Ruminations on Email

JoDee got a British Glamour magazine for our travels to PyOhio, and left it open to an article discussing the author's transition away from Hotmail / Outlook. The author lamented about how she had the same Hotmail account for around a decade and with the transition to Outlook it looked more "business-like" and less like the Hotmail she was used to. And that got me thinking about how Hotmail (and Yahoo) have been how folks have dealt with email for over a decade.

No wonder people hate email and would rather use services like Facebook for communicating.

Think about it:

  • Hotmail didn't have any obvious threading, so conversations would get jumbled together (or worse). One of the best keys ever in my Mutt configuration is the "Delete Thread" button for stuff that I really couldn't care less to read.
  • Email doesn't really have a good way of sending to a particular list. Outside of setting up specialized mailing list software there's not a good way to send to a particular group of users. And my experience with any mailing list is it's confusing for people to understand how to join an list (and by extension and anecdotal evidence - how to remove oneself from an email list).
  • Because email malware predated most folks attaching photos and other stuff to email there were many services that didn't accept email messages larger than a few megabytes at a time. So attaching photos to an email was a real chore to figure out who might get what after hitting the "send" button.
  • Email addresses can be atrocious to remember, especially if you were the 2092nd person to think of "spudmuffin"

Not to mention desktop and mobile email clients aren't trivial to set up, and most desktop and web email clients were awful things to use (GMail was so revolutionary because it was an email that didn't suck right out of the gate).

It's hard to fault people for having the opinion that email is something to be suffered with at work and not a primary means of communication. Facebook and Google Plus have smoothed out the rough edges for folks to communicate seamlessly, and the mobile clients aren't horrible to use. You only have to enter some account information and you're good to go.

The last bit of the article was about some of the silly things that were in this person's "Sent mail" folder from 2003. I got my first email accounts in the early 1990s, and have some archives dating way back into the early 2000s. And then I wonder if services like Facebook and Google Plus will even make their tenth birthday, let alone their 15th or 20th.

And that's the beauty of email: it doesn't matter if your service provider is Hotmail, Yahoo, GMail, or some provider who has long since left the realm of the living, you'll be able to communicate as long as your email address is valid. But because people have used traditionally terrible clients to read email there's a disconnect between how awesome email can be and how dreadful the service can be.

I'm not sure there's a fix for making email clients not suck (and by extension having folks use better clients) but it's easy to see why folks would resist using email more. If I had to fire up an old, cheap fax machine in order to send faxes, I'd only send faxes when I absolutely need to send them.

It doesn't matter the quality of the medium, it only matters how you experience it.