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What's next for email?

One thing you learn pretty quickly working on email: you don’t need to sell customers, investors, or candidates on the problems. Most people have experienced some version of being misunderstood over email, being overwhelmed by email, or being addicted to email. Even if you haven’t had any difficulties with email, it is obvious that email has stagnated and is unlike any other communication tool we use daily.

An alien studying emails would probably think a lot of thought goes into composing each message. They have formal greetings, formal sign-offs. And they are written in a tone foreign to the rest of our communication. By the way–I hope you’re well.

So much of email is not even software. There are a set of rituals that can only be learned from experience: how to accept intros, when to use CC and BCC, “replies inline”. And then there are the things email is used for but was never designed for. Email is the fallback notification system for the internet, the number one file sharing tool, and the number one project management tool. Where is the product to support these use-cases?

Welcome, Slack

Along came Slack. Wow. This feels like actually talking to people. Less nuance is lost and we all get along a little bit better.

The pendulum swung. We created more channels. We added more integrations. We sent fewer emails. We shared more gifs. We used more emojis. We felt more at home.

Slack digitized in-person conversations at work. In-person conversations are defined by the group not the topic. So are Slack conversations. To start a new topic, we must stop talking about the previous topic. It’s the group that matters. Along with this simpler conversation model, Slack’s design encouraged an authenticity and casualness that was missing over email. Emojis add tone where a message could otherwise be misinterpreted. Reactions enable important communication — feedback — that is awkward and heavy when delivered by individual message.

Can you email me please?

A designer and an engineer are working on a feature together, one taps the other on the shoulder: “Hey, check this out”. They chat, they continue their work. Someone from Finance comes over unannounced with some questions on an expense report. Confusion ensues. Context is lost. What was I thinking about again? Substitute Slack into this story and the only difference is hundreds or thousands of people can do this at once. Next time, can you email me please?

It turns out: we need chat and we need email. The Slack model excels for communication between people who share the same daily priorities. Could be the same team, same project, same emergency, same after work plans. As long as the same priorities are top of mind for all parties, Slack excels.

But for most everything else, I reach for email. Two reasons. First, email has topic-defined conversations. Each conversation is focused on a single thing and there is no limit to the number of these conversations that can be run in parallel. Second, email is asynchronous. Each party can respond at a time that suits them, meaning importance is defined by the recipient, not the sender. No-one jumps the queue.

A company to save email

Too many use-cases that email excels at have been taken over by Slack. We traded calmness, focus, and agency for authenticity and the ability to express ourselves. The pendulum has swung too far.

So we started a company to save email, called Consider. We believe email can be saved by embracing its strengths, by designing for human connection and expression, and by building just a little more product for the things email is used for.

Why now? Why hasn’t this happened yet? Somewhat counterintuitively, email needs to be saved because of Slack, but email can be saved because of Slack. Slack takes care of the immediate and the urgent. Email takes care of the rest. Clear responsibilities enable good product. Email’s death has been long predicted–instead, what if email is just getting going?