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The feature you think you want

For several years, we had resisted. Something didn't feel right. They're one-sided, perhaps a little inauthentic. Our CTO sneaked in blocking behavior. Tech twitter spent weeks debating: maybe they're actually evil?1 Our customers continued asking for them.

Yes, we're talking about Read Receipts: the simple but controversial notifications that someone opened an email you sent.

A Consider-y read receipt

If users kept asking for them, there must be something there, right? We started exploring if there was a take on read receipts that we’d be excited about – a “Consider-y” read receipt, if you will. Something authentic, two-sided, human. For a short, academic moment, we thought we had the answer.

Our read receipts would be enabled only when emailing within your team. If your coworkers weren’t using Consider, they’d be notified through your signature that you were tracking opens. And with this signature, your coworkers would even be able to disable the tracking.

We built all of this. We tested it internally for a few weeks. And then we realized – we just did not like how read receipts made us feel. We were hesitating to open messages. We felt more anxious. We liked email less. So, we decided to throw it all away.

It’s not actually a read receipt

In reacting to customer feedback we had forgotten a crucial rule: customers are the expert in their problem, not the solution. Customers most often express their problems through feature requests. But it is the product builder’s job to dig deeper and understand the actual need. That’s what they pay us for.

While experimenting with read receipts, we had simultaneously begun using reactions in Consider. Reactions let you acknowledge receipt, before replying. Reactions give you confidence you're not shouting into a blackhole. Reactions are opt-in. It turns out the Consider-y read receipt was not a read receipt at all.

That feature you think you want? It's often something else entirely.


1. We think Superhuman handled this really well. 🙏

Three things you can now do in email

As you'd expect, at Consider we are big users of Consider. Yesterday's launch of reactions, comments, and presence, along with our previous launch of Groups, have enabled us to do things in email that are either impossible or incredibly clunky with the status-quo tools. We think these new use-cases are pretty cool! So today we're sharing our top three.

Note: we wanted to share our actual usage of the product, so these are real screenshots - with some details redacted.

1. Run a standup

Our Boston team used to run a digital standup in Slack. We had a bot that would collect and aggregate responses from everyone each morning. The fact that you need an extra piece of software here is the first smell. But you do need it because otherwise the second anyone shares something interesting in their update, and a conversation follows, there's no natural time or place for anyone else to post their update.

We moved this to a Consider group: boston-standups@. The first person in the office each morning starts the thread:

Each person then replies:

Without reactions or comments, these threads would be terrible in email. Reactions give them life. People get little bits of feedback on what they’re working on - you don’t feel as if you’re writing into a blackhole. Comments allow you to ask follow ups without the thread descending into chaos.

Finally, Groups means boston-standups@ becomes a great archive - accessible to all existing and future teammates:

2. Run a poll

I had a yes/no question about a new piece of product we were working on. This is something that you might naturally gravitate towards Slack for because of Reactions. Yet Slack is terrible for this - unless it is top of mind for everyone, you are pushing your priorities to the top of the queue. Instead, send an email to a group. Here's what I sent:

Because they're self-contained email conversations, you don't have to worry about the channel running off and talking about something else. So follow ups are easy:

And again, because of email’s conversation model you can actually find this conversation in the future.

3. A wiki you’ll actually use

The biggest problem with internal wikis or knowledge bases: they quickly go out of date. It’s no-one’s job (until you’re hundreds of people) to keep them up-to-date and they’re not a natural place to spend time. Email is a natural system of record for work. Yet its deficiencies have prevented it from fully playing this role. Join a new team? Empty inbox. Want to see what’s important to another team? Good luck finding that. Want to link someone an email? lol.

When you fix these problems you quickly realize you have a wiki you’ll actually use. Here’s just a snapshot of our groups:

In a group you can pin items you want people to reference later:

And… you can share links to emails:


We are certainly biased but, for us, email is increasingly a tool we gladly, rather than reluctantly, reach for. It's completely changed the way we work – we're excited to help you get there too.

A few overdue upgrades for email

At the end of August we announced Groups - our most significant step yet in rethinking email. In our launch post, I wrote:

Perhaps the toughest thing in email is how much you have to build in your v1. You have to build almost everything in Gmail, without any bugs, before doing anything new. This makes for a somewhat awkward public story...

Today we are excited to further expand our public story with the addition of reactions, comments, and presence to email. These features are enabled when two or more people on your team are using Consider together.

Reactions

With reactions you can 'react' to any part of a message with one or more emojis - just like in Slack, iMessage, Facebook. Reactions matter. Without reactions simple feelings of gratitude or excitement or frustration are often left unsaid. This effect is compounded in email where there there is a feeling of permanence, a fear of saying the wrong thing.

Comments

Comments bring Google docs style comments to email. We've found comments helpful for not derailing a conversation, for collecting responses to multiple questions in one place, and for clarifying misunderstandings.

Presence

And finally, presence simply shows when others on your team are viewing a conversation. This is a small but important detail. We find it builds empathy. It reminds you that there are real people on the other end of each message.

What excites us most about this release is when combined with Groups and our existing foundation, a picture of what email could be is starting to become clear.

And we're just getting started.