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Apr 11

Reply hooks in Gmail; A case study in over-engineering

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Before I start, I have to get it out that the thinking in question took place at 5am. I have been enjoying time in Europe, getting to meet various developers on the On Air tour that Adobe was kind enough to have me speak at. Since I was in Europe for such as short period of time, and due to a few work matters, I ended up staying somewhat on US time. This never quite works, and I think I end up with my body clock tick-tocking somewhere over the Atlantic. If I ever had to crash land on that tiny American runway on the side of a volcano, I am sure I would sleep fantastically at 10pm.

Anyway, to the matter at hand. These emails drive me nuts:

Title: Bob Harris via Twitter to me

"Some random content in 140 characters or less"

Bob Harris / bobh

--
follow me at http://twitter.com/bobh
reply on the web at http://twitter.com/direct_messages/create/bobh
send me a direct message from your phone or IM: D BOBH your message here.
turn off these email notifications at: http://twitter.com/account/notifications

You get them from Facebook too (thankfully they put the random content in there for some of the content), and many other services out there.

What is wrong with them? This is how they come across to me:

  • Hi, this is Twitter
  • I know that you are reading this in your email client
  • And here is some content to read
  • You very may well want to reply to this
  • I am going to tell you how to do so in many ways
  • But I won’t let you actually use email even though that is your context!

I got angry one night (after some dark and stormys, white russians, …) and wanted to fix it.

This lead me down the path of Greasemonkey. How about greasing up the wheels like this:

if the title of the message has / from Twitter to /
  when pressing the "r" key to reply or clicking on the reply button
    open up IM with "d [get reply to]" (grab /IM: D \w+/)
      now you can put in the message

The problem is that tying into all of the actions can be a pain, and it is a little bit annoying to be running this on every email. Oh, and what about the other sites! We don’t want to have to repeat this for every service that doesn’t care about me, do we?

After all of this over-engineering it seemed obvious that I shouldn’t be lubbing up the ape, but Twitter should handle this for me, and thus everyone that uses Twitter.

Instead of Twitter emailing me as <noreply@twitter.com> how about if a gentler, more Oprah-like Twitter greeted me as <pleasereplytoyourmate@twitter.com>. Then the email becomes:

Title: Bob Harris via Twitter to me

"Some random content in 140 characters or less"

Bob Harris / bobh

--
simply reply to this email, and the first 140 characters will be posted

or,

follow me at http://twitter.com/bobh
reply on the web at http://twitter.com/direct_messages/create/bobh
send me a direct message from your phone or IM: D BOBH your message here.
turn off these email notifications at: http://twitter.com/account/notifications

The 140 character limit could be one of the reasons that they don’t do this? Stripping could cut the message up, but if this was the case, I would get the monkey out again and write something to help enforce the limit by letting the user know as they types too much.

Having nice extension points to email sounds pretty interesting to me too. What if Gmail adding to the Greasemonkey JavaScript API so you could add event listeners to events such as: getting new mail, pre-reply, post-reply, typing a subject, adding contacts.

Think of the possibilities.

But, I still want services to take email seriously as an interface to them, as does Dopplr and some others. After all, doesn’t Stallman use email to browse the Web?

7 Responses to “Reply hooks in Gmail; A case study in over-engineering”

  1. engtech Says:

    My guess is that the argument against allowing direct email responses is authentication and email forgery.

    But I’ve seen it done, and I know it’s possible.

  2. Michael Mahemoff Says:

    On a similar note, after a week of twubble-inspired “is following you” messages, I have a “it would take 10 minutes in theory” plan for a gm script or bookmarklet to give me some info about this person, in particular how many others are they following and what were there last three tweets.

  3. flevour Says:

    TripIt.com is one of the best I have seen so far that takes email as an interface seriously

  4. Dr Nic Says:

    Each direct msg email could have a unique reply-to address to protected against forgery, I guess.

  5. guai guai Says:

    Great article!Thank you!

  6. فروشگاه اینترنتی Says:

    thank you for this post. i will add this blog to my favorites list.

  7. luice lee Says:

    great artical thank you.

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