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Short and Sweet
July 13, 2011 1:51 PM   Subscribe

It seems that there is increasing frustration with the current state of email leading some to look for more technical solutions, such as Shortmail - an email client/social networking tool which attempts to redefine what its creators see as a broken relationship with email described on their blog as a "river of trash." , while others to turn to less technological solutions to lessen their email burden.

Shortmail is interesting in that it attempts to fuse the traditional private domain of email with a social component. An example of a public Shortmail message exchange between Dan Misener of the CBC and Dave Troy from Shortmail goes into more detail about the service and its uses.
posted by SpaceWarp13 (40 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
Honestly, most of the emailing I do at work is just to create a paper trail/record. Then I have to go and find the person I emailed to make them read it. At some jobs, we've even discussed what their reply will be before I walk back to my desk to get my reply. The one we just worked out a minute ago. The biggest problem I have with email is nobody actually wants to read it, though that's partly because there's so much of it. And I'm completely guilty myself.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 1:56 PM on July 13, 2011 [7 favorites]


Some people are just eschewing email altogether. I couldn't.
posted by pinky at 1:56 PM on July 13, 2011


Ascribing an arbitrary number of sentences to an email because email takes too long to respond to is a bit of a solution in search of a problem. If the email is such that I would even consider only allowing a set response length in this manner, it's not worth my time to respond to at all.
posted by BigHeartedGuy at 1:56 PM on July 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Or you could just give up email entirely, as professor Paul Jones at UNC's School of Information is doing. You can read all about it on his blog under the #noemail tag.

Disclaimer: I'm a student at UNC-SILS.
posted by k8lin at 1:58 PM on July 13, 2011


Big Hearted Guy has it right, plus what about jobs? Sending a cover letter is impossible in haiku form, much less a resume or any other cut-and-paste necessary delivery.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 1:59 PM on July 13, 2011


TED curator Chris Anderson proposed the Email Charter based on his frustrations with email. After getting completely burned out on the amount of time I was spending on email I've slowly cut down and cut back. No one has noticed a difference.
posted by quadog at 2:01 PM on July 13, 2011


Blah blah, you have proposed a solution which is ... technical, legal, etc. Email is broken. We have been attempting to layer solutions on top of it and around it and even between it, in a way.

If we can manage the transition to IPv6 eventually, we could manage a new email.
posted by adipocere at 2:06 PM on July 13, 2011


better ways to communicate than email. Paul is harnessing the power of social networking tools (Twitter, blogs, RSS, IRC, instant messenger)

heck I'm, fine with cutting down/out email, but I don't think twitter or IM is any better... worse may be the word I'm thinking of. If you need to say something briefly to someone, call them. IM-ing is just an excuse not to talk to someone in my experience.
posted by edgeways at 2:08 PM on July 13, 2011


About 95% of my personal email is made up of alerts. My electric bill is due, the book I ordered has shipped, Google calendar wants me to know I'm having lunch with mom today, something was added to my Hulu queue, etc. I'm not social with any of these "people" and they're not going to use something like Shortmail until everyone uses it.

Anyone who actually has something to say to me texts me or sends me messages on Facebook, Twitter or Google+. Those are the real replacements for email.
posted by desjardins at 2:12 PM on July 13, 2011



Honestly, most of the emailing I do at work is just to create a paper trail/record. Then I have to go and find the person I emailed to make them read it. At some jobs, we've even discussed what their reply will be before I walk back to my desk to get my reply. The one we just worked out a minute ago. The biggest problem I have with email is nobody actually wants to read it, though that's partly because there's so much of it. And I'm completely guilty myself.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 1:56 PM on July 13 [+] [!]


This is exactly what I do with email.

I use it when I need to cc multiple people to draw their attention to it, or I use cc to apply gentle pressure to the reciever. I use email because cci'ng and lists can provide transparency, and for my records. And I use it to cc other people and keep them in the loop. Having a paper trail is a really big deal to me, all the more so because I work with a high degree of independence and report to more than one person.

I find it to be a thousand times more useful than chat or personal conversations, because people are always giving me technical explanations that i need to dig up later and reference... it's the only medium where I can reliably do that.

I actually love email, and find it to be an incredibly useful way to communicate, especially at work. I've never found that having to follow up by phone or in person is really that big of an inconvenience at all.

