Just Email Me

My Flickr contacts can send me email through Flickr and my Facebook friends can send me email through Facebook — and this really irritates me. I wish people would stop doing this, and in fact I make it a habit to ignore most everything that comes through these channels. I already have a great channel that lets anyone, friend or stranger, contact me and it’s plain old, regular, basic, vanilla email.

There’s no shortage of email haters lately, and I admit that plenty of people with even busier schedules than my own must get tons more email than me and hate it. Still, I don’t think it’s exaggerating to say that I get a decent amount of email — not just spam, but personal correspondences, professional correspondences and out-of-the-blue correspondences from people I don’t know. It’s a lot to go through, and if I neglect it for a day (or, more commonly, a weekend) it requires a bit of work to catch up.

Don’t Break What’s Not Broken

In spite of that, I still think email worksаbetter thanаjust about any other communication medium out there. It’s not just that it’s ubiquitous and universally understood; or that I fully own my email address and its domain; or that I can access my email from any number of clients, desktop or Web or mobile or tablet; or that I really can answer it in my own sweet time. For me, the bottom line is thatаemail works great. I don’t have any serious trouble keeping up with it and, so long as I’m not working with insane people who send poisonous diatribes over email, I kind of enjoy it.

Email is not broken, if you ask me. It could be better, for sure, but I don’t think it requires the drastic changes that so many other people seem to believe are necessary. And I certainly don’t need messaging intermediaries entering the picture. These alternatives just fracture what is for me a pretty well consolidated experience — if you want to reach me, my email address is pretty easy to find and I, in turn, know the one place I should turn to check to see if you’ve reached me.

Lots of people disagree, I’m sure, and who knows, we may one day have a much different kind of messaging solution than email. I kind of doubt it, though. I suspect that email is so well ingrained in us by now that, imperfect as it is, it’ll still be here several decades down the road. Until there’s an unequivocally better solution though, if you want to reach me, just send me an email.



  1. Amen to this. All the lousy layers of abstraction so many other sites use to make contacting a person difficult and wedge themselves in as a middleman. I hate the proliferation of narrow-casted inboxes that have sprung up like mushrooms on every service out there. Flickr, GitHub, BitBucket, Facebook, etc…

    Minimal intervention has its place – witness Craigslist and their anonymous e-mail redirects that let you, the poster, get a response in your actual e-mail inbox, without ever revealing your true address (The devil you say!). Better yet, you can respond *directly* to the person who contacted you, also through e-mail (dark magic!). The barest layer of help, without ever trying to subvert the basic utility of e-mail.

    E-Mail: It’s like RSS except you never have to subscribe and every article is written JUST FOR YOU.

  2. I still prefer email too, but it seems lately that a lot of people I know are “emailing” through Facebook more so than real email. In fact I regularly hear people say they emailed someone through Facebook, not even realizing they weren’t using the “correct” verb.

    As a nerd I agree with you that email is *not* broken. But to regular people it *is* broken: floods of spam, viruses and malware, frequent warnings not to send sensitive information like credit card numbers through email, don’t open attachments, etc, etc, etc.

    At the end of the day I think most normal people just want a system they can rely on, one that is easy to use, one that they can talk to their friends and family on, send pictures, videos. Every single one of those tasks is easier on Facebook than email.

  3. Joe: I disagree that it’s truly broken for regular people. It can be improved, that’s for sure. But I get emails from ‘regular people’ all the time, and they send me emails too. In fact, these intermediary services are making lives worse for these ‘regular’ people, because now they have not one source to check but two. I just don’t buy the argument that this approach is helping anything.

  4. Short and right on point. Email may or may not be broken (I think it is) but all that Facebook and the others are doing is making the problem worse. Instead of one overflowing inbox, I now have multiple disconnected inboxes.

  5. Things I get in email: basecamp notifications, bank statements, bills, receipts for online purchases, advertisements. No personal correspondence.

    I rarely get personal correspondence by email, and if I do it is often lost or—if I’m busy—lost and forgotten in a sea of other crap. I bet this is the case for many, if not most, of people my age (mid-twenties and younger).

    For better or worse, the best place to send me a personal message is facebook or twitter. When a friend I hadn’t spoken to in years messaged me last week, it was on Facebook, not email.

