Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Mother Lode of Data on the Mobile Internet

Browsing the Internet this morning, I found this Morgan Stanley report on the Mobile Internet. Depending on which version you look at, you'll find hundreds of slides packed with data and insights on mobile internet usage. I recommend you at least flip through the this short 92-slide version.

Here are some of the highlights - this is the data I found most interesting.

iPhone Growth

The growth of iPhone + iTouch outpaces that of Netscape, i-mode, and AOL. It's more explosive than anything we've seen so far.



iPhone and iPod Touch are growing at the same rate This slide was meant to demonstrate the explosiveness of the iPhone platform, but another thing it demonstrates is how iPhone and iPod Touch sell around the same number of units, and have done so consistently even through the introduction of the 3G and 3GS.



Web Usage

Unproductive sites are increasing their addiction levels. Online global time spent is trending heavily toward Facebook and YouTube. MSN and Yahoo are shrinking away while Google (probably the most work-related of all these sites) is holding steady. I wonder about the effect of all this on global GDP.



Google now makes $20 per user per year in ads. I still remember when my friends were asking "Who clicks on all those ads anyway?" Somebody does. Google's annualized revenues per user have increased from $10.22 / year in 2005 to $20.06 in 2009. That's a large chunk of the total ad revenue per user on the Internet, which is $46.41. Wow.



PS: Morgan Stanley has done an outstanding job in assembling all this data. I just wish they'd hired a graphic designer for their slides - they do look a bit busy, especially pasted at small sizes.

Monday, December 21, 2009

I'm off to Europe

I'm off to Europe for the holidays to spend some time with my family.

I heard that Switzerland is totally covered in snow. I heard my brother got snowed in the other day - quite unusual in a country with the level of road services that Switzerland has. I'm certainly looking forward to doing some snowboarding with the Alps!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Mobile Email Usage to Grow from 131M to 434M in 2 Years

I just found this great report [pdf] by email research group Radicati. It comes with bucketloads of stats and predictions on email usage.

In particular, this one table is a gem. According to Radicati, mobile email usage is poised to grow from 131 million users today to 434 million in 2011.



That's pretty substantial growth - almost 100% growth year-on-year! I'm happy that's the space that reMail is in.

The In-App Freemium Model

We're now letting users download reMail for free and then upgrade to IMAP support and no ads. Previously we were charging $4.99 upfront, now we're selling features via In-App purchase. I think many useful apps will eventually charge this way. For example, navigation apps might charge you per city or per routing instead of charging $80 upfront. Games have already shifted to selling virtual goods and levels.

Initial sales are encouraging. I'll let you know how it worked out for us once I have more data.

Read more about how we implemented freemium on the reMail blog.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

reMail 2.7 is Out

We released reMail 2.6 late last week and it had some bugs. Bugs we should have caught in our QA department [*]. Sorry about that.

However, we fixed those bugs ASAP and resubmitted a new version. reMail 2.7 is out on the App Store now and you should update.

[*] We don't really have a QA department. Yet.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Shocker: A Drop in Email Overload!?

The Radicati Group is a research organization owned by HP that surveys email and messaging usage patterns. Here's a shocking new blog post:
Our newly released Business User Survey, 2009 shows that for the first time since we started monitoring email traffic patterns, the amount of email that reaches business user inboxes is actually decreasing. Survey respondents indicated that they sent and received an average of 108 email messages per day in 2009, which is noticeably lower than the average of 140 email messages sent and received in 2008. This is a fairly significant decrease of 23%!

Their explanation for this data is that users are shifting to other means of communication such as IM for certain type of messages: "Wanna grab lunch?"

This data does not fit my observations. For me, 2009 was the year of notification emails, as illustrated here and here.

My alternative explanation: This is a survey-based report. People generally overreport on how busy they are. They've recently become more realistic.

Now if only I had $2500 to buy that research report.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

The Vision for reMail

As an entrepreneur, there's one question you get asked a lot: "What's your vision?"

Unfortunately, I don't have a beautiful answer like Larry & Sergey's "Organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful." That's a powerful one. So powerful that Eric Schmidt apparently questioned their sanity when he first heard it.

For reMail, the goal is to solve the two big problems in mobile email:
  1. You're on the way to a meeting and you need to look up where it is, or who you're meeting. This is an email search problem.

  2. You're walking from the meeting room to the bathroom and have 45 seconds to catch up on your new messages. This is a prioritization problem.

These two problems are not orthogonal: You can see prioritization as a special case of search. You're searching for important messages. You can see search as a special case of prioritization: You want to see the important messages related to your current state of mind, as expressed by the query. The solutions aren't as clearly separated as the use cases are. And that's good for reMail.

We started with search because it's easier to solve, and the value is clearer to the user. We've built a pretty successful product - it needs a lot of refinement but it fills a clear need for users. I've built some sketches of prioritization tools in May - reBoxed and something I called "reMail Commander" - but they need a lot more work.