I wouldn't change a thing about email. It just works.
posted by Stagger Lee at 2:13 PM on July 13, 2011 [12 favorites]


If you need to say something briefly to someone, call them

Unless you know they're in a meeting and won't be able to talk. This happens all the time where I work. It would be very difficult to do my job without IM.
posted by desjardins at 2:13 PM on July 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


I don't see how IPv6 will have anything to do with the content or function of electronic communications. I read the articles and honestly don't see how email itself is the issue; it's how the users are using it - how they're choosing to communicate (or not) with others electronically. And, in fact, I know oodles of people, including myself, for whom email is not any sort of perceived "problem". In short: email isn't broken, people are.
posted by Greg_Ace at 2:16 PM on July 13, 2011


I meant to say, *some* people are.
posted by Greg_Ace at 2:17 PM on July 13, 2011


Call them? Get their voice mail which is not a response? I use different edresses for different people. Divide and conquer! My only problem is the amount of spam I get with gmail.
posted by Cranberry at 2:17 PM on July 13, 2011


I'm drawing a comparison, not an dependency. Rejection of a new email is frequently described as a matter of completely insurmountable inertia. IPv6 is similar in that many critiqued it as a "Too Big To Happen" project.
posted by adipocere at 2:19 PM on July 13, 2011


Paul is harnessing the power of social networking tools (Twitter, blogs, RSS, IRC, instant messenger)

Wouldn't that take up as much of your time as email? I don't want to spend all my time on other services any more than I want to spend all my time on email.

(When I teach I have a basic rule of thumb to cut down on endless replies to email: if your email will take more than 5 minutes for me to reply to it, then I will ask you to come into office hours (or some other time that works) to talk to me directly. Works quite well.)
posted by lesbiassparrow at 2:20 PM on July 13, 2011


I actually love email, and find it to be an incredibly useful way to communicate, especially at work. I've never found that having to follow up by phone or in person is really that big of an inconvenience at all.

Thank you. I was beginning to think I was the only one (and on preview, thanks to Greg Ace, too). Now, I am an academic, so I am aware that there are people in some fields that get waaaay more email a day than I do, but honestly, I can't understand what is "broken" about email. It makes my life SO MUCH easier. I can do my work from home, instead of coming in to the office. I can ask somebody a question at midnight, if that's when I thought of it, rather than waiting until I see them next and probably forgetting the question.

My spam filters work pretty well, too. I don't really spend that much time deleting useless junk. I have different email addresses for different purposes. My mail client has a pretty decent search feature, so I'm usually able to find that email somebody sent form 2 years ago that I need to refer to again.

Maybe I'm just weird, who knows. I just can't see what these services would do that email isn't already doing for me.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 2:21 PM on July 13, 2011 [12 favorites]


I'm getting pretty tired of the ADD generation insisting that everything move faster, faster faster, and that things happen instantaneously (or sooner). That we all be connected to everything, everywhere, at all times.

Gah.

Email works just fine. That pause and remove is the deep breath one takes to avoid making an ass of oneself.

"Harassing the power of social networking tools" is a phrase that, to me, would proceed the opening of the seventh seal.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:30 PM on July 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Honestly, most of the emailing I do at work is just to create a paper trail/record.

I use it more or less the same way, but I'm always amazed a coworkers who view it as a formal use tool only, as I remember when email was the hugely informal way of getting a hold of someone.

Nowadays, with much more instant options available, it seems so old and stately in comparison.
posted by quin at 2:37 PM on July 13, 2011


Email doesn't really need to change, folks just need some basic training on how to use email.

When you have people who don't know how to auto-sort their incoming mail to folders, who chain 23 people in an email to have everyone reply with non-useful information ("Ok", "Maybe, let me check", "Want to grab Thai food?"), and people who just don't read the email.... then it's useless.

When you only send emails when you need to convey information, or require documented answers, it becomes super efficient and great. (Mind you, if you're in a highly toxic or dysfunctional workplace where you have to document everything, it's super-inefficient but then necessary, but for all the wrong reasons...)
posted by yeloson at 2:37 PM on July 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


Shortmail seems like a solution for problems with email as a communication method in business, but the business world is the least likely to accept arbitrary limitations. While you could maybe get away with banning attachments from emails and forcing everyone to find some other solution (like IM file transfer), there has to be some way to send more 500 characters between employees. I think the core problem for business email is that it's extremely easy to communicate with people, and so it's easy to increase everyone's communication overhead to the point where it becomes overwhelming.