  6. Hear hear! I also hate the converse: people using chat apps to give me information that would be much better done through email. I see email as being for sharing information that’s important, but not utterly urgent (like it’s snail mail predecessor: funny that). It really irks me when contacts suddenly flick me important information out of the blue that I then have to immediately respond to, when in email it’d be fine for me to get back to them in 24 hrs. *shakes fist*

  7. Vicky: I never give out my IM details to clients. 🙂

    One thing I despise about Facebook Messages, Twitter DMs, etc. is that there isn’t an easy way for me to archive those communications.

  8. It’s silly to judge or admonish people who message you through other platforms. People like you (and me) who have personal websites plus email addresses on those websites are rare exceptions to the rule: Most people don’t have sites, and most who do don’t put their email addresses out there. So people don’t bother to look for that; it’s way easier to run a Facebook search.

    I say this as someone who spends a lot of time trying to get in touch with tech savvy people for work. Many, many times I am able to send a Facebook message and it’s more rare to be able to find a cleartext email somewhere.

    Anyway, you’re totally right that email is superior to these silly messaging silos, but the fact is most people are too scared (of spam etc) or too content in corporate social networks to bother with the open alternative.

  9. I think what bothers me with many of the services offering improved/streamlined messaging options is that they’re walled gardens that don’t have any sort of permanence or oversight. E-mail, by virtue of its architecture, has the concept of local storage built in. Anyone using a desktop mail client is pulling down copies of their messages, and has them available offline, with all relevant info (headers, etc) available too. It may be clunky, but e-mail embodies a lot more empowerment for the user than anything the social networks currently offer. And I can take my mail management, storage and hosting elsewhere, regardless of who goes out of business or changes their marketing focus.

    I agree with Stephen that this may be an age-related perception, but I like the ownership and control inherent in e-mail, and simply don’t find enough value in what facebook or twitter “adds.” It’s a personal thing for everyone, but I’d be shocked if the eventual turn of the wheel doesn’t come back to the point where the best-of-breed messaging systems don’t provide a lot of what e-mail already does, albeit in a shiner webbier package.

    Also, stay off my lawn. *shakes cane @ twitterbook*

  10. Facebook can often just be easier when sending group “mail,” people who are friends on Facebook often don’t have each other’s emails so it’s easier (as Ryan says) to just search for people and send a message that way.

    For 1-to-1 communication, though, I would much rather be sent an email as well, though I’m not going to fault people for Facebooking me if that’s what’s easier for them, though.

    It’s slightly hypocritical to expect others to email us because it’s easier for us when they’re using some other platform because it’s easier for them.

  11. I think you’re right on with this. One of the things that we’re trying to do with Fiesta is to keep interactions as close as possible to the regular email workflow – for exactly the reasons you mention.

  12. Khoi, agree with you on this, particularly your reply to Joe. Email can certainly be improved but what I think is really broken is folks behavior with it. This is addressed a bit in Chris Anderson’s Email Charter project: http://emailcharter.org/. A local Baltimore start up is attempting to address email with their Shortmail project. Would love to hear you thoughts on this one.

  13. Email works.

    What needs to be improved is it’s style guide. Emails are not handwritten notes. They dont need to begin with “dear” or “hi”. And they don’t need to end with “sincerely”, “fondly”, etc.. Basta formality.

    Short and to the point.

    And PLEASE use the subject box for the “subject”!

  14. I agree completely.

    But Facebook knows this too. The reason they are trying to popularize their messaging service is not because they want to “fix” e-mail, regardless of what they might say. They simply want to improve the social graph that they sell to their advertisers, and information like who you contact and how often is very, very valuable.

  15. I agree with Khoi and Andy#16.

    I want these other services like facebook and flickr etc to offer the ability to block their contact services and have a pop-up that tells people how get to me by email. Because I still get a bunch of flickr mail which I hate despite saying on the profile page I want email.

  16. Count me in as another old-school type who wants plain email instead of application-specific messages.

    The one mitigating nicety that Facebook gives us is the ability to reply to the email notification of a message (or whatever), instead of having to log in to their website. If every website that had its own messaging system would allow recipients to reply via email, this issue goes away. Our email inboxes are the aggregators.

    (Does this mean that a new email client could be the next big startup?)

  17. I did some research on teenager’s use of technology about a year ago. An interesting thing that came out of that was that many 15 year olds do not have email, but all have a Facebook account. For them, Facebook is a medium, and email is for old people, something they’ll have to sort out eventually.

    Facebook’s email integration, and new email account is a way for them to bridge these two worlds of old and new. By providing this, they allow the natives to talk to the immigrants. Email is fine for us, but it’s not good enough for them.

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