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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. 🙏