Just Use Email

You can imagine I’d be all about a website named Just Use Email! There isn’t much on it yet, but I really like the first two posts:

The About Page is my favorite though:

You don’t have to be a Luddite to live in the modern world. You don’t have to go completely analog to get away from annoying apps or buzzing notifications. There is a highly reliable method that awaits you, one you may have never truly mastered, but one that has been there all along.

You can actually be more effective, informed and productive. You can actually contact friends, family, and clients in a deeper connected way, and with less stress.

How? By just using email.

Attachment Size Limits

I don’t know all the technical details of attachment size limits on emails. I assume it’s complicated. Any given email server might put hard-caps on what it accepts within the email itself. For example, in 2009, Gmail increase the limit it could send to 25 MB and mentioned at the time:

you may not be able to send larger attachments to contacts who use other email services with smaller attachment limits

Twelve years later, that limit is still 25 MB for in-email attachments, so it seems like the email ecosystem hasn’t scaled that up much.

What has changed is the work-arounds. As much anyone might have feelings about whether email is the appropriate mechanism for file sharing, files are a part of modern communication and because email still excels at modern communication, files come along for the ride.

So, companies that offer email as part of how their services, have made sending attachments, especially of large size, much easier.

Apple has Mail Drop, which supports up to 5 GB attachments. You don’t have to think about it, it just works by tossing your file into your iCloud (until you go over the 1B limit, god bless you), and the file “expires” in 30 days.

Gmail has a thing where large files are also auto-cloud-uploaded to Google Drive, and then explicitly shared with the recipients of the email.

I’ll pretty commonly use some cloud uploader tool to get around actually attaching big files to email as well, like I might chuck a .zip file on Droplr or something, which not only makes the email smaller, but I can control if it gets deleted, and has a better chance of making it through a spam/content blocker.

I love these kind of things. They take a gnarly friction point and smooth it over. That’s what tech is supposed to do.

Emails About Not Getting Emails Are the Worst Emails

Sarah Miller, in a story, ostensibly, about not getting emails:

The help guy said he would send me an email. And then he sent an email, to my email, the only email I ever use, the email that never doesn’t get emails, ever. I have no reason to disbelieve this. And I didn’t get it. He sent another one, I didn’t get it. He said I would have to call the university and talk to them about why I couldn’t get emails from the enrollment/grade/whateverthefuck portal. As soon as our chat ended, I got two emails from the help desk of the enrollment/grade/whateverthefuck portal I couldn’t get emails from, one saying, sorry you can’t get emails, we did everything we could, and the other a transcript of the conversation about how I couldn’t get emails. Just in case you’re not grasping this: I got two emails from the place I couldn’t get one email from about not getting that email.

There is no resolution in Sarah’s story, really. I was yelling check your spam folder, but also got the sense that Sarah isn’t stupid and that probably wasn’t it. Mostly it made me think… if you just can’t get an email from any particular sender, what kind of extreme roadblock that is. You can’t buy the thing. You can’t go on your trip. You can’t take the damn class.

Choosing a business model for Simplify

Simplify is a browser plugin by the one-man-team Michael Leggett that cleans up the UI of Gmail.

I like it OK. I’ve tried it a few times and it tends not to stick though, probably because I have some muscle memory for some feature that’s not hidden or something and generally I’m not distracted by the default UI enough to care.

But it has lots of fans, the blog, On Simplify, gets dozens or hundreds of comments on each post. Lately, particularly on a post about finding a business model for Simplify in Choosing a business model for Simplify. Michael is going charge money for it because none of the other options feel right to him.

Monthly pricing (a few bucks) sounds good to me, especially because the pricing he puts out feels fair. I imagine it’s a decent amount of work keeping up with a third-party and making sure your vision of the UI maintains. But it’s also not, like, accounting software vital to running your business or something.

When you’re public about changing your pricing, everyone is going to have an opinion. It looks like Michael is going a good job listening. My advice? Don’t listen too hard Michael. If you try to please everyone you’ll end up pleasing nobody, especially yourself.

You might as well ask because the worst they can say is “no.”

I’m not necessarily advocating that as general advice, but it is advice that I hear a lot. It came up yesterday in a conversation about asking a local grocery story to care a certain type of peppers.

Might as well ask, right? The worst that can happen is that they don’t carry the new peppers and everything is exactly as it is right now, which is not bad, just not as great as it would be if the store carried these amazing peppers.

Email is a perfect medium for this kind of advice, since email opens the door for anyone to ask anything.

I could ask Barack Obama to come on my podcast, but I probably won’t hear back or if I do, I’ll get a no. I could ask a Google high-up if they could bring back Google Reader, but I probably won’t heard back or if I do, I’ll get a no. But if I get a yes, wouldn’t that be amazing?

