E-Mail is dead, long live E-Mail!


I am not 100% certain, but SMTP is, as far as I know, one of the oldest protocols on the internet, going way back to the 1980s. So E-Mail and SMTP are with us for about 40 years now, so it must be doing something right.

At least for me it is still one of those essential tools I could not do my job without, take everything else, Smartphones, calendars, Signal, Microsoft programs, IDEs, leave me stranded with a terminal, the Joe editor and a mail client and I’ll be fine, although not comfortable. Just don’t take my mail.

But there is more to E-Mail than just being an essential tool. As I said, it is an old protocol so it’s also a window into the past, where one can see how the web was intended to be. The web was built around protocols, not programs I mind you, that were the same for everyone using it and by that extend everything was designed to federate.

What does that mean? It means there is no being locked into one platform as we are so used to by now, Facebook users can only interact with Facebook users, twitter only with twitter, WhatsApp only with WhatsApp, you are getting the picture.

With these old protocols it doesn’t matter what you are on, a self hosted mail server can communicate with G-Mail, that can talk to Outlook.com or protonmail or what ever other service the other mail user choose to sign up with, because it is a protocol not a service. And there is a certain beauty to this design, at least to me.

A little story form work

One of our customers is a rather big company, with many offices around Austria and a lot of people talking and giving orders without the others knowing. Naturally that did lead to a couple of problems along the way.

So one day it was decided that whenever they sent an e-Mail to us they would CC it to all their managers and we would do the same in return. But as with everything that involves humans, there was human error involved and often the CC part was forgotten, on both sides.

My suggestion here was a simple one either side would set up a mailing list and in the future we would all send mail to that address instead of directly addressing people. That way nothing could go wrong.

The other side has a person in their midst who is a very innovative spirit and always tries to implement new things and plays with the latest technologies, so he jumped at this, right out pushing the simple approach away and after weeks of phone calls, research and asking my opinion (mailing list) we decided it was high time to introduce Microsoft Teams to the company, because that way he could set up a group chat and that would be the only thing used from there on.

This lead to the worst possible experience I have had so far with communication.

The group chat was filled up with requests to everyone at our company all in one list, no way to mark anything as done or currently being done by a particular person, so after a couple of days no one knew what was open or done, neither us nor them.

I saw my chance and went for it: “What about that idea someone had a while ago about a mailing list?”

Right out denied, now we have something new in teams, apparently it does do project lists as well, so now projects are being opened and we can assign internally who deals with it and mark them as done. So some improvement there.

But things went wrong again very soon, as some of the managers on the other side didn’t really have an idea of how to use teams and so the opened up projects and wrote the description for them into the group chat, so in the end no one knew what task was described where and chaos reigned.

Around that time I got first complains from a colleague about that being not an ideal solution (he chose harsher words).

I went back to them again, please, mailing list. But no.

We are round a Friday now in this little tale, so when Monday came and the weekend had erased the memory of everything that changed last week, none of us remembered to open the webpage and so also no one noticed new requests coming in. Little reminder, worked again.

But here is the thing, with us, most things work by mail, so everyone is pretty much hardwired to look into their inbox to see what to do, so you wan’t to wager a guess which tasks didn’t get that much attention?

Just to clarify, this didn’t only happen on our side, tasks where given, questions asked, but no response, since they also often forgot to look into teams, probably while working on the Mails the got…

The end of it

When it became clear that this was not going to work very well and after over there they gave a proper introduction on teams so at least tasks and descriptions where on the same page, a new feature was activated, now when ever a new task is set up, everyone involved will receive an E-Mail about it.

So in the end, E-Mail was replaced with teams, which now uses E-Mail to notify everyone that something happened in teams, so we can look into teams to see what there is to do.

Oh what a beautiful and so much easier solution that copying a couple of addresses to a mailing list and seeing everything in one program.

But I guess teams is our mailing list now, so yes, E-Mail is dead, long live E-Mail!

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