Why build a new messaging product when the basic functionality of email combined with a little effort from the user can achieve the same result?
Everyone is trying to tackle the problem of private group communication. Like, Google, Glassboard, Groupme, Life360, and I’ll even add Path to this list.
How necessary are they? Is email’s interface so broken that we need new ones, that make it ‘easier’ to manage how we share messages and content with different groups in our life?
I must admit that I have tried build TWO different web apps that served to replace sending out a basic email to a list of contacts.
The first one, developed in 2006, was called “The Friendly Briefs” , it used the metaphor of a newspaper, and it was designed to function like an online family newsletter. We actually launched it and had a about hundred users, but the interface was admittedly ugly, and we dropped the project.
The second one, developed in 2008, was called ‘Convo Club’, and it was basically a re-skinned reboot of The Friendly Briefs.
When building these two apps, I dreamed of effortless, beautiful, and ideal communication with all the groups of people I cared about. I imagined writing story updates about my life that my parents, aunt and uncles, and relatives would read. Or posting interesting and thought commentary on a news items to my friends that would launch into rigorous debate.
For some reason I was convinced that I needed a new shiny app that would allow for this type of communication. But, the truth was that with just a little effort I could have been doing this easily with email.
Looking back now, I would have been better off using all that development time for composing meaningful messages to my family and friends.
Email is great. It gives you a headline, body text, and attachments of any kind. It also lets you to specify the people you share the message with, and whether or not that list is private or public.
Then people can respond ‘reply’ or ‘reply all’ to your message. What more do you need?
(Yes, I know, sorry for describing how e-mail works, I am sure you know it well by now)
If I started a email thread with my friends about a news article asking for their reflection, I would have gotten it. If I emailed out photos to my relatives of a trip I went on, they would have offered their wow and amazement, and probably even sent their own updates back.
All I was doing was avoiding doing the work, the real effort of producing the content that actually mattered. I was hiding from honest sharing with the conviction that the tools were not good enough yet.
Looking back, the only way I could justify making a private/collaborative group messaging app again, is if I have mastered the art of e-mail communication, if I am actually sending so many messages, starting so many threads, and openly and rigorously communicating with the current tools available. Only then would I truly be aware of what is needed to improve upon email as a communication tool. And I wouldn’t dare use a new messaging app without indication that the founders are rock-star communicators to begin with.
Recently, I have started to use email as more than just a dumping ground for newsletters and app notifications.
Here is what I have realized: email really does the trick
Myself and others should really spend more time setting an example by putting in the minimal effort to have great communication using email. In fact, we’d all better for taking an hour a day to write an actual thoughtful message to one person, or a to a specific group — to take a moment to organize your address book, and create an useful email list.
Just recently, my sister, my mother, and I made a pact to lose 10 pounds in 10 weeks, in time for a wedding. We created a email thread for just the three of us titled “10/10”. We all have iPhones, hooked up with email. So its as easy as getting a email notification, seeing an update about whether we’re eating good or not that day, and responding with our own update. Since doing this, we have been in casual contact everyday. This is a big improvement from the perhaps once a week phone call. Now, we feel closer, more bonded, and informed about each others life’s. And no we didn’t need a shiny new app, we just put in the minimal effort to use e-mail.
PS: My father just remarked that he feels left out of the email thread, and that he shouldn’t be missing out just because he is already in good enough shape and doesn’t need to lose any weight. He says ‘No, good deed goes unpunished!’
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