Email: Undead, Now Mutating

So says CEO Michael Dirolf, who is trying to revamp that least sexy of communications tools: the listserv.

Email: Undead, Now Mutating


Many of us live in our inboxes; for all intents and purposes, our Gmail is our homepage. And yet for all the email junkies out there, there are at the same time people and businesses who are saying that email is dead or dying, a relic of an era before social networks. The future of communication may lie somewhere in the middle., a service that helps you manage group mailing lists, launches a major update this week that in some ways envisions a melding of email and social networking.

“Those lines are becoming blurred, by the day,” Fiesta’s CEO, Michael Dirolf (inset), tells Fast Company. “And to me there’s no reason why they should be distinct.” Fiesta hopes to occupy that sweet spot in the middle by revolutionizing that least sexy of communications tools: the email listserv.

Before getting into the details of Fiesta’s update, let’s discuss what it’s been for the past 10 months or so that it’s been operational. Fiesta basically streamlines and simplifies the creation of email groups. Think about how you currently communicate with groups you’re a member of. If you want to email the group, you probably search your inbox for one of the members, find an old email chain with the whole group attached, hit reply-all, and change the subject heading. You could, of course, start a Google Group, but many people don’t feel like taking that extra step.

Fiesta’s insight is that you should be able to instantly create and name an email group from within your new message itself. Fiesta treats the cc field of email as a command line: write an email to your whole soccer team, and then cc something like “” Fiesta remembers this group, and from here on out you can just send to “” (Fiesta is smart enough to know that your is different from any number of others). All it cost you to set up that group was adding a cc line, and now you’re good to go.

In a nod toward a future in which email and social networks converge, Fiesta this week launched a service wherein all group emails are also backed up on the web, cleaned up and parsed into threads for easy perusal. An example of the layout is here. Each of those messages originated from an email. Dirolf calls these “private social networks powered directly from the inbox.”

Once email and social networking become hybridized in this way, says Dirolf, new forms of innovation become possible. Fiesta (currently a two-person team incubated by Dogpatch Labs in New York) is experimenting, for instance, with labeling messages in such a way that essential ones would get pushed to your inbox, while trash talk and chatter would stay online for you to skim (or not) at your leisure.


Fiesta is focused on scaling right now, not making money, says Dirolf. In the long term, he sees “charging for our
white-labeled service” and “premium subscriptions with additional
features” as possible business models. 

As Mark Twain would have said of email, had he had it: Its death has been greatly exaggerated. “To me, what’s much more likely than email disappearing,” says Dirolf, “is email evolving.”

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[Image: Flickr user Steve Johnson]

About the author

David Zax is a contributing writer for Fast Company. His writing has appeared in many publications, including Smithsonian, Slate, Wired, and The Wall Street Journal.