We’ve built email clients upside-down

Lately a bunch of new mail apps have shown up which promise to help us triage our bursting inboxes. I’ve tried them all: Mailbox, Mail Pilot, Boxer, Dispatch, Evomail, Yahoo! Mail, Triage, and Gmail’s new tabbed format. They each take a slightly different approach to doing the housekeeping and in their own ways do the job well.

But they haven’t stopped the flood of incoming messages. They just help us manage the flood better. And that seems like a fool’s game to me. Even when I get to inbox zero I feel lousy: I don’t like that I just passively let a bunch of people suck up my time.

I think we are tackling the email problem at the wrong end. Instead of managing the flood we ought to be preventing it altogether. That means we need to focus on the sender, not the recipient. However good the new crop of email clients are, none of them address the send action, which is where the email problem begins. (See Chris Anderson’s excellent email charter for the reason why.

Fixing the send is really about behavioural change and about creating a different communication culture in the workplace, a complex task requiring time and will. It’s probably not something that can be done with an app alone. Still, it’s an interesting exercise to think about it, if only because it helps understand the whole email process better. A while ago, I suggested that a workplace culture built on trust might be able to get rid of a lot of email with an app like this, the Perfect Communication Tool. As a new exercise, I wonder what an email client that focusses on the sending process might look like…working on that now.

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    […] week I wrote that we’ve built email upside-down, that is, even the best email clients help us manage the messages after they hit our inbox. They do […]

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