Breaking out of the inbox

Shortmailers are using open conversations to break free of the inbox. It’s a new animal that was bound to emerge: an email-forum hybrid. You get to post globally and track locally. You can have your forum and keep your email too. Exploring the essence of email, we realized that beyond the public-private distinction there is little difference between an email conversation and a forum thread. Think:

  • Inbox = forum
  • Email conversation = forum thread
  • New message = new topic
  • Sender = Poster
  • Recipients = participants

And so on…

Of course, the one difference — privacy — matters enormously. So while letting users go public with their email conversations, we also added prominent tools and loud-and-clear indicators to keep the divide between public and private crystal clear.

Here is a striking example of someone using Shortmail open conversations to break free of the inbox. oVan wanted Suggestions to improve CSS support in @mkristensen’s WebEssentials for VS2010. By using Shortmail open conversations to gather those suggestions, he could not only reach out to specific people, but to the Web as a whole. Better still, he could publish the conversation for posterity, while also tracking it in his inbox.


Make no mistake, this is an actual, card-carrying email, with sender, recipients and email addresses for all of them. oVan sent it from his inbox and its showing up in his recipients’ inboxes. But it’s also a real, bona fide forum thread, with a URL, a public stream, a social menu and a reply box that anyone can use. oVan can find it in his inbox, and he can also find it on Google. Here’s his take on it:

I like the fact that you can have an open discussion without resorting to forums and their dreaded registration process. It’s also much better than doing this on Twitter where replies are full of @usernames instead of meaningful content.

So next time you’re about to have an email conversation where nothing private is at stake, don’t confine it to your inbox. Set it free. Let it be a snowball gathering up new replies from around the Web. Choose “public” or “open” and publish it for posterity!

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