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A Case for Email

Nov 1, 2012

I started a mailing list this week. I've only just sent out the first message, so I don't know exactly what it will become yet, but I'm hoping it will be a journal of sorts. I'm hoping it will be a way for me to start personal conversations with people about ideas that are not yet fully formed. I'm hoping it will be friendly, disorganized, and above all, honest. It will be about the things I am passionate about and find important, primarily the world through the lens of design.

I have largely been inspired by the email updates from Jack Cheng about his Kickstarter project These Days. I have been looking forward to them every week. I

I genuinely never thought I would resort to something as primitive as email to publish anything, but after feeling a void between the formal presentation of my blog and the fundamental brevity of Twitter, here I am.

Why Email?

  • Email is personal. I know that my message will share your inbox with emails from you mother, your lover, and your dearest friends. I think this context has the potential to be meaningful, and I want to challenge myself to write the email as I would write it to a close friend.
  • Email is an active medium. By that, I mean that it seeks you out, not the other way around. Most of us check our email every day, sometimes constantly whenever in front of a computer. Many of us have phones with email capabilities and push notifications. Therefore, none of my recipients need to take an action, such as going to my blog or reading through their Twitter stream, to get my messages. To me this feels more like I am giving something to the reader, instead of yelling into a crowd with abandon. I can even, to a degree, choose when my message will be read. I consider this privilege an opportunity to surprise and delight.
  • Email is universal and undesigned. I don't have the option of fretting over typography and layout as with my blog, and it doesn't require that the audience use a specific platform or technology like Twitter or RSS. It's intrinsically accessible and mobile optimized. It's easy to create and easy to consume. When this generation of social utilities is replaced by the next big thing, email will stubbornly still be there.
  • The social web is noisy. Twitter is full of intelligent, thoughtful people that inspire, motivate, and challenge me, but they're mixed in with a much larger audience. It's like a big party and everyone is invited. You can have an actual one-on-one conversation if you want, but you're going to lose your voice and get interrupted by someone doing a bellyflop off of the roof. I hope these emails will allow me to have real conversations with some of the friends I have made online, and perhaps allow those friendships to grow.
  • Most people don't like email. Although it seems counterintuitive, the fact that the average person doesn't want to receive any more email is a huge draw for me. This acts as a filter, so only the folks that are really interested in the content, that are actually going to read it every week, will sign up. Reaching a large number of people is something that's relatively easy with the web these days, but reaching quality audience, that truly cares about what you have to say and is willing to reply thoughtfully, is much harder. Using email as opposed to something more popular will help me weed out the riff-raff.

Rules:

I am imposing some constraints on myself to help make the emails easier to write, and to insure that they don't become the least bit spammy.

Rule 1: I will send emails regularly, at least every week. This is a promise to myself to practice writing more habitually. I also would like to be more comfortable putting incomplete, unpolished thoughts into the world, and keeping a schedule will force me to push my little fledgling ideas out of the nest.

Rule 2: No more than one idea per email. I make no promises about length, but I want them to be focused on a specific thought or sentiment. Hopefully this approach will produce some messages as short as a couple sentences and some as long as a few hundred words.

Rule 3: The emails will contain no links. Craig Mod's recent writing about edges is a good reminder that what seems like a harmless hyperlink is actually the lid on Pandora's box. For example, if you haven't read the two articles linked in the previous sentence, which you should, you will be left with the feeling that you didn't truly finish this post. I want my emails to be digestible and finite. I want there to be a clear end.

I understand that with all of the benefits listed above there also comes a considerable responsibility. The greater the potential to surprise and delight, the greater the potential to annoy and disappoint. Losing the trust of those on my mailing list would be easy, and earning it back would be near impossible. I do not take this trust lightly.

If you're interested, you can sign up here.