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February 21 2014

February 12 2014

Kill Email, Or Leapfrog It?

Email is a problem. But what kind of problem? That depends on the workplace. And two very similar companies are coming up with very different solutions.

Tiny Speck, which is opening its work-collaboration service, Slack, to the public on Wednesday, aims to untangle inboxes for workers drowning in information. Cotap, a startup recently launched by early Yammer employees, is targeting employees who don't have email at all. 

Both companies are based in San Francisco; Tiny Speck has 18 employees, while Cotap has 17. In a huge market for communications tools that's getting upended by the rise of mobile devices, there’s likely enough room for both products to thrive.

Email: Can’t Live With It, Can’t Live Without It

The average office worker spends 28% of their day dealing with email, and another 33% gathering information and collaborating internally, according to the McKinsey Global Institute.

Yet companies in large sectors of the economy—including many of the largest U.S. employers, for example—don't offer employees email, relying on break-room flyers or briefings by managers to pass directives down from headquarters. 

It’s an information feast or famine, depending on what kind of job you have.

Both are large markets: There are about 615 million "knowledge workers" in the world, Cotap estimates—typically people with company-provided email addresses. Yet there are about 2 billion total workers, which suggests the non-knowledge-worker market may be twice as large. And all workers need a competent communication tool.

No Worker Left Behind

At both Slack and Cotap, past jobs shaped the founders’ visions for the product.

Cotap CTO Zack Parker dropped out of high school and worked at a toy store and Jamba Juice before eventually landing a job in technology.

"I always knew that I was smart,” Parker said. "It took me a long time to build up a resume that showed that I had something valuable to contribute."

Parker recalls working at a Jamba Juice where the store manager didn't let workers serve a special Halloween smoothie "because he thought it was satanic."

"It was a kooky, weird place which might have been a more normal, integrated place if we could have talked to other people in the company," he said.

Cotap’s app resembles popular consumer messaging apps. Cotap’s app resembles popular consumer messaging apps.

Cotap's mobile app aims to bridge the gap between frontline workers and headquarters by offering a text-message-like communication experience without the need for employees to share their phone numbers. It takes design cues from popular messaging apps like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger: For example, you can simply acknowledge a message with a thumbs-up icon.

Parker thinks this will make workplaces less hierarchical: “Everyone is reachable by everyone in the company.” As a result, the employees who work directly with customers and have good ideas can become more “visible” to colleagues in headquarters.

Cotap hasn't set pricing yet, but it plans to launch a paid version of its service this year.

Cutting Colleagues Some Slack

Butterfield, meanwhile, vividly recalls the horrors of the corporate email systems at Yahoo, which acquired his photo-sharing startup, Flickr, in 2005. He had to constantly file email into folders, and then remember which folder he put it in.

At Tiny Speck, Butterfield swore he would run the company without email, and his team built internal tools based on Internet Relay Chat to accomplish this goal. The company’s first product failed—an online game called Glitch—but Butterfield kept a small team and turned Tiny Speck’s communication tools into Slack.

Slack is a new approach to collaboration based on Internet Relay Chat. Slack is a new approach to collaboration based on Internet Relay Chat.

Besides email lists, information workers are inundated by email-based notifications—bug reports, customer-service tickets, server-status updates. Slack pipes updates from Dropbox, GitHub, MailChimp, Crashlytics, and others—all the modern tools an app developer or other tech-product company might use—into a common workspace and makes them quickly searchable.

Slack also smartly distributes notifications to desktop and mobile devices. An unread desktop notification turns into a mobile push notification, for example, while read messages are neatly synched across devices.

Slack is offering a free version of its service with storage and message limits, as well as a paid version for which it will charge $8 per user per month.

The Mobile Future Of Work

The differences in the products show in their usage. Slack has 16,000 users, but only 57% of those users log in using both mobile and desktop on a daily basis, and activity among Slack customers usually takes a dive on the weekends.

As Butterfield told me last year, Slack is primarily "for people who sit in front of computers all day”—coders, product managers, and other tech-infused office workers.

Cotap, meanwhile, is a much simpler mobile-only product, though it's considering a desktop version, and users are often active outside regular working hours.

"People check in every morning,” Parker said. “We chat on the weekends. It's brought people together more as friends than as coworkers. It's created this sense of always being able to interact with each other."

Despite the products' differences, it’s interesting how Slack and Cotap both anticipate a post-email economy. Butterfield points out how Cozy, an online rent-payment startup he’s advising, had to add text-message support for younger tenants who “never check email.” Cotap is aiming to serve workers who never get overwhelmed by work email because they never got it in the first place.

