Yesterday, I received roughly a hundred email messages during the course of my typical work hours—and that was an atypically slow workday for email. Messages from HR. From coworkers. From editors. From friends. Newsletters. Spam. Mentions on Twitter. Pitches from countless publicists and PR firms. And one story pitch entitled, "Where is Batman?"
I sifted through most, one by one. Email is an unavoidable time-suck—and even smart folks like TED's Chris Anderson are spending lots of time thinking about a better way. But now, social startup 410 Labs is trying to fix our email woes with Shortmail.com, a service the Baltimore-based company is slating as the Twitter of email.
Shortmail.com, which launches publicly on Wednesday from private beta, is designed to create a digestible inbox. By limiting messages to 500 characters, Shortmail is "stressing conciseness," according to 410 Labs. Like Twitter, Shortmail features a character counter which tracks each letter typed—reach the max, and Shortmail will not allow you to send the message. The same restriction applies to messages received: Send an email longer than 500 characters to a Shortmail user, and you'll receive the following message:
"[The] length limit on messages is long enough to express most coherent points or ask a colleague a question, while filtering out much spam, newsletters, promotions, and dissertations," 410 Labs said in a statement. "Thus your Shortmail inbox becomes the place for the to-the-point messages in sizes and quantity you can digest and respond to quickly."
Shortmail features an incredibly stripped-down UI. In many ways, it's the antithesis of Gmail. No bells and whistles, excessive buttons and options, drop-down menus, chat windows, hyperlinks, ads—just the bare minimum.
In more ways than one, 410 Labs is framing the service as the Twitter of email. But it also seems that it's trying to be the email of Twitter. If you already have a Twitter account, then you already own a Shortmail address. For example, my handle, @AustinCarr, already reserved AustinCarr@shortmail.com—the account is just waiting to be claimed. The messages themselves are designed as extensions of a Twitter message—for whatever you can't fit in your 140 character tweet, clearly. What's more, messages can be delivered privately or publicly, playing along with how tweets are visible to all.
We've seen similar attempts to reduce inbox clutter. Gina Trapani offered a ton of tips on how to conquer your email in our Work Smart series. Chris Anderson has recommended an Email Charter, while others have advocated for policies such as three.sentenc.es.
"Email has become overwhelming for many people, to the point of being nearly unusable," said Shortmail CEO Dave Troy in a statement. "Shortmail is designed to make email easy and usable again."
[Image: Fickr user: Sarkasmo]