Tag Archives: email

Episode 44: Week long tape delay

Consider this take two of episode 44.

For those who haven’t heard, we recorded Episode 44 a week ago but had Internet and computer issues. And thus it was lost to time.

So we did what good podcasters do, we re-recorded. With some changes. We lead off this week by discussing #NBCFail. The Olympics is apparently stuck in the 1980s.

We then discuss Sparrow. What is its future? What will this mean for small app development and for email itself?

Listen to this week’s show:


Download the MP3

Show notes:

Goodbye Sparrow

Goodbye Sparrow.

Sparrow was, and still is, the best email app I have ever used. It’s user interface is clean, simple and very intuitive. It makes email faster and me enjoyable.

It’s everything that you could want in a desktop or mobile email app. Sadly, Sparrow was just acquired by Google. This was more of a acqui-hire than a real acquisition.

Google just wants the talented Sparrow team; it doesn’t really want the wonderful iPhone and Mac App that the company has created. Google has never really cared that much about putting out really strong products on anything other than Android.

I have some hope for this acquisition. The Sparrow team has clearly been thinking hard about how to make email more efficient, particularly on mobile platforms. The knowledge and design that went into Sparrow could be brought over to Gmail.com and mobile Gmail clients.

The best case scenario is that Sparrow gets renamed Gmail and that the Sparrow experience gets brought to more platforms. Worst case scenario would be Google just using the new team to help make Gmail.com better, while continuing to ignore native desktop and mobile experiences, particularly on iOS.

Google has put more thought and care into the Android Gmail experience than the iOS one and doesn’t have an app on any other mobile platform. I’d hate for them to acquire the best iOS Gmail client and then just kill it and go back to delivering a sub-par Gmail experience for iOS users.

Sparrow will still be available and minor updates will continue to roll out. But don’t expect new features for Sparrow clients, and that long-anticipated iPad client will never see the light of day. The Verge reports that this acquisition was largely about making the Gmail experience better and more attractive for everyone:

Our sources also noted that Google isn’t ruling out native Gmail clients for platforms beyond iOS and Android, and emphasized that Google wants to bring polish, “beauty,” and ease of use to all of its Gmail experiences across platforms (a suggestion that a native client for Mac and PC might be in the offing). Sparrow, apparently, is a way to get there.

I’m all for that. I’ve been a Gmail user for seven years, and while the underlying service and engineering keep getting better, the user interface has stagnated and is too keyboard focused. Sparrow for iOS really brought a big touch focus and had a lot of great gestures and UI flourishes that made tearing through email really fast.

Every Gmail experience from the website to native apps could benefit from the work that Sparrow has done. The Gmail team’s engineering work combined with the Sparrow team’s UI/UX work could be a beautiful thing. It’s an incredible marriage of tech and art.

I hope, however, this doesn’t mean the end of high quality native Gmail experiences. While gmail.com does provide a good email solution that works across platforms (and that is better than Outlook, Apple’s Mail app and Thunderbird), it’s not nearly as good as a really forward thinking native app like Sparrow.

Sparrow came about because Google neglected the desktop experience and the iOS experience. I hope they don’t take this new talent and continue down that path. Google needs to take native app experiences more seriously.

The Web is great, but it’s not the end all, be all, especially something like mobile email. Sparrow’s legacy deserves more than just the Web. Sparrow should be about making gmail.com better and making more and better native apps.

Sparrow, you will be missed. Hopefully this will not have all been in vain.

Episode 39: Do you really want to be polling a bunch of weirdos?

Fring update push notification

We discuss the value, or lack there of, of push notifications.

Are push notifications making us more and less productive? Do we need better ways to manage push notifications?

We also discuss political polling and the difference between polling landline and cell phone users.

I apologize for Jeremy’s audio quality. I blame his Internet connection (although it could be mine, but don’t tell him).

Listen to this week’s show:


Download the MP3

Show notes:

Pushing for lost attention

I no longer have email push email notifications turned on my phone.

Nor do I don’t have have my phone pull emails at set intervals. Why? Productivity and stress reduction.

The biggest problem with having your phone push email every time a new message comes in is that you feel compelled to check it. Making email work for us isn’t about checking email; it’s about processing email. Much of the email that I receive can’t be quickly processed on a mobile phone.

If I can’t process the email, what good does it do to check it and have it sitting on my mind? When we allow email to fester on our minds, it causes needless stress. We think about the contents of that email and a job we have to do, but we aren’t actually working on doing that job, so it steals our attention, even as we try to relax after a long workday.

Everything in our lives suffers from stolen attention. So why have email pushed to you when you don’t intend on actually processing those emails once and for all?

Many of us read and email but don’t act on that email, leaving us less apt to process the email later. We have only served to acquire that  brief satisfaction of checking an email, only to allow stress and lost attention overtake us during all the moments we don’t process that email.

People use the unread designation that emails have as a sort of productivity heuristic. If the email hasn’t been opened and read, it should be acted on. Once opened and read, it doesn’t need to be acted on. But that’s a lie.

This isn’t to say that push notifications don’t have their place. Rather, for most people, the decision to use push notifications should be done on a case by case, project by project, job by job basis. This week, push notifications come in handy, due to the nature of the work I’ll be doing.

I’m at The Intel International Science & Engineering Fair, the world’s largest international pre-college science competition. I’m expected to responsive to email constantly and help run the event. It makes sense to use push or pull notifications this week.

I’ll be much less focused on producing something original and more focused on helping keep this science fair running well. This is a push email kind of week.

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to email. When I’m back in the office next week, I don’t want my phone buzzing with email constantly. I’ll be back focused on Web work, social media and writing. Those activities are best done with some level of concentration.

