Email was the first killer app of the Internet age. It is the single most commonly used online application (slightly edging out Search). It is the center of most people’s work and social lives. Yet it is continually under-appreciated, and out-shined by new applications from Facebook to Twitter to dedicated Web 2.0 apps. But it remains with us like a loyal dog. This post is to email’s defense, how it can be the center of a workflow, and some cool new uses built on email.
I wrote a few days ago about how productivity is a corner stone of an ambitious life. As a follow up, I thought I’d add some detail on my own workflow. A lot of my workflow is centered around email. I spend more time in Mac Mail application than any other single application. I use it for quick notes (though Evernote is rapidly gaining on my note taking), for drafting blog posts, for staying in touch, for answering support emails for YouCastr, etc. So it’s naturally evolved as my all purpose workflow.
I don’t believe in Inbox Zero. It’s a waste of time, and isn’t necessary. My somewhat GTD inspired workflow makes sure that I have Inbox-Unread-Zero, but that once it’s read, things are fine. With Mac Mail, I can search through the 47,000 emails I have in my inbox and be just a few seconds from getting what I need. My Inbox essentially serves as my filing system.
I use my Draft Replies as my workflow. If I get an email that needs a response or action, I start drafting a reply. Even if the action is not just an email, it will most likely warrant an email anyway (letting someone know it’s done). So with a quick Command-R and save, I have a todo automatically created with the appropriate detail, and it’s automatically saved (with Gmail IMAP).
Bringing functionality back to email
A couple of companies are now leveraging email as a natural hub for general use. This makes sense, everyone knows how to use email, and it’s so pervasive in everyday use. It helps lower the barrier to start using a product, and keeps people coming back because it’s one of the activities people already do all the time.
Posterous has created the simplest blogging platform out there. All you need to do is send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and you’re done. It’s great. When they launched about 2 years ago, who would have thought we needed a new blogging platform? With plenty of custom, open source, and micro-blogging sites out there.
Another great up and coming app is Followup.cc, the brainchild of a good friend Chris Keller. Followup.cc lets you set reminders right from your email, by cc’ing an email with the desired reminder time. For example, you could email a potential client, then cc “email@example.com” and it will send you a reminder email in 2 weeks with that email thread. It’s brain-dead simple, you don’t have to sign up and manage something, you don’t need to open and login to something. It’s there when you need it, and using it is intuitive and takes about 5 seconds per email. Hopefully Chris starts marketing the service more aggressively so more people start using it. I’m excited to start using it more in my email-based workflow.
The Social Inbox
I think a current and hopefully continuing innovation is to leverage the Inbox for social communication. I like with Xobni is doing with the social integration (though unfortunately only with Outlook). Even stodgy Microsoft is getting into the fray with Outlook Social Connector (though it’s been called a poor man’s Xobni and has issues with LinkedIn contact synchronization). I’m really hoping Apple starts adding some social integration to the Mail application for both the desktop, iPhone and upcoming iPad versions. I’d love to be able to view and respond to Facebook or LinkedIn messages right from my centralized messaging application.
We’ll see how things progress, but I’m betting that email is not going away for a while, but will continue to get more powerful, more integrated with other communications mediums, more social, and more productive.