The Living Thing / Notebooks :

Email

Doing email better, or better, not doing email at all

Email. What a disaster. Wastes time. Hard to secure. Ubiquitous.

Some seek to avoid it entirely, for good reasons.

This phenomenon can be thought of as a potent modern tragedy of the commons. The commons in question here is the world’s pool of attention. Email makes it just a little too easy to grab a piece of that attention. The unintended consequence of all those little acts of grabbing, is a giant rats nest of voracious demands on our time, energy and sanity.

(C&C social media.) or weird reasons.

But being realistic, we are already locked in to email. So, how can we minimise the harm?

Better clients

Be smarter about how you read your mail. Encryption-supporting clients etc. Less-awful-UI clients.

The classics are Apple Mail, Thunderbird, Evolution etc. The rule for all mail clients is everyone hates them all and no-one has improved substantially over the interface designs on the 90s. Nonetheless all the mediocre options are… there. Somehow still with bugs despite their minimal innovation. Apple Mail is at least well-integrated into the OS if you use macOS.

Note that google mail has obviously done some UX innovation, but I’m not happy with their owning too much info about me, so I will ignore them.

Also, since I work on macOS and Linux, I will be focussing on clients that run on those.

Contact syncing

See contacts and calendars.

Better providers

Be smarter about who does all that network transmission of your mail.

As for that last one, here are some reasonably-reputable 3rd party email providers who in principle won’t give up your email without telling you because of legal protections.

Here are some that in principle can’t give up your email because they never see your unencrypted data:

Here are some I forgot to file and must look up later.

Archiving email

Mailpiler is a webserver which provides a front-end to a MySQL index of all your emails. Is that what you want? Are you spending your time wisely?

No but actually what can I replace email with?

Which deficiencies do you wish to avoid? If it’s security you might do better with OTR chat clients, or tinfoil hat cryptopunk social networks.

Getting mail transport agents

a.k.a. mail server software. Basic level if you want to run you own MTA for sending messaged but you want some guarantees of privacy or security, you can host your own server, although it is rather tedious. The main, and as afar as I know, only, protocol is called SMTP, but there are many implementations. I have only used postfix. There are hip hackable alternatives like ZoneMTA and Haraka, but I have not used them.

If you want to run your own perhaps it is easier using an nsta-deploy postfix server with mailinabox. Or you could use a commercial provider which will handle all the details. mailgun is an example of a hosted service that will send lotsa email for you via an API. Same with Sendgrid. I think Zed Shaw’s Lamson was also such a thing but is now abandoned.

Bulk mail

You know, newsletters etc. Are you building a machine to bulkemail people messages about something or other? You probably don’t care so much about confidentiality in this case.

The dominant commercial player is mailchimp, but there are open source alternatives such as mautic (PHP) and mailtrain (node.js).