We were so luck to focus entirely on mobile email. Mobile email usage is growing and there's no reason why mobile email usage shouldn't eclipse desktop usage in 5 years or so.

Sounds smart? This decision fell into our lap: In December 2008, we had a meeting with a potential investor (he didn't invest and probably wouldn't like to see his name here). We had plans to do stuff on the web, desktop, and mobile. During that conversation, it became clear to us that on the desktop we'd get killed by Outlook 2010, Postbox, Zimbra, Thunderbird, and many players with deep experience. In webmail, we'd get killed by Gmail Labs. Mobile seemed like the right spot, with lots of whitespace and huge problems. I'm happy that's what we decided to focus our efforts.

Say it with me, all together now: reMail is reimagining mobile email.

Thanks for your time.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Swiss Announces Direct Flights ZRH-SFO

I live in San Francisco but my family lives in Switzerland. I've been petitioning Swiss International Air Lines every year to open up a direct flight Zurich-San Francisco. My wish has been granted. Starting June 2010, Swiss will offer a direct ZRH-SFO flight.

This route makes so much sense: There's no shortage of people shuttling back and forth between Zurich and San Francisco (just ask those weary-looking people with Google shirts in the SFO International terminal). Until now, we've had to connect either on the East Coast (ORD, JFK, etc.) or somewhere in Europe (MUC, LHR, FRA, AMS, DUB, CDG, from best to worst).

I'm so happy about this new route. Thank you Swiss!

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

The New Consensus: It's Android vs. iPhone

In our YCombinator Demo Day presentation, we had a slide about how we'll also build reMail for other platforms, starting with Android. This was 9 months ago. Members of the audience were puzzled: "Why would you build on Android, not Blackberry or Windows Mobile?".

I'd reply "I think the war was going to be iPhone vs. Android". It seemed like a reasonable bet at the time. Google has deep pockets and great engineering talent. Turns out the only thing missing was the right device.

Now, of course, there is the Droid, which sold more than 800,000 devices since its launch. That's a huge number. My roommate just got one the other week!

And attitudes have changed. Fred Wilson says that Android will be to the iPhone what the PC was to the Mac. In many conversations in the past weeks, no one took offense with "it's iPhone vs. Android".

Android still has a long way to go. I'm confident they will get there. Usability and stability need to improve, developer tools need to get a big speed bump, and I'm a little worried that by the end of 2010, we'll have too make device configurations to develop for and test on. But the speed at which the Android team cranks out iterations is very high.

Armed with a G1, I've fired up my Eclipse this weekend and started toying around again with Android apps. I have some ideas about what I want to build. I'll keep you posted.

Monday, November 23, 2009

I Love it When ...

I love it when users send me detailed, multi-page feedback on reMail's features and bugs. Yes, it means more work but it shows that they care. Thank you reMail power users - I raise my glass to you!

By the way - reMail's ratings are rising in the App Store. Check out these recent reviews.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A Quick Observation about Mobile Apps

In 2005, no one was using apps on their mobile phones. Those were the days of the Nokia Series 40 running J2ME. Developers making J2ME apps at that time were claiming that once mobile apps took off (any minute now!), they would be best positioned to take advantage of the new market.

Along came iPhone, Android, and most importantly, all-you-can-eat data plans. But where are those J2ME developers?

If you go through the Top 10 paid or Top 10 free apps on the App Store, you'll find that the companies there are either name brands (Walt Disney, Facebook, Adobe), or smaller development firms that were started recently: For example, ngmoco, founded 6/2008, or Limbic Software, founded 2008, and so on. I couldn't find an About page or Crunchbase profile for all of the companies, but the ones I found about all matched this pattern.

Once again we learn that being early is the same as being wrong.

Friday, November 13, 2009

One Feature of Go that Every Programming Language Needs to Have

Named return values. They rock.

func doit(x int) (a int, b int) {
// do stuff
a = 1;
b = 2;
return;
}

// call it like this:
a, b = doit(x);

In the languages I use, there are two ways to return multiple values from a function:
  1. Build an array, tuple, or dictionary with the return values. That's wasteful and the compiler won't catch your errors.

  2. Pass in reference or pointers. But that's not as elegant as Go's solution: You have to look twice to realize the function call will change the value of your variables.

I'd love to see this in other languages as well.

Thanks to Mark Chu-Carroll for his excellent intro article. More about multiple return values in Go in the language reference.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Know-It-All

Like so many of my generation, I have spent endless hours on Wikipedia learning about the offbeat subjects such as the history of the Embarcadero Freeway, the Munich U-Bahn, the Voodoo 2 chipset, and my great enemy, the MIME standard.

I was happy to learn that someone chose to take the quest for knowledge to its logical extreme: To read the Encyclopedia Brittanica from A-Z. The Know-It-All by A.J. Jacobs is a hilarious book. The author, a writer for Esquire magazine, spent over a year reading the 65k+ entries in the encyclopedia. Highly compressed and intermixed with his life in New York, it makes for an entertaining read. If you've spent significant chunks of your life surfing Wikipedia, this book is for you.

