Tangential rant about email
Email needs a redesign. For many of us, email is at or near the center of our work, and for many of us, it’s how we track our tasks. And yet email is absolutely terrible as a to-do list. Email sucks our life away every day, and we hardly even complain about it, because it’s been around so long we take it for granted.
This is a huge opportunity. If somebody could devise a great task-centric email app from the ground up—one that helped us focus instead of just funneling more distraction and stress into our brains—almost everybody’s life would be better. Unfortunately, the basic email UI has remained pretty much unchanged for the last 30 years.
I think I know why email hasn’t changed. About a decade ago, I worked on the Gmail team (roughly 2007-2010) and in those days, we knew about the email overload problem. I worked on a project
called “Priority Inbox” which automatically sorted email based on machine learning. At the time, this seemed to me like a big design change, but in hindsight I have to admit it was still the same email inbox, and still the same email structure, just rearranged a bit.
Later, there was a more aggressive project inside Gmail—one intended to totally rethink the email app. The early prototypes were pretty radical, but even when it made it out into the world it was a big step forward. I’m talking about Inbox, the project Michael Leggett started. Inbox was pretty cool, and whatever you thought of the version that launched in 2014 (some people loved it, others didn’t) it was at least a pretty ambitious departure from ye olde email client. One could hope that the initial version of Inbox was just a first step along a road to email revolution.
A few months back, Google shut down Inbox
a Gmail redesign with a few new features. They recommitted to the same old UI structure, and the same old task hell. Gah! Bummer.
I get it, of course. When you’re inside the company, when you have to consider the complexity of every change, when you’ve got millions of users (Gmail now has 1.5 billion
users), it’s hard to make radical shifts. I was guilty of the same incrementalism.
So the opportunity to reinvent email is still just sitting there. I guess Google isn’t going to reinvent the inbox. But someday, some startup will come along and do something amazing*… I hope. In the meantime, I’ve got Gmail with Simplify on my computer and a Burner List
on my desk.
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Thanks for reading! If you like this newsletter, please send it to a friend. If you use Hotmail and are offended by its exclusion from this discussion, please accept my apologies. If you are founding a startup and wondering what to build, please develop my dream email app.
*Yes, I’ve heard some good things about Superhuman
but it does not appear to be the kind of radically task-centric app I want.