I first wrote about Sparrow in October 2010, gushing about the native Gmail experience it offered to Mac users. And I continued closely tracking its progression as both an interested writer, but also as a dedicated user. It was the first app that truly made Gmail beautiful on a Mac (and more recently, on iOS).
Along the way, I got to know founder Dom Leca a bit, so I’m very excited for him and his team today. There is no question that they will be able to tackle email problems on a whole new scale within Google, and I sincerely hope they do. We all need them to.
On the other hand, it sucks that development of Sparrow itself is stopping (though it will continue to be offered an supported). Thank god they got that Retina version out just in time for the new MacBook Pros. I use Sparrow on a daily basis to pound through email at a speed that Gmail on the web simply cannot handle.
That’s the thing: while Sparrow was beautiful and offered useful features like Facebook graph integration, it really moved things forward in terms of the UX of email. It’s a very hard problem because there are protocols and norms that have existed for decades that you have to work with. But Sparrow abstracted a lot of that and made it wonderful to do something as simple as reply with one click.
But at least Google seems well aware about Sparrow’s passionate user base and is thinking about why they were successful. Unprompted, they sent me the following statement this morning: “The Sparrow team has always put their users first by focusing on building a seamlessly simple and intuitive interface for their email client. We look forward to bringing them aboard the Gmail team, where they’ll be working on new projects.”
Congrats Dom, the Sparrow team, and Google. Now go fix email.
A week ago, I came home after a long night of drinking and wanted to vomit. It wasn’t the whiskey. It was the email.
I had been gone approximately 6 hours at an event and subsequent after-party. I didn’t check my email the entire time. When I came home, I had over 50 new emails in my inbox (this doesn’t include the ones I automatically archive thanks to Gmail filters). 50-some emails all of which I needed to take action on in some form or another.
Undoubtedly aided by the aforementioned drinks, I hit “Select All” and debated hitting “Delete”. Not just for those 50-some emails. But for all 50,000+ that were sitting un-archived in my inbox. Then I thought better of it. Instead, I hit “Archive”.
Best thing I’ve ever done.
A week into my “Archive All” world, my inbox is pretty fantastic. Obviously, I’m not the first person to do this, but I was highly skeptical that it would work since I figured that after the initial purge, messages would just start piling up again.
But at least for me, it’s more of a mental thing. It’s essentially out-of-sight, out-of-mind. I should have known this would be the case since I’m also obsessed with clearing my RSS reader every night (even though I barely use it anymore) and am a slave to clearing red Push Notification dots on the iPhone/iPad. But I was still terrified to mess with the email flow I had built up over the years.
Previously, I had tried to quit email for an entire month. That was also great. But the problem was that when I got back on the wagon, nothing had actually changed. I had missed a month’s worth of email, and people got ahold of me other ways, but once I was back on email, I was right back into my old habits.
But archiving all my mail forced me to change habits. I was sure there would be something I would miss or forget. But the reality is that there was no way I was ever going to get to all 5,000 things I had starred anyway. I was kidding myself. And I was creating a sense of dread for myself on a daily basis when I looked at my inbox and saw all those goddamn stars.
By archiving all the old mail, I have essentially turned Gmail into a big, searchable repository for email. I upgraded my account to 80 GB of storage (I was at the 30 GB limit). If there’s something I need to reference or remember, I can pull it up easily with a search. But the flow is now to archive everything at least once a week (and ideally sooner). It’s all about admitting to myself that if I don’t get to it by then, I’m never going to get to it.
Again, I was highly skeptical, but at least for now, this works. Yes, this means I’m not responding to a lot of emails that come my way. But I wasn’t anyway. Information still has a funny way of finding a way to command your attention if you need to take action.
For many, email is now the master communication channel. But it’s actually a pretty poor one in this age of mobile computing. Email needs to beaten down into just another channel of flowing information.
Read most of it. Respond to some of it. Keep all of it. But hide it. Then forget about it. And repeat. And repeat. And repeat.
Watch segment 2.
Can someone please explain to me why on Earth the Gmail iOS app only features Push Notification badging? It’s infuriating.
Given that the app is basically just a wrapper around UIWebView, the only reason to get it is for Push Notifications. But what I want in a Push Notification is not the silly little red badge, I want a preview of the message itself so I can know whether or not I need to launch the actual app to take action on the message. Instead, the badge just means you have to launch the app every time to see what the message is.
For someone who gets a lot of email, it’s living hell.
Given their initial fuck up with the app (which was also a simple bug related to Push Notification — it’s clearly amateur hour over there), I can’t believe they would mess this up by accident. This seems like a conscious decision on Google’s part. But if that’s true, it’s one of the dumbest fucking decisions I’ve seen in some time.
The Facebook app fuck ups seem to be because they’re more interested in dicking around with HTML5 even though anyone with any taste knows building a fully native app is 100% better. One part of Google’s app fuck ups are similar. But at least I get that. These guys want to cut corners. Why spend time crafting a beautiful app when you can just add a nice layer of polish to a turd and shove it out the door? What I don’t get is the crippling of the most useful feature (Push) for no reason.
Put another way: It’s shit.