Friday, October 30, 2009

The iPhone has just 58 MB of RAM

I went to Apple's iPhone Developer Event in San Jose yesterday. The best talk, in my opinion, was "Maximizing iPhone Application Performance" by Michael Jurewitz. App performance is something I really care about.

Here's the most shocking fact from the presentation: the iPhone only has 58 MB of RAM for your application

The original and the 3G iPhones only have 128 MB of RAM. The first two generations of iPods also have 128 MB. Together, these devices make up 62% of reMail's userbase, so it's good practice to design with their restrictions in mind.

The iPhone has virtual memory for memory mapping, but it has no swap file. The 128 MB is all you have to work with. Once that runs out, you get memory warnings, and then your application gets shut down. Bye-bye!

Out of the 128 MB, 70 MB are in use by the system at any given time. So only 58 MB are available for your application to work with.

iPhone RAM usage

Here's how it breaks down:
  • 12 MB are immediately reserved for Graphics
  • 32 MB are wired for use by the Kernel
  • 12 MB are Various Daemons, e.g. SMS, mediaserverd, etc.
  • 10 MB for SpringBoard (this is essentially the app launcher and UI manager)
  • 4 MB for Phone process (receiving calls)
58 MB is not a whole lot. Better be memory efficient!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

reMail now has Multi-Account Support

Read all about it on VentureBeat and at the reMail Blog. The paid version ($4.99) now has a great new UI as well:

Monday, October 19, 2009

7 Points on “The End of the Email Era”

"The End of the Email Era", a Wall Street Journal article by Jessica Vascellaro ignited, somewhat ironically, a flurry of "have you read this?" emails in my inbox. I'm a bit late to the party of dissecting Vascellaro's piece. All of last week, I was cranking on a new version of reMail. Yet I felt I'd write about it, since I feel pretty qualified to comment on email-related topics.

WSJ's 4 Points

In case you haven't read it, here are the points that the WSJ article makes:
  1. IM is better than email because it gets you faster responses.

  2. Twitter and Facebook updates are better than email because they're informal and fun.

  3. All these updates will cause even more overload and filtering needs to improve.

  4. Facebook gives you context about people's location, mood, and current activity. You need to coordinate less than if you were using only email.

Gabor's 7 Points

Most people misread the WSJ piece as "email is dying". But email isn't dying, it's being complemented by new modes of communication. And despite Paul Graham's warning about "lists of N things", here's my list of 7 things to contribute to the social network updates vs. email debate.
  1. Twitter and Facebook updates are orthogonal to email. Looking through the last 200 tweets on my Twitter feed, I didn't find a single update that I would have sent as an email had Twitter not existed. The use cases are too different. Thus, Twitter is a parallel world to email.

    This HuffPo article puts it best:
    If you're like us, you still send text messages on the weekends, check voicemail at work, post photos to Facebook, watch viral videos on YouTube, and Tweet your favorite news.

    In other words, we haven't "killed off" our previous tools: we're actually adding, not abandoning, platforms. And when we do ditch, it's because of forces more complex than seasonal trends (or the news cycle).

  2. Email is private, Twitter is public. Twitter and Facebook can't replace email because they're public or semi-public communications channels. Direct messages in Twitter and Facebook messages are bad, low-fidelity clones of email functionality. You shouldn't use them.

  3. Your work email belongs to your employer. You can't use Facebook for work. The messages and the intellectual property you create while at work belong to your employer. If you leave the company, you shouldn't be able to take them with you.

  4. Email is about task management. The reason why your inbox is a source of stress and your Twitter feed is not is because email is a task manager. Twitter and Facebook are entertainment. Your boss wouldn't assign a task to you via a Facebook update. But if your boss sends you an email, you better read it and get that work item done.

  5. The unread messages counter. Unlike Twitter, email has an unread message counter. If it didn't have that counter, email would make you far less anxious. But it would lose its work value as a task manager.

  6. The future of email is not to become IM. Part of the value of email is that it's asynchronous: While you're getting actual work done, new messages pile up. You don't want to give everyone the chance to interrupt your work flow. You wouldn't get things done. And that's exactly the problem with turning email into IM, whether it's with push notifications or Google Wave: Yes it will get you answers instantly, but it would make everyone less productive.

  7. The lack of innovation in email is because the underlying protocols suck. If you have a great idea about how to use or display the data in Twitter, all you need to read is the Twitter API docs. If you have a great idea in email, you need to know MIME (the encoder), SMTP (the message protocol), IMAP or Exchange (the access layer), and your email client (the viewer). The email technology stack is huge, wobbly, and antiquated.

    Take IMAP: a hugely inefficient, stateful protocol with an ugly message format. State-of-the art in the late 1990s, yes, but if you were to reinvent it today, you could do a much better job.

    We need to make it easier to innovate around the mail client. We could rip out everything (maybe save for SMTP) and build a great new stack that allows fast iteration. Make it easier to move the needle in email, and the needle will move.