For normal personal email, I don't really get the point. They say it cuts down on spam and automated messages, but only because spammers and companies who send automated messages haven't started tailoring to 500 character messages. Twitter certainly has its fair share of bots and spammers with more strict limits and centralized moderation. It could promote more concise communication theoretically, but I'd rather the people who send me personal emails to be able to write what they want rather than feel pressure to be more concise. And in the long run most content would probably get pushed out of the message onto other places, the same way that a lot of Twitter posts are just links to something else.
posted by burnmp3s at 2:39 PM on July 13, 2011


Email is far and away my preference for work communications. I seriously can't abide the phone. My job requires that I have dozens of different things in my head at all times, which is an impossibility on its face if I were relying on my own memory or a notebook where I was writing things down. If you tell me something on the phone, I will forget it immediately. Or I will make you email it to me, which is what you should have done in the first place.

Furthermore, if I tell somebody something on the phone, they will do their best to insist that I said something else. And I might have made a mistake! Having not just a paper trail, but a searchable, sortable pile of all the information I have given to other people and they have given to me is a literal necessity for my job. Yeah, most people use email in a shitty, timewasting way. No, mid-level management person, I don't believe that you are so busy, you don't have time to reread the two sentences you just wrote to me to determine whether they actually say anything. But these things seem like technical fixes to a non-technical (people are dumb) problem. Email's fine, you're using it wrong.
posted by penduluum at 2:41 PM on July 13, 2011 [6 favorites]


Shortmail looks like an attempt by marketing droids to come up with Twitter2.0, not a viable replacement for email.
posted by benzenedream at 2:42 PM on July 13, 2011


It would be very difficult to do my job without IM.

One of the few big downers of my job is that it's blocked here. Which is mind-boggling to me. I sort of understand the "people will waste time on IM" argument, but that's a staff problem and easy enough to police, right?

MeFi's own Jofus blogged awhile back about the virtues of working for a company with its own IRC server.
posted by middleclasstool at 2:42 PM on July 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


IM-ing is just an excuse not to talk to someone in my experience.
I use it for conversations that I don't want to have out loud. (For example, I am on the phone with a customer and need to consult a colleague. The customer does not need to hear me yelling across three cubicles or to sit on hold while I ask the question.) That and I use it to send things like urls and case numbers that are a pain to dictate but aren't worth a whole email.
posted by Karmakaze at 2:58 PM on July 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


(When I teach I have a basic rule of thumb to cut down on endless replies to email: if your email will take more than 5 minutes for me to reply to it, then I will ask you to come into office hours (or some other time that works) to talk to me directly. Works quite well.)

This summer I'm having office hours first thing in the morning. I get there a few minutes early and respond to all the student emails then. I've told my students that I glance at email as it arrives to see if it's really urgent and otherwise, it probably waits until the morning. Doing this I've become much better at answering email promptly and it seems like so much less effort.
posted by hoyland at 3:24 PM on July 13, 2011


I love email! I read it all. Respond to it all. Even write back to spam sometimes. Easy to say it is a pain in the neck but when you are old and without friends, it is a chance to be in the world and think you are a part of it.
posted by Postroad at 3:25 PM on July 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


I think the idea is not so much that people don't know how to use email. They do. It's more about the Bac'n. "The river of trash" is all the alerts -- things we kind of want to know about, things we think we need to know about, things we thought we once wanted to know about but no longer do.

My work email is mostly pristine because I only use it for work-related things. And it works fine. But my gmail account is a morass. I can't keep up with the trash. Priority Inbox is a start, but important things still end up below the fold and crap up above. And labels are especially useless -- anything that skips my inbox is dead to me.

I'm just trying to make peace with the vague unease of having not read all my mail. Maybe I'll check this out.
posted by rouftop at 3:27 PM on July 13, 2011


I flagged this as "breaks the guidelines" before reading it, because it looks like a big advert for this "shortmail" service, whatever that is. I'm glad to see the conversation has trended in a different direction, and I guess I'd take back my flag if I could…

As a person in a technical profession, I love that e-mail is a way to respond to technical questions on my own schedule (to some degree, anyway), with the appropriate level of detail. Yes, sometimes that means I write for two hours (or, more likely, investigate for 90 minutes and write in earnest for 30 minutes) in response to a two-sentence query. But, luckily, it's my job to do so.