Parker thinks Cotap’s mission will inspire prospective employees.

"When I'm talking to candidates, people just don't often in this industry have a sense for what a bubble we live in,” he says. "Candidates get excited when they realize there's a much broader set of people they can reach."

Butterfield hopes customers will get excited about the prospect of slaying the email beast. In early tests, some customers found it reduced their email volume by 75%.

And there's a rising sense that email’s just not the universal communication tool it once was, especially for younger employees who've grown up with texts and messaging apps.

"There isn't this idea [anymore] that email is the canonical way to communicate with someone," Butterfield said.

Photo of Zack Parker courtesy of Cotap

Tags: email

January 10 2014

Why You Shouldn't Freak Out Over Gmail's Update
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For many, the email inbox is a sacred, private space. It's where you share photos with your family, where you discuss important work projects, where your receipts and bank statements arrive. It's usually not a place you welcome strangers.

That's why many Gmail users flocked to Twitter Thursday afternoon, pitchforks in hand, ready to roast Google for a new feature that will enable any Google+ user to email any other user without knowing his or her email address.

On the surface, the update looks questionable. But there is no reason to freak out — you can still control your inbox. Read more...

More about Google, Email, Gmail, Settings, and Tech

January 09 2014

Christie and the Bridge: A Political Scandal Made for Netflix
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New Jersey Republican governor and likely 2016 presidential candidate Chris Christie had just wrapped up his morning workout on Wednesday when he got a call that plunged him into the biggest scandal of his career. Some of his staffers and his appointees at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey had decided in September to give the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee, N.J., the week from hell — and now the world knew.

Emails from a Christie aide to an official at the Port Authority show they orchestrated a massive four-day traffic jam in Fort Lee all because the borough's mayor, Mark Sokolich, refused to support the governor's reelection bid. Christie has repeatedly denied his staff had any involvement in the scandal, and although he still says he had no idea, the governor has now changed his tone, saying he was misled and is appalled by the behavior. Read more...

More about Email, Traffic, Mayor, Us World, and Politics
'Heartbroken' Christie Fires Top Aide, Apologizes for Bridge Scandal
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A series of emails and documents linked New Jersey GovChris Christie to the mysterious closure of two lanes onto the George Washington Bridge on Wednesday, part of a plot orchestrated by close Christie aides to create a traffic gridlock allegedly for political revenge

Following this revelation, Christie faced the cameras on Thursday at the New Jersey State House in the state capital of Trenton, at a press conference during which he addressed the scandal labeled as "Bridgegate." Ahead of the conference, the New York Times reported that the U.S. Attorney's Office in New Jersey will open an inquiry into the lane closure incident. Read more...

More about Email, Traffic, New Jersey, Us World, and Politics

January 08 2014

Chris Christie in Hot Water After Aide's Emails Linked to Scandal
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New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is the subject of intense scrutiny after media outlets made public controversial emails and text messages from one of his top aides.

The messages tie a high-ranking members of the governor's administration and political allies to an apparent political revenge plot to create traffic in Fort Lee, N.J., by closing inbound lanes on the George Washington Bridge

Both the Wall Street Journal and North Bergen Record published conversations between Bridget Anne Kelly, Christie's deputy chief of staff, and David Wildstein, a long-time friend of the governor. Wildstein recently announced he would resign from his position as director of interstate capital projects at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey at the end of the year. Read more...

More about Email, New Jersey, Us World, Politics, and Us

January 03 2014

5 Alternatives to Releasing Your Email Address Publicly
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No one likes an inbox filled with spam and unsolicited requests from strangers, but if you give out your email address regularly or display it on a public website, that could be your fate.

Despite the hazard of unwanted messages, email remains one of the easiest and fastest ways to connect with people in a professional manner. Luckily, there are ways to maintain your inbox and get the important messages you need, without all the clutter.

Here are five alternatives that can keep your personal or business inbox free of solicitations and spammy messages Read more...

More about Email, Features, Tech, Apps Software, and Lifestyle

December 16 2013

What Your Email Signature Says About You
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Email signatures may not seem like a big deal, but they basically define who you are as a person

You can really sense someone's personality based on how they choose to end an email. Are they creative, by-the-book, logical or impractical? Just check out their goodbyes

This Doghouse Diaries comic describes the seven different uses of the email signature. We're pretty sure you'll have some email editing to do very soon...

EmailSignatures_comicBONUS: 14 Signs You Spend Too Much Time on the Internet

Homepage image: Mashable composite, image via iStockphoto, _susan_lee_. Comic illustration courtesy of Doghouse Diaries. Published with permission; all rights reserved. Read more...