Friday, October 16, 2009

"A Never-Ending Spiral of Needless Messages"

From the Telegraph's 50 most annoying things about the Internet:

3) Messages alerting you to messages
Email inboxes are becoming clogged with non-urgent alerts from Facebook, Twitter and other social media websites. How long before someone invents an app to alert Twitter and Facebook users when they receive an email, creating a never-ending spiral of needless messages?

Reminds me of my post on Facebook's dream vs. reality.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

What Makes an Email Important?

In my last post, I said it would be good if email clients only notified you of important emails, rather than popping up a toast for each email that arrives. One of the commenters asked me to point to some research about this topic.

What makes an email important? In this Microsoft Research report [1], the authors have conducted surveys of email usage inside Microsoft. One of the questions they asked was "When is an email particularly important?". Here are the responses:


Note that 5 out of the 10 factors are directly related to who sent the email. (This would indicate that filtering or auto-classifying emails by sender could be very effective.)

I have a bunch of other interesting research results to point to when I have a little more time. If you've read anything interesting recently, please point me to it in the comments.

[1] Gina Danielle Venolia, Laura Dabbish, JJ Cadiz, and Anoop Gupta. Supporting email workflow. Technical report, Microsoft Research - Collaboration and Multimedia Group, September 2001.

If you find this interesting, you should also read HappyMail.

reMail 2.4.1 Released

Read about the new features here. And don't forget to update!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Do You Keep Gmail Open in Your Browser?

Everyone who uses Gmail knows this: You keep Gmail open in your browser all day so you can check your email, send off messages, and search your email archives.



Why This is Unacceptable

Yes, I believe that Gmail is the future of email (I'm a little biased).

But this is far from the optimum. Keeping Gmail and Google Calendar open in your browser should not be how we'll do email in 10 years.

Why?
  1. It gets lost: Gmail being just an open tab in your browser means that it will get lost among many other tabs and browser windows that are open. As I'm writing this blog entry, I have 11 tabs open in Firefox.

  2. No notifications: Unless you install separate tools, Gmail can't notify you of new important messages that come in. I'm not a fan of push email as it increases hyperactivity, but some level of notification, especially for meetings approaching in Google Calendar would be useful.

  3. No integration into your workflow. Clicking mailto links doesn't work. There's no spot on your screen that says "email". There's no right-click send for documents.

Should Gmail Become Outlook?

Should the Gmail become a desktop client Outlook? No. I think that would be a step back, not forward. I imagine the ideal setup to be like Tweetie's desktop client. An icon sits in your desktop bar and gently lights up when new things arrive. (Update: Mailplane and Fluid have similar functionality, but only for the Mac).

Here's how I imagine the optimal desktop webmail experience:
  1. Always on: It's not a tab you launch in your browser. It starts when your computer starts and it's on while you're working.

  2. Smart notifications: Rather than showing a toast notification or playing a chime sound for each email that arrives, it would know about the relative importance of messages and infer from your behavior if it's OK to interrupt you. There's plenty of research about both importance and notifications that still needs to make it into the real world.

  3. Keeps a copy of all your messages: I think reMail demonstrates how powerful it is to have all your mail on your phone. If you have your mail on your phone, why can't you have it on your desktop? Offline Gmail is headed the right way. In my ideal client, its features would become standard.

Making real progress in email clients is hard. It's easy to add new widgets, helper utilities, notifiers, and spam bots. But it's hard to move the needle on the fundamental paradigms - how do we read, check, search, and organize. Moving Gmail away from the browser into an always-on background app seems comparatively easy. The things I mentioned could probably be done by a third party - it doesn't need to be Google. Please, let's get this done.

Email and Webmail Statistics

I just found this page which compiles some usage stats for webmail providers. Roughly:
  • Hotmail: 256.2 million
  • Yahoo: 254.6 million
  • Gmail: 91.6 million
  • AOL: 48.9 million
These number seem a bit off (Gmail is probably too low, Hotmail too high). The article goes into more detail on sources and estimates - I suggest you check it out.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Some Unconventional Ideas

There should be an X-Prize for high speed rail. I read recently that an ICE 3 train set costs 35 million dollars, but the tracks on which it runs costs billions (depending on distance). It's fun to talk and worry about the train sets - there's plenty of coverage of decisions between Alstom's TGV and Siemens' ICE sets. But no one writes about that we need cheaper tracks that are fast to build. There should be an X Prize for people to build the cheapest, safest, high-speed train tracks. Whoever gets 1 km of track to cost less than $100k total wins.

Cities should set immigration quotas and criteria. Immigrants always move to a specific city, not a country. It's more likely that someone will move from San Francisco to London (8645 kilometers) than from San Francisco to Merced (212 kilometers). Cities should be able to compete for the best talent directly, and set their own criteria. For example, London should be able to decide that it will allow 5000 non-EU foreigners to move to it this year, and all of them need to have a bachelor's degree. These choices would be made by the people who are actually affected (Londoners), not the whole population (UK != London). The UK/EU would still do the background and security checks.