In many situations, checking email is a good way to not get work done. I’m not checking email as I write this post, and I don’t have an email application open or push notifications on. I want to focus on writing this post, and at 9:30 on a Saturday night, there is no chance that I’ll receive an urgent email (usually I don’t write blog posts on Saturday nights, but I’m working this weekend and all of next week, and this is what I’m doing for some down time).

Part of making email work as part of a modern, usable workflow is taming it. Unless you’re a traffic manager or some other office job that has you managing the flow of projects or doing constant deals, you don’t need email open all the time.

I can’t get lost in programming if I’m being notified about emails. I can’t think clearly enough to write while I’m being bombarded by email. Multitasking is overrated, and constantly being connected to email is even more overrated.

Imagine if your email inbox was actually the mail you received in the post office. All day long there would be a knock at the door and a new letter. You’re sitting down to dive into a long work session and all of the sudden a new letter shows up. You check it and then try to go back to work again.

And then another letter shows up.

When Sparrow came out for the iPhone, I thought it was a great app that a had a fatal flaw — it doesn’t support push or pulling of email. Now I realize that as part of my workflow, this is an asset. I check Sparrow only when I have time to process email.

I do, however wish that Sparrow supported push emails, because there are times like this week that I do need to able to receive emails in real time. I hope Sparrow does eventually support push email, because it’s a feature that when used properl can come in handy.

But for most of the time, I’d have push turned off. Ideally checking email when I’m bored neither cures my boredom, nor makes me actually tackle my email.

In the end, what we really need are easier ways to turn push notifications on and off. There isn’t a global way to turn push notifications on and off in iOS. We’re left with a laborious process where we have to turn on and off notifications on a per app basis. This makes it very unlikely that people will actually turn push notifications off when they’re trying to focus.

Push notifications have a purpose. We cannot deny that. But we need better control on when they are interrupting us or not.

This is an issue that is still being worked out in mobile OSes, and something that has to be addressed. It also has to be easy to do, because this cannot just be the domain of power users.

Ignore email, be more productive at work

A new study suggests that ignoring email makes you more productive:

In the study, a group of 13 volunteers vowed to go on a no-e-mail diet for five days, with all new e-mails received during that period bypassing the inbox and a rule against sending any new e-mail. Researchers monitored both the heart rate of participants as well as the activity on their computer screens during the e-mail vacation and during a three-day control period of e-mail use.

While heart rates remained virtually the same—they were actually a bit higher, which the researchers attributed to an increase in reported away-from-desk activity—the concrete benefit was that the workers spent almost twice as much time in each window on average (over two minutes per windows without e-mail, versus 75 seconds with it) and switched windows half as much (18 times per hour on average without e-mail versus 37 with it). These results suggest that having no e-mail to attend to improved workers’ attention spans and made their days less intense.

I’d suggest that employers stop relying so much on email. It’s not a project management tool.

76% of American Internet users get news online, almost all use search and email

It’s fascinating to see how ubiquitous all of these activities are getting. And look at social media: In 2007 it was around 17 percent and now it is at 65 percent. Just four years ago!

If you have the time, it’s worth checking out the full Pew report here.

A few other tidbits of interest:

  • 87 percent of those 65-and-older Internet users report using search engines. How can you go online and not use a search engine? All the demographics agree with that.
  • Those who graduated from college and have the highest income are the biggest users of search engines. 96 percent of college grads use search engines and 98 percent of those in the highest income bracket use search engines. Compare that to 81 percent for those with only some high school education and 90 percent for those in the lowest income bracket. Clearly education has a bigger impact on search engine use then income. Is it that going to college makes one more computer literate or that going to college makes one more of a knowledge seeker? Or that being a knowledge seeker inspires one to go to college?
  • People love email. There isn’t a huge difference between the different age demographics in email use, and contrary to many email-is-dead proclaimers, email usage is highest among the 18-29 set.


The Email Charter hopes to save our inboxes and sanity

Email is one of the most abused technologies around. People use it for all kinds of mismatched work: project management, instant communication, keeping people in the loop, etc. I can’t imagine living without email, but somedays I’d rather not live with it.

Check out the Email Charter’s 10 rules for making email work again:

1. Respect Recipients’ Time
This is the fundamental rule. As the message sender, the onus is on YOU to minimize the time your email will take to process. Even if it means taking more time at your end before sending.

5. Slash Surplus cc’s
cc’s are like mating bunnies. For every recipient you add, you are dramatically multiplying total response time. Not to be done lightly! When there are multiple recipients, please don’t default to ‘Reply All’. Maybe you only need to cc a couple of people on the original thread. Or none.

Here are a few of my guidelines for email:

  • Don’t expect an instant response — Email isn’t a real-time communication tool. If you need an instant answer, visit me in person, call or send an IM. If it’s not an immediate issue and you just want to talk, don’t call. Instead set up a time to chat. I’m probably working and don’t want to be interrupted.
  • Don’t call me to tell me you emailed me — If it was that urgent, see rule No. 1.
  • Email isn’t a text message replacement — If we are on a texting basis, and you’re looking for a response that could fit on a text, go ahead and send it as a text. I check my texts as they come in. Email? I have multiple inboxes and some I don’t even check daily. Being tethered to email constantly is underproductive.
  • Manage projects with project management software — Email is a terrible way to manage a project and keep all communications together. Try Basecamp and you’ll undersand. At the Interchange Project with use Google Docs to set up shows, not email. That would be a nightmare.
  • Attachements? There are better ways to send them — If it’s for work, just place it on our shared drive. Otherwise, you could place the files on Dropbox and send me a link. Or send the file over IM. The last thing I want is for my email to go down because large attachments have put me over my limit (or for you to call me and ask me if I received that huge email that didn’t go through).