More about Email, Comic, Comics, Humor, and Watercooler

December 13 2013

Twitter Reverses Blocking Changes and Other News You Need to Know
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Welcome to this morning's edition of "First To Know," a series in which we keep you in the know on what's happening in the digital world.

Today, we're looking at three particularly interesting stories. After making a change to its blocking functionalities, Twitter reverted back to its original policy following a slew of user complaints. Amazon is planning to take on the consumer packaged goods market. Finally, Gmail announced a safer, easier way to view images within emails.

Check out the video above for more on these stories.

Image: Bethany Clarke/Getty Images Read more...

More about Email, Amazon, Twitter, Gmail, and First To Know Series

December 12 2013

Flickr Crashes Following Massive Yahoo Mail Outage
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On the heels of a massive outage that has left some Yahoo Mail users without email access since Monday, Yahoo's photo-sharing platform Flickr temporarily crashed.

Many Flickr users were unable to access the site for nearly two hours on Thursday, starting at about 11 a.m. ET, but it was inaccessible to everyone worldwide for 10 minutes.

Flickr's signature "Bad Panda" error message (see below) appeared for some, while others were told it couldn't load due to "inactivity timeout."

Flickr Panda

"Flickr was unavailable for a very short amount of time and this issue has been resolved. We’re sorry for any inconvenience this may have caused," a Yahoo spokesperson told Mashable. Read more...

More about Yahoo, Email, Apps, and Flickr

December 06 2013

Google Patent Will Let Software Do Your Socializing
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Google has filed a patent for a software bot that would control your social media presence

The software would first learn your voice by studying all of your social media accounts, then it would automatically suggest updates and replies it can make for future posts. The aim is for the bot to learn how you tweet and Facebook so it can gradually manage that for you — effectively outsourcing how you digitally socialize

Of course, you would first have to give Google permission to access your entire online presence, from social to email and everything in between. This limitless access has some cyber privacy experts concerned. Nick Pickles, the director of Big Brother Watch, an organization dedicated to protecting privacy, warned against the possible dangers. Pickles told the Daily Mail: Read more...

More about Google, Email, Facebook, Twitter, and Social Media

November 29 2013

Think Email Is Dead Outside Of Work?

A 2012 Harvard Business School study, “E-Mail: Not Dead, Evolving,” found “communication between individuals—the original intent of e-mail—isn’t even listed in the top five activities” of how we use email today.

I have worked in the world of technology since 1982 and even worked as the vice president of an email services company. I tend to lean pretty heavily on email in my work world, but I have noticed how its use is changing in my personal life.

My most technologically literate friend, Stephen, and I often communicate by Twitter. Some friends who used to send me emails now mostly communicate with me by comments on my Facebook feed. Some even presume that I might stoop to reading Facebook email which I listed as one of the ten things that the tech industry should fix.

I have found that my thirty-something friends and family prefer to text me on my smart-phone. I am okay with that since I found the MightyText app that lets me send and receive text messages from my Google Chrome browser and on my tablet.

My personal reality seemed to be shaping up to a handful of people outside of work who still communicate with me by email. Even some of them are only responding to emails that I send. The golden age of personal email seemed to be receding into the mists of time.

It is different in the business world, where stats show that 48% of consumers prefer email as the communication with their brands. That explains why I have spent the last week trying to decide between Constant Contact and MailChimp as email marketing platforms.

Can Email Be The Great Equalizer?

About six months ago, two things happened to change the dynamic that emails are dying as a form of communication in my personal life. First I got elected to the board of directors of our homeowners association (HOA). Second, our minister decided that communication between the committees led by the elders of the church would go go electronic.

One of the reasons I got elected to the HOA board was the hope that I would create an online calendar and perhaps establish email communication between the board and homeowners. I did end up doing all of that but it turned out to be the easy part of the volunteer job.

At the church, I was already in charge of our website, and the communications committee.

Together, these two events gave me a completely new perspective and perhaps a hope that email for communication between people outside of business still has some life even if it will not be as glamorous as the earlier days of email.

Most of us in the technology world work in environments where we share files on a regular basis. At WideOpen Networks, my day job, we use Skype, Dropbox, and Highrise to share a lot of Pages files. When I am writing an article for ReadWrite, I often write the article in Google Docs and I can usually just attach the file directly through Trello, the content management solution which we use or upload a rich text format (RTF) document to a Trello card.

In both work cases, I am dealing with folks who understand files and things like Dropbox, Box, Google Drive, and Skydrive. If there is a problem, it usually can easily be solved by sending someone a RTF document.

Life is not nearly simple when you start trying to share files with people of varying ages and technology skills.