Record Stores should sell digital songs. Remember the nineties where you'd have to go to a store to buy songs? With iTunes, that's over. In the physical world, discovering new music was fun. On iTunes, I barely ever buy from artists I don't already know. That's why the record stores that still exist should kick out all the CDs and offer a great, comfortable, physical environment to discover new music.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Ultracompact Web Product Guidelines

I just discovered this list of web product guidelines by Leah Culver. Not sure if I understand all of them ("a medium is not a grande"?). But I love how spot-on and compact some of these insights are ("one important item per page", "nobody changes the defaults", "use it yourself").

Culver's original blog post is here.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

More Time for Your Breakthrough

"Over the last century and a half, the average age of a Nobel Prize winner at the moment of his great breakthrough has risen more than five years, from 34 to almost 39 years old." (read more)

Friday, September 18, 2009

reMail V2.3

Please update to reMail V2.3. Here's the list of new features and bugfixes.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Yummy New reMail Videos!

I put together reMail's launch video in a haste a few days before launch. With the help of a video pro, we reshot the whole thing. We also added some real-life shots of reMail to show off how fast it really is. Here's the result:



Then I got a haircut (as you will see in a minute) and shot another video. In this one, I talk about how to set up reMail with your Gmail or IMAP account:



A lot of people have asked about how to do advanced searches in reMail. Our full-text search engine is pretty powerful. To illustrate its power, I put together this video that talks you through reMail's advanced search options.



Enjoy!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Seven Qualities of Successful iPhone Apps

If you're a mobile developer, I highly recommend this blog post and video about the seven qualities of great iPhone apps: Delightful, innovative, well designed, integrated, optimized, connected, localized.

Most of these seem pretty obvious, and somewhat soft and mushy, but I think the video gives some good examples. Also, the lessons apply to non-iPhone platforms as well.

Unfortunately, you need an ADC login to get to the blog post, but that's free and you don't need to pay the $99 toll.

With reMail, we're aiming to check all the boxes. Our next stop is being localized (I'm still looking for volunteers to do our Spanish and Italian translations.)

Friday, August 28, 2009

reMail V2.2 is Out!

Here's how to update.

How Long Does It Take To Build A Technology Empire?



Here's an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal contrasting the relative revenue growth rates of technology startups. They're classified into rocketships, hot startups, and slow burners. Found via Rob Go.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Do you speak French, Spanish, Italian, or Dutch?

I think reMail is especially valuable for Europeans. In Europe, you're never more than a few hundred kilometers away from a different country. Having your emails on your phone becomes crucial - European carriers charge a lot for data roaming.

We're looking for volunteers translate reMail into:
  1. French
  2. Spanish
  3. Italian
  4. Dutch
We can't really promise you more than our gratitude and an entry on this page.

The process entails is translating two text files with a total of 189 strings, plus the text for the App Store entry (300 words). I can give you the German and English equivalents. Ideally, you'd be a native speaker with an iPhone set to the language you're translating to.

If you're interested, contact me. My email is here.

Update: Looks like I've found several French speakers willing to help out! reMail seems to be popular in France. :-) Spanish, anyone?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Introducing the New reMail


Today, we're launching the new reMail for the iPhone! It's a completely new product.

reMail downloads all your email to your phone and lets you search full-text at light speed.

All My Email On My Phone? Really?

Yes, reMail downloads all your email to your phone. It will let you read and search all your email when you're offline. Just let reMail run overnight to complete the download. reMail needs less space than you think: 100,000 emails take only 500 MB on your phone - only 6% of the capacity of an 8 GB iPhone (the smallest iPhone you can buy).

This Will Save You Money

My family lives in Switzerland and I live in San Francisco. One thing I've found very frustrating whenever I travel to see my parents are the insane fees that AT&T charges for data roaming: For Switzerland, AT&T charges $19.97 per Megabyte. Check out this SMS I get the moment I turn my phone on the tarmac in Switzerland.

Now, with reMail, I don't have to think twice about searching for meeting times or flight reservations. When I'm abroad, I just download all my email over Wifi and have data roaming turned off.

We put together this page that contrasts data roaming prices with AT&T and T-Mobile Germany with the cost of reMail.

reMail Searches Full-Text

Another crucial difference between iPhone 3.0 Mail and reMail is that reMail searches full-text.

The built-in header-only search is frustrating, because so many times, the words I'm searching for don't appear in the To, From, and Subject lines. If the words you search for aren't in the headers, reMail will find the email, iPhone Mail will not. reMail is email search you can trust.

What happened to reMail Search Beta?

We launched reMail Search a few months back, it was a server-based product. Searches were being done on the server, and you had to give us your email password. It turns out people are very opposed to sharing their email and password with third parties, especially a small startup.

So we built the new reMail. Now, everything happens on the phone. reMail downloads your emails directly via IMAP. No more reMail server.