On the other hand, if there was a technical solution to the problem of the e-mail from HR with a PDF I'm supposed to PRINT, WRITE ON, and RETURN TO THE S̹̜̱͈̦H̥͇̝̩̗̲̻O̻̼̻̗͔̲ͅR̟̗͙̖͙͙T̳̝ ̣̣̜̜̟̣Ḍ̻͍͕̝E̺̘̮A̹̠̩ͅD͙̜̳L̼͈̮̰̝͍I͉̠͓̪͕̟͉N̬͖̣̹E͖͖̯͍ IN P̠̯̩͚̲̯͍̌̏ER̗͔͈̗̞ͫ̊͒S̘̜͕̉O͎͎̥̓̂ͮͬ̑ͦ̚N͈͔̉ͯ͊ͯ̂̑̾ B̫̱͍̘͍̯̹̿̓ͩͨͥ̐̚E̙͓̘̬͕̖ͧF̱̞̳̮ͯ̃ͧ̽͊͗O͓̣͖͋͛͋̉ͦR͇̭̜̳̙͔̍̀E̳̻͍̪̜̯͉͒͒ͦ̇ͯͪ̆ S̫͈̩̠̿̇̊͑̈̇O͕̫̳͔̥̬͋̌̓ͭ͛͆̔͆̔ͅM̞̫̺̬̄̑̐̀̆̽͐Ẻ͎̣̰̀̊̌̑̓̐ͪ S͉͙̟̔ͧͦT̜̔ͧ̆U͔̹̣̠͕̩̘͛͗͊̀ͅP̘̝̹͉̣̣̼̐̌ͦI̲̘̽̅̆̏ͦͯ͐ͣ͋D̝̥͚͕̮͙͖ͣͯ͌ͨ, S̅̿ͪ͆̓ͣ̊͑ͫ̓̓̂̊͆͑̊̾ͬ̚͝͏̷̬̪͈͇̯̻̮͙̯̤͢͝H̵̛̠̹̺̭̾̄̂͑͑ͤ̓̒ͪͨ̑̀́͠Ó̧͎̥̝̬̻͖̗̌ͩ͒̚̕̕͝Ŗ̛͔͚̮̫̻͖̻͙̻̻̘̟̻͖͒̒́̀̅͞T͙̳̫͇̤̖͉̦̈́̏ͯ͌̍̀̂̎̾ͯ̎͗̂̃ͪ̀̏́̕͟͝ D̵̢̦͉̫̫̬̞͇͈̪͊̈̏ͭ̑͑ͣ̑ͫ͢Ȩ̶̧̡͎͙̗̱͍͍̬͖͓̠̮͎̤̥̓ͨͥͣͨ̌͌̔̉̊ͪ͂ͤ͑͝Aͭͤͤͥ͌͊̃̔́ͤ̋̉͋̃̈̃͋ͨ͞҉̘̲̟͕̞̮̰̼͎̮͙̦̘̫̝̭̙D̡͚͖͉͎̦͚̲̬̱̝͇̹̩̝̗̠͔͎͙̏͂̃̊͒ͣ̎ͮ̎ͦ̏ͥͨ͋̀͝͞͠L̶̾̍̍͌ͯ̎̆ͪͥ̄͏̯̱͉̱̲͔͍͎͎̺̜͚Į̴̰̯̣͉̤̰̞͛̉ͨͯ͛͑̓͗N̶̷̗̤̟̺̠̘̖͙̝̦̘̜̖̙̑ͤͯ̐̽͂̄͂͐̍ͬ͊̂͌̾E̴̶͇̜̝̩̳͒͒ͪ̀̄̀̃͑͋̐ͯ̽̌̚, I'm all ears. he comes No, I'm not upset about things like that, why do you ask?
posted by jepler at 3:53 PM on July 13, 2011


You broke it.
posted by swift at 4:42 PM on July 13, 2011


My experience is that people who say they have an email problem actually have an email-filtering problem, and the people who say they're great at email are a large part of the cause of that problem.
posted by mhoye at 5:29 PM on July 13, 2011 [5 favorites]


One of the few big downers of my job is that it's blocked here. Which is mind-boggling to me. I sort of understand the "people will waste time on IM" argument, but that's a staff problem and easy enough to police, right?