The Challenges Of Email And File Sharing

When I started sending my files to other church elders, I thought the easiest and most foolproof thing would be to share a document and send the sharing notice with the content of the report pasted into the email. To be blunt, that was a disaster. Some complained that they could not even open my email. It left me wondering how that could be.

The mystery started to clear when it occurred to me that a lot of people have become occasional email users and they are accessing their email on everything from a browser to get to ISP-provided email to iPads and smartphones with a variety of email clients—some of which an email snob like me considers pretty shaky.

One of my preferred technologies is IMAP email and preferably IMAP on a server in the cloud that I manage or one that is managed by people who actually know what they are doing and are focused on getting my email from me to the people I want to contact. While I use Gmail (IMAP version of course) for personal email, it is not my choice for business email.

I am not a big fan of webmail portals, which I considered are at best a necessary evil when a hotel’s Internet service blocks a port and makes it impossible to use client-based email.

When I started looking at the email providers used by some of the people with whom I was trying to communicate, I knew that attachments were likely going to be problems.

One Man's Battle With Attachments

Recently, I found out just how much of a problem attachments can be even in a very small group. At our most recent HOA board meeting, I ended up being the secretary when Anne, our very competent secretary, had to take one of her children to the doctor.

I managed to scribble down some notes and took Anne’s advice and typed them up that same evening while things were still fresh in my mind. I actually tried typing them up in Pages 5, since I was writing my Why Less Might Be More In Pages 5 article. I had some trouble getting the bullet numbering right so I moved it to Google Docs and actually sent her a Word docx file. There were a few details that needed to be added a little later before the minutes were finalized.

A few days later she sent out the completed minutes. I had no trouble viewing the file she sent but I did notice that somehow the file extension had been stripped. I added a .RTF to it and opened it file in Word, but strangely it would not open in Nisus Writer Express or Page 5. I chalked that up to stuff that just happens in the computer world.

We were already having more than a little trouble getting everyone’s approval on the emailed minutes attachment before printing and being mailed out. When we did not hear from the other two board members regarding the attachment, I sent an email to Anne and said that since she was out of town I would print the minutes and take them to the other board members. I did that at noon the next day.

At the first board member’s house, I was told they had two computers and one computer seemed to be eating all the emails before the other one could read them. Following my rule of never getting involved in solving a technology problem unless the person is a blood relative, I did not bring up the subject that their email was likely POP and the first computer was likely removing the email from the server. I handed them the printed copy and just made sure the board member was happy with it.

At the second and last house, the wife of the HOA’s president took the printed copy and said she would deliver them to her husband when they met for lunch later that afternoon.

I did not think anything more of our problems until the president of the HOA showed up at my door that same Saturday afternoon. While he had gotten the printed copy of the file that I delivered, he wanted to know why he could not open the attachment sent by our secretary. He had tried unsuccessfully on his Android tablet and Android smartphone.

It took me a minute to remember the missing file extension on the attachment and a lot longer to find a free app, OfficeSuite, to install on his smartphone. Just to be perverse, before I forward him the file again, I added a .docx extension to the original file the secretary had sent. I tested the file on Mobile Office 365 on my smartphone before opening it without any problem on his smartphone using OfficeSuite. He left happy that he could read the minutes. I did not spoil the good feeling by telling him a program could easily strip the extension again the next time the minutes are sent.

Lessons Learned

All of this is far more complex than it needs to be. Holding classes on how to collaborate with others using electronic devices is beyond what I want to tackle in an area that I love but which gets most of its time sensitive communications from hand-lettered bed sheets on posts at the intersection of the main highways instead of through Twitter.

It turn out that email is the solution. You just have to keep it very simple. If you have to share something with people with whom you do not work, do not do attachments. Just copy the text of your report and paste it as plain text into an email.

Do not even dream of trying to get a diverse group of people using Google Drive or Dropbox, just be smart and revert to the simplest email that you can use. Follow my recommendations and use plain text email and cross your fingers. At our church, which is a larger group, I just quit doing reports. It makes life a lot easier.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Tags: email

November 25 2013

10+ Must-Have Tools for the Connected Professional
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Are you the type of person who never leaves the house without your ballpoint pen? I didn't think so

For the connected professional — that person who checks Twitter every hour and would rather give up carbs than Wi-Fi — knowing about the latest technology is crucial. Using the right digital tools can save hours of work (or, 20 minutes right when you need it). Whether you're looking for a better way to schedule your day or need an extra boost of smartphone battery while traveling — make sure you have the following tools in your arsenal.

Travel

Your mobile devices are amazing — except when a dead battery renders them useless. The Mophie case is made for Samsung and Apple devices, and can double the battery life of a device. Don't hop on a long plane ride without one Read more...