What reMail Users Are Saying

We have beta tested the app with a lot of users, and they are loving it:
  • “This app is awesome! I use reMail constantly all day. It's so fast!”
    — Sachin Agarwal, Co-Founder, Posterous
  • “I am loving reMail!”
    — Richard Price, CEO, Academia.edu
  • “Complete Berlin trip organized via emails found by reMail. No printed reservations and tickets needed!”
    — Bernhard Heinzel, Beta User
  • “reMail is a super useful app and search speed is incredible.”
    — Dan Veltri, Co-Founder, Weebly

Get it Now

We hope you'll love it too. Get it now. It's $4.99 on the App Store until Sep 1, and $9.99 thereafter.

Update: Coverage here and here.

10 Levels of Communication Intimacy



Via Buzzfeed and @marissac.

Email seems to be exactly at the intersection of private and public.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Dear Facebook, Please Let Me Reply to Your Message Notifications

Do you know this problem? Someone sends you a Facebook message. You want to reply, but instead of being able to just hit reply on the message, you have to perform a multi-step choreographed dance:
  1. Click on the link in the email
  2. Log into Facebook
  3. Navigate Facebook's messaging interface to reply
  4. Repeat this procedure when new messages roll in




This is hugely annoying. Instead of sending emails with a nonsensical address such as notification+pd=edfz@facebookmail.com and a Reply-To of noreply@facebookmail.com, can't Facebook just implement an email-reply-to-Facebook-message bridge? This is pretty simple to do - many Support systems (e.g. Kayako) already do this.

I've written (well, sketched) about Facebook vs. email before. When I have some time, I need to sit down and write my rant about how closed (Facebook, Twitter, Skype) and proprietary (Google Wave) systems are replacing email when they shouldn't. I think the underlying reason is that email's systems and protocols (SMTP, IMAP, MIME/RFC822, MS Exchange) are so hugely sucky, outdated, insecure, spammy, bug-prone, and stupidly designed. We need to engineer ourselves out of this mess.

Update: Wow, this post was just in time for Facebook's Message API, which makes the whole problem worse, not better: From the TC article: "The biggest addition — the Mailbox API — is also disappointing because it only lets users receive messages, not send them."

Nvidia's CEO on Entrepreneurship

This is a great (audio-only) talk by Jensen Huang, Co-Founder and CEO of NVidia: Vision Matters.

He talks about the importance of having a big vision when starting a company and shares some fun anecdotes on raising money and setting price points. Some of the stuff he says ("Favoring Moore's Law over Customer Feedback") is diametrically opposed to the currently favored worldview (the Eric Ries / Steve Blank style of customer demand based iteration), which I found refreshing.

Congrats, FriendFeed!


Congrats to Paul and Sanjeev on Facebook's FriendFeed acquisition!

I like these pics with Mark Zuckerberg.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

How to Cut Interest Rates to Below Zero

An interesting thought from Greg Mankiw, Economics professor at Harvard:
Why can't the Fed cut interest rates to below zero? Why can't the Fed announce, for example, an interest rate of negative 2 percent? You borrow $100 today and repay $98 a year from now. A negative interest rate would certainly encourage people to borrow and spend, thereby expanding aggregate demand. [...]

The problem, you might reply, is that no one would lend money on those terms. Rather than lending at a negative interest rate, you could hold onto cash by, for example, stuffing it in your mattress. [...]

With this background, I can now state the proposed solution: Reduce the return to holding money below zero. Imagine that the Fed were to announce that, one year from today, it would pick a digit from 0 to 9 out of a hat. All currency with a serial number ending in that digit would no longer be legal tender. Suddenly, the expected return to holding currency would become negative 10 percent.

-- Greg Mankiw, Reloading the Weapons of Monetary Policy

Friday, July 17, 2009

More reMail Private Beta Invites

Last Friday, when I opened up signups for the reMail Private Beta, the 50 spots were gone in a few hours. Many of the testers have been extremely helpful with trying to debug problems, and almost all the issues they found are now fixed.

This past week, I've also added IMAP support to the new reMail. Before, it only supported Gmail accounts. If you have a non-Gmail IMAP account, have a taste for fast email search, and want to help me test the new version, sign up for the Private Beta here:

reMail Private Beta Signup (IMAP)

There are only 25 spots. While I'd love to bang this against as many IMAP servers as possible, I'm maxed out on developer device IDs in Apple's developer program and have resorted to "borrowing" them from another developer account.

Existing Beta Users: Yup, you can get the new version! You can just re-use the personalized download links I sent you - they will pull the newest version. You'll need to delete the old version first. You can verify you have the new version by going into the "Status" screen - it should say "V1.5". Enjoy!

P.S.: V1.5 also has a localized German UI if your iPhone is set to German. Let me know what you think - it may not be perfect as I put it together at 3 am last night.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Help me Test the New reMail

Want better search on your iPhone? I'm beta testing a new version of reMail for the iPhone and need your help.

We've been working hard on the new reMail. In this new version, 80% of the code is brand new. It does amazing new things. If you want to help me test it, sign up for the Private Beta here:

reMail Private Beta Signup

There are only 50 spots. You have to have an iPhone with the 3.0 OS and a Gmail account (we'll later support other account types as well). If you sign up, you can't blog / tweet / write about reMail until it's released. Also, I'm trying to get real iPhone users, not the Silicon Valley crowd - read the beta agreement to see if you can participate.

