Guide Review - Shortmail
Sending Better Emails with Shortmail
Shortmail not only counts the characters you type in an email, it ominously counts down from 500. 500 is it: if you cannot say what you need to express with these about a hundred words, Shortmail has but another email to offer.
500 characters comprise almost 4 tweets. That's not enough to provide detail after posting the bottom line on an email's top. Possibly, the summary alone will suffice. 500 characters is more than most short emails, of course. I may want an extra star for staying below 150 or type more just because.
Whether your great emails are opened (and, possibly, read) is tracked comfortably, for the most part, in Shortmail with automatic and integrated return receipts.
Getting Better Emails with Shortmail
"Restraining myself in outgoing mail is all well," a Homer Simpson may be forgiven thinking unapologetically, "but what's in it for me?"
What you get for using Shortmail is a special email address (either your Twitter handle @shortmail.com or any user name @shortmail.me) that curbs incoming mail as consequently: anything exceeding 500 characters is automatically quarantined.
The sender does receive a notification of their excess from Shortmail — and a chance to have their message delivered all with a Shortmail editor that, yes, counts characters. While leading by concise email example should be welcome and emulated, hassling senders is a different matter altogether. At least the immediate blame and wrath falls on Shortmail.
For emails within the limit, Shortmail strips all formatting, which can be a fantastic boon for legibility and, hence, productivity. Maybe it could preserve linked text in some form — and not include an image in the rich-text signature it automatically adds to outgoing emails. That Shortmail never quotes in replies is also less than perfect for people whose email programs and services do not automatically put incoming emails in context.
Email Subjects and Attachments in Shortmail
Shortmail's quest for simplicity does not stop at emails' lengths, of course. Shortmail also does away with an explicit need for email subjects when you compose a message. It copies the message's first dozen words instead (though you can edit the subject, of course). Inside Shortmail, subjects are mostly mute and history (though still prominently visible).
In like spirit, incoming attachments are stripped mercilessly without trace or notice. Some hint of missing documents would be nice, and integration with one of the many file hosting services could even allow for easy file sending in addition to serving received files.
Taking Conversations Public
With emails now composed so well, should those not private be confined to your and the other conversants' mailboxes? Shortmail does not think so.
For whatever it's worth, making threads public, then, is easy — maybe frighteningly so. Like a mailing list archive, Shortmail can publish certain messages for anybody to view. With another option, "open", you can allow all readers to comment on the web, too.
Organizing Mail in Shortmail
Shortmail emails are neat and effective. They still stack.
They need not grow wildly, though. Automatically, Shortmail groups all mail (sent as well as received) by correspondent. All emails arrive in the inbox, but archiving them out of sight when you've dealt with them is particularly easy. When you need to return to a conversation later, Shortmail can make it turn up again automatically in your inbox at that time.
Shortmail does not offer any further folders or labels, but search helps you find particular messages. Search operators for more precise matching could help with growing archives. No means to group all a project's emails with different contacts could be a disadvantage.
Considering how essential contacts are to Shortmail's organizing mail, its address book is surprisingly meager in both function and form.
Shortmail in Your Email Program
It's fantastic for Shortmail to try new things with email without shutting to existing infrastructure. You can exchange messages with every existing email address, of course, but you can also exchange them with most every existing email program: IMAP and POP access let you set up Shortmail in your favorite email program on the desktop and on the go. Other email services can download from Shortmail, too, but you cannot, sadly, have Shortmail forward to them automatically with the exception of Gmail, from which Shortmail can also automatically import suitable messages. Shortmail's own app for iPhone and iPad is handsomely adept at exploiting iOS and Shortmail itself.
While some email programs do count characters (or, noting your using — or sending to — Shortmail, even down from 500), you're typically on your own slashing words. It will be easy.
The harder part may be finding a place and use for Shortmail. Designed as a guardian for users not yet known short email adepts, Shortmail should probably not become yet another inbox to check.
(Updated March 2012)