but not a personal addresses. Personal letters are wonderful, but not from strangers posted to the address I sleep at. That feels quite literally dangerous.

Even publishing your Facebook profile is more and more rare. Again a business account, sure, but not my personal account. That’s already full of garbage without strangers engaging with me there.

Email, though. People will share their email address publicly. Strangers can email you and, while it’s not always awesome, it doesn’t feel nearly as scary or unwelcome. Email is much easier to manage.

Once in a while I run across someone who I’m trying to contact who’s clearly intentionally made it impossible to find their email address. You can always tell, as we all secretly thing we’re amazing internet sleuths and can’t be easily foiled in a simple game of hunt for the email. In the end, we think no problem, this person clearly doesn’t like email and does not want to be contacted for any reason. Then we check to see if they have open DMs on Twitter just in case.

My heart


For real though, I’ve definitely had emails I’ve stared at for wayyy too long. Emotionally, I very much want to reply. But my brain can’t come up with the right thing to say.

I wonder if this is a good (and somewhat non-traditional) use of snoozing an email. It’s not that I can’t or don’t want to deal with it right now, it’s that I need to stop looking at it and let my brain sort it out on it’s own time.

Pencil & Paper

Frank Chimero:

Get enthusiasm on the cheap by buying a fancy wooden pencil to write everything down. A $3 pencil is now more exciting than a $2,000 computer. Many people will do the most mundane work just to feel a good tool fly.

Stay on paper as long as possible. Sketch and write things out long-hand, possibly even emails. We all know screens are distracting. It’s much more pragmatic to step away from them for a significant block of time than trying to learn an attentional jiu jitsu that may be impossible. If you think you can’t step away, do it anyway for one day to see how much trouble it causes. That’s useful information.

Have you ever written an email literally on paper first? I’m not sure I ever have. I like the idea though. If anything, I write it in another app (like iA writer) first, because for whatever reason the separation from my actual email app feels appropriate. 

Email is Asynchronous

Asynchronous, meaning the sending of an email and the reply don’t happen in quick succession. Nothing like chat, which you could call synchronous. They are often separated by minutes, hours, or days. In fact if you get a personal email reply in a minute or two, it’s often a bit shocking.

Just by the nature of sending an email, we’re saying “get back to me as soon as you can.” If you need an answer right this second, people don’t email. They use a communication method that will trigger an instant notification, like a phone call or text. People generally don’t allow random incoming emails to trigger notifications¹.

If you need an answer from someone immediately, and you don’t have any immediate communication methods in common with them, you might just be out of luck. Perhaps write with a sense of urgency and expectation in the email, and try to establish another communication method as soon as you can. For example, I’ve hired a babysitter and lined up everything so far via email, it’s on me to make sure I have a more immediate communication method than that.

If you don’t have someone’s phone number, there is a chance that’s because they don’t want you to have it. 

This asynchronous nature of email, and how it’s become the expectation, is another reason for the success of email. It makes email a lot more comfortable. It allows people to be a lot more public about sharing their email address, which is something we’ll have to talk about soon.

Âą Although! I had a fellow from Sweden once write to me to say that he doesn’t like how the weekly email newsletter from my product arrived in the wee hours of the morning. He keeps his phone by his bedside and the beep from the incoming email wakes him up. I really wanted to write some custom code just for this one guy to make sure that didn’t happen to him, but I never did get around to it.

What An Email Can Be

Perhaps part of the successÂą of email is that it can take so many possible forms. Technically an email can either be:

  1. Text
  2. HTML

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.

Âą Can we call email “successful”? I’d say without a doubt we can. More on that later.

² Any.

Well, hi!

Chris Coyier here! Thanks for stopping by.

I can’t get the idea of email out of my head. I love email. The phrase all good things happen over email rattles through my brain. As a fellow who operates several businesses and has a varied and rather complicated career, a surprising amount of it happens right through email.

Every big door that has opened for me started as an email. Every big deal I’ve closed. Every collaboration. Every conference I’ve been invited to. I even have friendships that have started over email.

Email is a big deal. Yet almost everyone I know struggles with it. 

That’s what this site is all about. Let’s talk about email. Let’s figure out what’s hard about it and where the struggles are, so that all the great parts of email shine even brighter. Success in today’s world, in almost any way you want to define that, is going to involve you being good at email. So let’s get good at email.

A quick intro of myself.

You might know me from some other projects I work on. Web design and development is the basis of my career. I’m a co-founder of CodePen, a social coding environment for front-end designers and developers. I run CSS-Tricks, a site all about web design and development. I also have a podcast called ShopTalk Show where I talk about those things with Dave Rupert.

Another thing I do, like all of you, is a lot of email. I plan to use my own experience as a lens to talk about a lot of this email stuff bouncing around in my head. I also plan to talk to lots of other people on all spectrums of business about email. I’d like to talk to folks who feel like they have a great handle on email and those who feel completely overwhelmed by it or have given up on it. If you have thoughts on all that, get in touch!