Thanks for your help! I hope you guys will love the new version as much as we do.

Update 1: The Private Beta is now full.
Update 2: All invites have now been sent. Mail me if you didn't get your invite.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Changing Math Education

Just last week, I was joking with my dad about how both of us have entered very technical careers, yet can't remember the last time we've used a differential equation for work reasons.

Then I found this short TED video (you should watch it) where Arthur Benjamin suggests to change the focus from teaching towards calculus to teaching towards statistics and probability. I agree. I can't remember a single workday in the last month where I wasn't using statistical methods or probabilities.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

How the Mighty Fall

Wow, I haven't blogged in a while. A little while ago, I went to Europe for a week to see my parents and friends. Since then, I've been busy working on a new version of reMail, which has been consuming most of my time.

On the way back, I ran out of reading material for the flight. At Amsterdam Schipol airport, I bought How the Mighty Fall, Jim Collins' new book, at an unprecedented level of markup, even for an airport bookstore. But it was worth it.

Unlike Collins' previous books, this isn't about how to build a great company or turn a good one into a great one. It's about how great companies die, and how some of them almost die, and then recover.

For me, the main takeaway was this: Usually, when great companies start struggling, they don't die because they ignore their problems, or stop innovating. Instead, what happens is often they see that their current model isn't working, and then try to branch out into various, disconnected directions in an uncoordinated fashion.

A great example from the book is Rubbermaid, which in the 1990's was churning out one new product a day. Another common example of grasping for salvation seems to be bringing on a new, charismatic CEO or a game-changing acquisition.

Contrast this with Louis Gerstner's approach to turn around IBM. He didn't make big flashy moves in his first 100 days in office. Instead, he talked to customers and employees, came up with a single plan to turn IBM into a services company, and executed against that plan in a focused and disciplined manner, making IBM great again.

This is one common theme that runs through Collison's books: Avoid the flashy, the bold, the excessive. Be clear about the company's core values. Build your business through disciplined thought, disciplined action, and one small step at a time.

Update: Here's a great contrary opinion on this book.

Monday, June 01, 2009

An App Store for Google Wave

In the previous post, I evaluated business models for Google Wave. But there's a promising business model I forgot. It was suggested by Carl Putscher, one of the commenters.

Google Wave App Store

If Google Wave takes off, developers will many build useful additions and extensions using the API. I can imagine that some of these will be so useful that users would pay for them. A third party could then develop an App Store that sells themes, extensions, and subscriptions to extensions. They could then take a 30% cut, much like Apple does for the iPhone.

Verdict: Technically, I imagine that this would be pretty easy to implement for gadgets, and hard for things like themes or elaborate applications - I'd have to see the source code to really judge. The risk here is that Google could do this first. I'd expect they could do this better than any third party could.

Rating:

Random thought: It would be interesting to know how the Cydia Store is doing, which is a less restrictive, third party App Store for the iPhone.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Business Opportunities around Google Wave

How could you build a business with the newly announced Google Wave?

Wave is like email mixed with collaborative editing and instant messaging. It's conceivable that the Google Wave paradigm will replace today's group collaboration tools with something less fractured (everything's in one place), universal (document equals IM equals email) and more centralized (one application instead of many). Heck, it could even replace email itself.

What's most exciting, though, is that Google Wave will be open source. Unlike with Google Apps, you'll be able to look inside the box, deploy your own servers, customize, and extend.

Let's say that Google will be able to pull this off, and soon after launch, Wave has millions of users. What business opportunities exist around Google Wave? What can startups, software vendors, and consulting companies offer that could be profitable? Here are a couple of ideas,. I've rated them 1-5 stars based on how promising I think they are.

Migration Tools and Services

Companies today use Outlook and Exchange. If Wave is good enough, some of today's users of Outlook, Exchange, Notes, or even SharePoint could be convinced to switch, either in whole or just for a part of their workflow. Third parties could offer migration tools and services that allow companies to get started and port their existing data - Terabytes of emails and documents - into Google Wave.

Verdict: I think this could be a reasonable play for small service providers and ISVs, provided that Wave is convincing enough for companies. For highly customized Exchange installations, there's no one-size-fits-all approach, so there's a lot of room for service providers and tailored solutions. No billion dollar opportunity here, though.

Rating:

Enterprise Wave

The key to making organizations switch to Google Wave is to make it sufficiently full featured for enterprise use. In particular, it's hard to see anyone switching from Outlook without tightly integrated group calendaring, task lists, and mobile sync. Since Wave is open source, you could add those in and sell an "enterprise version" of Wave under your own brand.

Verdict: This could work. Google doesn't have a stellar record in catering to enterprises. Compare the measly 10 million hosted Gmail accounts with the 40 million paid Zimbra accounts out there. Google is better with consumers, and might leave a lot of room for an enterprise version of Wave built by a third party. Played well, this is a billion-dollar opportunity.

