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.
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.
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.
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.
It’s also really really super similar to Superhuman. Not only in look, but the fact that they want to charge monthly/yearly to use the client (which is a UI on top of Gmail only). The similarities are pretty striking there – something must be going on like someone dipped out of one company to start the other or something like that.
Superhuman got tangled up in some controversy at one point. Something about that made me on edge while installing Tempo, and sure enough, something weird happened:
So this email client runs a local server on my computer. I have no idea what it does but that seems weird. When I quit the app, the server turns off though.
Aside from all that, personally, I don’t need a super minimal focus-based email client. Every time I switch, I find myself back on the web interface for Gmail. Although at the moment I’m still enjoying using it through Mailplane.
It makes for good structure sometimes, don’t you think?
I find it fairly common that emails mix in questions and things to respond to throughout the email in order to sound, ya know, human and friendly. That’s at the cost to structure, so sometimes in a reply you have to force some structure so that it’s clear exactly what parts you are responding to. I find the > character often enough for that as long as there is whitespace around it, but you could always apply bold or color or something to force a bit more structure.
Just heard a story from a friend where they got a message over LinkedIn via their internal messaging system that they actually felt compelled to respond to (I know). My friend didn’t want to actually talk over LinkedIn messages, so she said “how about we move this to email?”.
I’ve done this a handful of times myself, literally with LinkedIn. Chances are what comes in over LinkedIn is pure garbage.
But in the rare case you get an interesting message, moving it to email immediately is a fair move.
But instead of the person my friend was talking to saying “sure, that sounds good, I’ll email you.” they said “here’s an invitation to our Slack workplace.” Oh, sure, of course, would you like to crawl inside my shirt with me too? lolz.
I’m sure some people are all loosey goosey with their Slacks, but not most of us. Slack is sacred ground. Slack is almost more personal than giving out our phone number.
The worst thing though is that they ignored her ask. That’s like ok bye bye territory for me.
What it reminded me of though is grocery stores.
I don’t know how popular this still is, but at one point in my life, every grocery story I ever went to wanted to make sure I had a little keychain plastic dongle thingy.
A “discount card” the one above is called. I’m not convinced they actually did anything useful for me. It felt more like a system for tracking shoppers to gain data about buying patterns. But it had another benefit to the store. If I actually put this thing on my keys, that means that, even inadvertently, I’m looking at their logo probably dozens of times a day. The branding is burning into my mind. What store am I going to go to? Some random one or the one that is burned into my mind?
That’s what the “join my Slack” thing feels like. Sure, I could send you an email, but even better, let me put my logo into the ever-present sidebar of an app you use all day long.
If I really want to deal with an email (that I’ve already mentally accepted) but I haven’t quite digested it all yet and I’m not sure what I want to say, I’ll open it up and just type out with my fingers the salutation.
Sometimes that’s enough to get me focused and thinking about what to say. A little icebreaker for the fingers.
And sometimes I give up, but hey next time I attempt it at least the salutation is done.