First Impressions of HEY! Email

When Google’s Gmail went beta in 2004 I desperately wanted to try it. So much so that I traded an extra camera (A Canon Canonet GIII, no less!) for an invitation. Gmail was doing something different with email and, at the time, the trade was worth it.

There haven’t been many true innovations in how we deal with email since then. The plethora of iOS apps claiming to revolutionize email probably count, although I haven’t liked any of them. More recently, Superhuman has been making a bold attempt. I tried Superhuman but for some reason it made me feel like a self-important twat, so I decided against paying $30/month for an exclusive, fancy Gmail wrapper.

And now there’s HEY from the Basecamp team. I’ve only been using HEY for a few days but I can already tell that this qualifies as a New Thing.

Email gets a bad rap, but it shouldn’t. Email’s a treasure.

It feels great to get an email from someone you care about. Or a newsletter you enjoy. Or an update from a service you like. That’s how email used to feel all the time.

So good news, the magic’s still there. It’s just obscured — buried under a mess of bad habits and neglect. Some from people, some from machines, a lot from email software.

I still love email. Efforts to get rid of email often make things worse by basically creating yet another inbox. Email is still the best way to reach someone (as opposed to everyone). And I own it.

I’m enjoying using HEY for email. They’ve really thought this through. Here are a few quick notes I’ve been jotting down while using it, in no particular order.

  • Imsorry but Imbox” is stupid. I get why they don’t want to call it Inbox”, but still. I doubt I’ll ever get used to it.
  • Merging threads is super useful
  • I love the ability to change the Subject line, and that the change is only visible to me. I no longer have to constantly run a translator in my head for badly named emails.
  • Every sender requires an opt-in from me. A sane default, without the harshness of whitelists, etc. Also, I can give people a code along with my email address and it’ll get them right in.
  • The Feed takes some getting used to. Not sure how to use this yet. Plus, it needs some keyboard shortcuts.
  • I sometimes fear doing the wrong thing. I know it’s all reversible but still, I worry that I’ll accidentally train HEY badly and lose stuff.
  • Not having an Archive button is so weird and is going to take a while to get used to.
  • I want to search Screened Out emails in case I can’t find someone and wonder if perhaps I accidentally screened them out. It would be fine if that search worked in the Screened Out view only.
  • I like automatically having a separate page for every sender. Feels a little Roam-like.
  • Generating a public link for specific threads has already come in handy.
  • Links to emails are just web URLs. No need for message: handlers or anything.
  • Adding notes to emails is great. There are two kinds: Stickies” that can be added to the list of messages in the Imbox or Notes to self” that can be added anywhere within a thread. I would ask HEY to find a better name than Sticky”. I had trouble finding the feature because I assumed Sticky” meant something like Pin”.
  • I love that I can bundle” chatty senders (like Github notifications, etc.) into a single line.

HEY is pretty nice, and I love what they’re trying to do. However, if I’m going to consider moving my email there, I’ll have to get over a few things.

  • HEY is not normal IMAP. This means it’s a standalone thing that doesn’t work with the 30-year old standard. This is not a trivial distinction and makes me rather nervous.
  • I can’t use my own domain (yet). They spin this and talk about a fresh start” but moving to a email address is no small thing. Do I really need when I already have ?
  • Apple may not allow the iOS app into the App Store. That would suck, since I can’t just use some other email client on the phone to read my HEY email (See the first point).
  • HEY won’t import my old messages. Again with the Fresh start” spin, they promote the idea that I can simply leave my old messages where they were. But what if I’m moving from another service into HEY? There may no longer be a where they were” unless I want to continue paying for the old service forever. Sure, a lot of people will be migrating from a free Gmail account, so less of a problem for them, I guess.
  • Once I move to HEY, my choices drop to one. I can’t use MailMate if I’m feeling geeky or even Mu4e if I’m feeling really geeky. Everything has to be done the way HEY wants me to. Can I live with that?

For now, I’m going to continue using HEY, and if I still love it after a week or two I’ll have a decision to make. I’ve been a happy Fastmail customer for years, and this is the first time I’ve seriously considered anything else.