More about Email, Productivity, Business, Tools, and Connected

November 21 2013

Email Chain Shows Officials Prepping for HealthCare.gov Errors
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A congressional subcommittee Wednesday evening released an internal email chain from late September that shows officials in charge of HealthCare.gov anticipating problems with the site in advance of its Oct. 1 launch.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee provided the document in a public release. It shows an email from Henry Chao, chief information officer at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), to his staff on Sept. 25 asking for "a more comprehensive answer as to how we will ensure high availability." CMS is the agency that has overseen the creation of HealthCare.gov. Read more...

More about Email, Barack Obama, Healthcare, Us World, and Us

November 20 2013

The Real Cost of PS4 and Other News You Need to Know
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Welcome to this morning's edition of "First To Know," a series in which we keep you in the know on what's happening in the digital world.

Today, we're looking at three particularly interesting stories. According to research firm IHS, the PlayStation 4 costs $381 to build, meaning that Sony is only making $18 on each sold consoleMail.ru Group, which controls email and messaging services in Russia, is coming to the United States. And cell phone carriers are rejecting anti-theft software for smartphones.

Check out the video above for more on these stories.

Image: Christina Ascani, Mashable Read more...

More about Email, Sony, First To Know Series, Ps4, and Tech
Russia's Richest Man Wants to Be Your Email Provider
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Mail.ru Group has practically conquered the Russian market. The Internet portal runs some of the most popular email, messaging and social networking services in the country. It also has a sizable stake in VKontakte, Russia's largest social network, and Qiwi, a digital-payments provider that went public earlier this year.

American Internet companies, beware: The Russians are coming. Today, Mail.ru plans to launch My.com, a suite of communication and entertainment applications designed for mobile devices. Users will get an @my.com email address (not to be confused with Apple's defunct Me.com) as well as free instant-messaging services and online games. Read more...

More about Email, Social Network, Internet, Russia, and Business

November 13 2013

Social Experiment Turns Strangers' Emails Into Handwritten Notes
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Emails bombard our inboxes day in and day out, but can you remember the last time you received a handwritten letter?

Artist Ivan Cash wants to remind you how it feels to find a handwritten note waiting inside your mailbox. In the third installment of his collaborative project, "Snail Mail My Email," Cash created a video asking people on the streets of San Francisco to compare emails with letters. For the folks in this clip, the consensus is clear: Handwritten ones always win.

Cash created "Snail Mail My Email" in 2011 after quitting what he thought was his dream job at an advertising agency in Amsterdam. He told Mashable that though he loved writing letters, he didn't have time for it with a full-time job Read more...

More about Email, Art, Vimeo, Watercooler, and Videos

November 08 2013

32 Responsive Email Templates for Your Small Business
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Mobile and tablet email opens hit 50% this year, illustrating the need for businesses to design email campaigns for the growing mobile market

Designing for mobile is as important for your emails as it is for your websiteCampaign Monitor notes, "Providing a less-than-optimal reading experience on the small screen may not only inconvenience a few recipients, but eventually the majority," leading to severely diminished response rates.

We've collected 32 of the best free and premium responsive email templates to help you improve the mobile email experience for your customers Read more...

More about Email, Features, Marketing, Small Business, and Tech

October 29 2013

What Do Buddhist Monks Know About Gadgets? Everything
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The morning air is still crisp. Buddhist monks, clad in saffron robes, line the front row as a room of people unroll their mats, sit down and close their eyes. A hush spreads, and meditation at the retreat begins.

The monks chant in an ancient language, which resonates and echoes against the walls, helping everyone to focus their thoughts. And as the last verse drifts into silence, the room is quiet again, a cocoon of serenity. And then, a phone rings — the familiar marimba chime of an iPhone.

A few people open their eyes, but a few more stir in their seats. As the ring continues, no one goes to shut it off. Read more...

More about Mobile Phones, Email, Facebook, Twitter, and Gadgets

October 24 2013

The Hyphen in 'E-Mail' Just Lost a Major Ally
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Still use a hyphen in the word email? Mashable does not, as you can see — and as of Monday, neither does the New York Times

"By popular demand, we're going to remove the hyphen from e-mail," declared the Grey Lady's editor of "news presentation," Patrick LaForge, in a post on the newsroom's internal blog. He later confirmed the news in a tweet, along with some other tech word style changes:

A few NYT stylebook revisions coming on Monday: email (no hyphen), website and web, a tweet entry (it was never banned).

— Patrick LaForge (@palafo) October 23, 2013

More about Email, Dictionary, Media, Us World, and Us
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