Our IM system is internal, and external systems are blocked. No one actually wants to talk to their coworkers, so problem solved.
posted by desjardins at 5:44 PM on July 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


As far as Dr. Noemail from UNC goes, must be nice to dictate to your employer and your customers that you won't use one of the most common and easy methods of communication. What a selfish ass.

I could probably get away with not using email for awhle, but it would cost the state a lot more money and I would be giving shitty service to the people I'm supposed to help.
posted by marxchivist at 6:18 PM on July 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Big Hearted Guy has it right, plus what about jobs? Sending a cover letter is impossible in haiku form, much less a resume or any other cut-and-paste necessary delivery.

I send important stuff like that by postal mail; sometimes even handwritten. You'd be surprised at how effective this is.
posted by anigbrowl at 6:19 PM on July 13, 2011


This motivated me to clean out my Gmailbox, and I found a great filter for the river of trash: "is:unread +facebook" finds 99% of the mass marketing mails that I've skipped over.
posted by benzenedream at 6:22 PM on July 13, 2011


I emailed this entire thread (not the link, the whole thing. In a word .doc) to everyone in my address book.

I look forward to their top-quoted replies.
posted by madajb at 9:08 PM on July 13, 2011


I don’t understand the problem people have with email, but I don’t work in an office environment with people send a lot of crap around. Email works just great, and Twitter and Facebook sound like way more trouble than I want, so I pass on those. I rarely use texting on the phone, or IM’s. Email and the phone are the only way I communicate.
posted by bongo_x at 9:57 PM on July 13, 2011


1. Email is still the best tool in lots of situations.

2. I agree that if people used email differently it would not be a problem. That's not going to happen, at least not on a scale that is useful. (Though email discipline could potentially be taught in business school or be baked into the corporate culture of a company. There's potential there.)

3. people who say they have an email problem actually have an email-filtering problem. QFT.

4. The email problem is really an interface problem. There have been very few significant changes to our fundamental way of interacting with email since its inception. Gmail represented the last big shift and that launched 7 years ago.

Here's my 3 point plan to start fixing email:

1. Get sigs out of the flow of communication. Parse them out and tie them to the email address.
2. Give me a sidebar with a list of all attachments in a thread/conversation.
3. The inbox needs to become more complex: I want multiple bins and for incoming mail needs to be sorted into them as automatically as possible. Let me see at a glance that I have 3 new newsletters and give me the ability to quickly expand and contract that folder to see what I got. And let me quickly drag unsorted emails into their proper folders (family, friends, todo today, project a, project b ...)
posted by wemayfreeze at 11:08 PM on July 13, 2011


No, he’s not stranded on some desert island and, no, he’s not ignoring people – he’s simply convinced that there are better ways to communicate than email. Paul is harnessing the power of social networking tools (Twitter, blogs, RSS, IRC, instant messenger), smartphones, and the old-fashioned telephone to fill the gap left by email.

This seems needlessly complicated. Why substitute five social media tools for one communication tool? And I hate being on the phone. Why would I prefer the phone to email? Except to clarify something or to make brief contact with someone if email doesn't suffice? I'm not denying that email is often a pain in the ass, but I use my gmail account every day -- to communicate, but also, even more, to receive and read content that I don't want to jump into the ocean of Google Reader to swim through. I don't love email, and I don't hate Twitter, but I think that each has its uses, and one isn't a substitute for the other. On the other hand, I grew up with email and a lot of people didn't. So I can see that email, for people who never use it, can be a huge irritant.
posted by blucevalo at 8:12 AM on July 14, 2011


Here's my 4 point plan to start fixing email:
1. with a decent email program/interface, sort everyone into categories of "communication trustworthiness"; people who carefully choose what they send me go into a folder marked "read this" and those that send me shit that doesn't matter go into "low value."
2. watch email volume plummet to a perfectly manageable half-dozen messages a day
3. try to move really juicy conversations out of email and into a face-to-face (over a restaurant table, pint of beer, etc.); if not possible, spend some of the new-found free time researching and writing meaningful responses
4. Every couple of weeks I'll scan the "low value" folder and check the subject lines; I usually find a half-dozen messages I need to read. The cull rate is running at 97% for me so far, though.

I've been doing this for three years now and I'll never go back. More free time, better relationships, better understanding, happier me.
posted by introp at 9:02 AM on July 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


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