A Few Thoughts on Email

Email has been discussed a lot lately. Perhaps it's because we all rely on it more during this period of lockdown. Maybe it's due to Hey being released? Or are we all realising that email is an old technology and we need to move on?

To start we should figure out what email is. According to Wikipedia:

Electronic mail (email or e-mail) is a method of exchanging messages (“mail”) between people using electronic devices.

Now that the definition is out of the way, what problems are there? In his article, Kev Quirk suggests three main aspects to focus on:

Spam

Privacy

Workflow management

Spam

Spam is a problem that exists on every communication platform. The supposed issue is that the amount of spam is greater on email than on other platforms. As we have established, email is just an electronic version of mail. Just like mail, email is susceptible to spam, and even with filters some will always slip through.

However, there are ways to prevent this. Email cloaking services protect your personal email being given away when you sign up for something. You can use spamgourmet or a disposable email services when signing up for online accounts anywhere that you don’t trust. Similarly, you can use an email client like Thunderbird which has additional spam filters built in. As Kev mentioned, you can also train your spam filter to make it better at identifying what is and isn't spam.

Privacy

While some providers allow you to sign up anonymously on Tor, email will never be private. It will also never be as secure as platforms like Signal or Briar. You can improve the privacy of emails by encrypting their contents or using a provider that encrypts account data at rest. Email is not private and shouldn't be treated as such. Instant messaging is more secure and private than email, but email still has many benefits.

Workflow management

Everyone uses email differently. Your children might use email to submit their homework; while you might receive emails about your next meeting. Some may use an encrypted email provider; you may use Gmail. Some use email clients; some might use webmail. Some may prioritise ease of use over security; some might not. It doesn't matter. For this reason workflow management is a very subjective matter and hence its not for me to say whether email has got this right or wrong. Everyone has a different situation, so making generalised statements doesn't achieve anything.

Because of its decentralised nature, email allows for large amounts of flexibility. When it comes to workflow, you can customise email for your needs. If you developer wanting to use email with git you can use aerc. If you are concerned about privacy you can use a privacy respecting email provider. If simplicity is all you are after then Gmail or Outlook might be worth a look. If you want to shake things up a little then try Hey.

A few other points

Email is a very good way of getting important updates to people. Its relatively fast and efficient, and doesn't rely on people creating new accounts (like on a forum). It probably isn't the best discussion platform because it wasn't what email was intended for.

While NeoMutt is great for mailing lists, it isn't recommend it for most people. This brings us back to the customisation that email allows for, because everyone is viewing the message differently, you shouldn't optimise it for one client.

Conclusion

Email is the most widely used, decentralised online platform. There is no correct way to do email. That's a part of its beauty. It's also incredible that products created in the 1960's are still in active use today. It would be futile to try and replace email, and although it has its problems, it is certainly not broken.


I’m publishing this as part of 100 Days To Offload. You can join in yourself by visiting https://100daystooffload.com

#100DaysToOffload – Day 19/100