There are more realistic scenarios. I could ask someone in my field to help me with a problem I’m having. I could ask someone with more influence than me to help spread the word about my product. I could ask the bike shop for a discount. I could ask them if they want to go out with me. I could ask to have pizza for dinner.

Those seem more like tossups whether I’m going to get the answer I want, but hey, might as well try, right?

One way to characterize all this is how Andrea Donderi did:

This is a classic case of Ask Culture meets Guess Culture. In some families, you grow up with the expectation that it’s OK to ask for anything at all, but you gotta realize you might get no for an answer. This is Ask Culture.

In Guess Culture, you avoid putting a request into words unless you’re pretty sure the answer will be yes.

That “might as well ask” idea is Ask Culture. The opposite being someone who rarely asks for things (among other characterizations) which is Guess Culture. It feels right to me, similar to the distinction between introversion and extroversion. (I heard about all this from Rachel).

Me, I’m guess culture, apparently. I don’t often ask for anything, or if I do, it’s a result of heavy calculation on my part. Like I really need to ask because there is a lot of pressure on me to do so, or I feel like I’ve built up enough points that asking is just cashing in on those points.

Is that a weakness though? Shouldn’t I just ask more because who cares if they say no?

My brain won’t let me. I think it’s because when I’m the target of Ask Culture, it bugs the hell out of me. Take the classic (pre-pandemic) email: let’s just get together for a coffee and I’ll pick your brain. That’s Ask Culture. They might as well just ask, since the worst that happens is that I’ll just say no. But that’s not the worst that can happen. Chances are, now I think you’re obnoxious, needy, and selfish, and I don’t want to have anything to do with you. There were actual consequences, because you needed something and not only did you not get it right now, you’ll likely not ever get it from me, because it’s a burnt bridge. That culture might work for you sometimes, or might have worked great in your family dynamic, but I feel doesn’t translate particularly well to the business world.

I don’t mean don’t ask anything, I just mean be more empathetic in your asking and be aware of what the consequences might be.

My Working Day Isn’t Your Working Day… But I Know That, Don’t I?

There is something to like there. A reminder to people about the response expectations of this email.

It also scares me a little bit. Isn’t this the implied social contract of emails? Hasn’t it always been, but especially now-days with many different more immediate communication methods where the social contract is less defined?

I also wonder who the message is for. If they are talking to a stranger, it seems unnecessary. Strangers don’t owe you anything and everyone on both sides of this email knew that. Are the a friend? Weirdly formal for a friend. Are the a co-worker? That seems the most likely, but shouldn’t expectations about communication be such an important work concept that it shouldn’t be the responsibility of an email signature to take that up?

Depressing Moment

When I open my mail email account for Team CSS-Tricks and every single email is someone reaching out to put spam on our site.

The email itself isn’t really spam. It’s a real person (although I doubt it’s a real person named “Lisa Turnbull”) using templates to try to get site owners to update blog posts with their “resources”. It’s spam. If you do it, it will hurt your site and help theirs. I think what they are doing should put them in jail. And yet the world rewards them instead. They make money. What few takers they get on this are enough to keep this spammy world growing.

It’s just a depressing movement, and I mention it here because email is a real enabler of this and I wouldn’t blame anyone for being down on email if this is their main experience with it.

My Own Digital “Decline Letter”

Thanks to Rick Saenz for pointing me to Edmund Wilson’s “Decline Letter”. The earliest reference I can find to it is Tim Ferris’ blog, but Edmund Wilson was born in 1895, so I imagine this has been bouncing around for a while, as evidenced by the extreme artifacting of this image.

This is a bit of an answer to The Fail Zone, where instead of giving no response to an email, you respond with something like this so that at least people know where you stand.

I made my own:

You can see it in full here, or see the code / fork the project here.

I’m probably not going to actually use it for anything, but it was fun to create.


You know what nobody does over email? Send a message saying “hi” and then wait for you to respond before saying what they need to say. I feel like even if your best friend or boss did that over email, I’d just delete it.

But it’s such a common thing over messaging apps like Slack, that there are half-parody websites about the problem.

Just ask the question.

Indeed, please do.

It’s funny how the culture of communication is so different across different types of communication. Part of me thinks it’s age. Like compared to email, Slack is a baby, so the culture there needs time to evolve. But I’m not sure that’s really it.

What I think it is, is that the “hi” messages are shorthand for a much more elaborate message:

Hi. I’m pinging you to see if you respond in a somewhat realtime fashion. I have something to ask you, but it doesn’t matter or isn’t useful if we can’t do a bit of back-and-forth in realtime. If you respond fairly quickly, then I’ll respond with my question so we can kick off this little session how I envision it.

Perhaps chat clients like Slack need a new cultural way to ask for that. Here’s an idea: the 🏹 bow and arrow emoji. Like if I shoot an arrow at your attention, I’m asking to see if you’ve got a sec to do a realtime chat session. And maybe they expire after like 10 minutes?