Rating:

Extensions

There is no shortage of plugins, extensions, and add-ins to Microsoft Outlook: Think Xobni, Gwabbit, ClearContext, and many little helpers that can you extract attachments, schedule emails, or remove duplicate contacts. Some of these tools are highly profitable paid extensions, and it's conceivable that you could build and charge for extensions that add useful features to Google Wave.

Verdict: As a business, this isn't promising, at least for the next few years. What makes building Outlook plugins so attractive is the size of the target market - 400 million users. It took Gmail 5 years to get to around 150 million users, and I expect the adoption curve to be similar for Google Wave. It's conceivable that Google Wave will one day add a "Google Wave App Store", where users can buy extensions and themes for cash. If that happens, this becomes much more exciting.

Rating:

Hosting

Since Google Wave is open source, you can host the server on your own hardware. There's no shortage of hosted Exchange providers - a quick search will give you many offerings that will give you an exchange account for $9.95 a month. Similarly, you could host Google Wave accounts for a fee - similar to Acme Wave in the keynote demo (1h:06).

Verdict: Could this work? It depends on what Google will offer for free. My guess is that Google Wave will start as another piece of Google Apps, where it's $50/user account/year, with plenty of space. In hosting, Google has economies of scale - noone runs more servers more cheaply. So forget beating Google on price. Thus, the target market is be reduced to the segment of users that wouldn't trust Google with their data. That segment is pretty small.

Rating:

Wave as a Feature


I imagine that this will be the most common type of use for Google Wave. Once it's released, websites will replace systems for commenting and user-generated content (e.g. restaurant reviews) with Google Wave. I imagine this to be much like the Google Wave inside Orkut, shown in the keynote at 0h:24. Integrating Google Wave can be useful for certain type of sites - think Yelp, Foodoro, Divvyshot, or RetailMeNot.

Verdict: This is not a business by itself. It's something that could improve your existing offering, much like using Disqus will increase the quality and number of comments on your page. I can imagine scenarios in which having Google Wave on your site would improve its quality, thus leading more traffic, which in turn gives you more Pro account signups, ad clicks, etc.

Rating:

Forgot Something?

As you may have noticed, most of my examples in here come from my understanding of the Microsoft Exchange and Gmail ecosystems. Due to my email-heavy background, I've approached this from an email-centric perspective.

You may also have noticed that there's no five-star idea so far. If you have one, let me know or leave a comment below!

Update: Seems like I forgot one very promising idea: An App Store for Google Wave

Thursday, May 28, 2009

A Technical Look at Google Wave

When I visited Stephanie and Douwe in Sydney last year, they would not tell me what they were working on, to the point of paranoia. When visiting Google's Sydney office, Stephanie made sure I couldn't see any of the screens. I eventually came up with the hypothesis that they were going to replace one of Google's central products - one of Google Search, Apps, or Gmail. Turns out, I wasn't far from reality: Google Wave seems to want to unite the last two.

This is a grand and ambitious plan. From a quick look at the Draft Protocol, here's the rough game plan:
  1. the traditional MIME-based email structure is replaced by wavelets (an atomic message, with multiple documents inside) and operations (a change delta between versions of a message).

  2. SMTP is replaced with XMPP.

  3. IMAP is replaced with "Request elements" against the Google Wave server.

Is this better than the MIME + SMTP + IMAP? I think so.

Here are some big open questions that I'd like to know an answer to:
  1. What's the migration path to Google Wave? This is clearly aimed at replacing email as your main tool. If I'm currently using Exchange or Google Apps for my domain, is there going to be an easy way to switch over to Google Wave?

  2. Authentication across servers: Can any server publish to any other server? How can a client or a server access waves on another server and restrict access to validated users?

  3. Could this architecture worsen the spam problem: Can't spammers just publish a bunch of waves to another server? I'm not familiar enough with XMPP to answer this.

Lastly, I'm very happy that with reMail, I'm not stepping on Stephanie's and Douwe's toes, but working on the orthogonal problems of better priorization, better search, and better views of your email data. Good.

---

Update: As for my points about spam and authentication: In IM-like fashion, users need to be added and removed from a wave by someone already a part of the wave (see the addparticipant / removeparticipant calls in the spec). Thus, spammers won't be able to spam existing waves. I'm still not sure who can initiate waves and invite participants - anyone from any server? Or is there some spam protection mechanism I'm missing?

Update 2: Maybe a better way to look at this is taking email, which people have been abusing as document transmission + versioning + IM, and rolling those features into the core protocol. Instead of messages, we create a document and send around deltas of it. Just like SVN, but with better views and features.

Update 3: I need to look through my inbox and figure out what % of conversations and use cases this would solve for me. A lot of my email is external notificiations ("someone sent you a Facebook message"), which Google Wave wouldn't improve. Google Wave's use case is clearly collaborative work and decision making.

Update 4: I just had a Scary Thought. Maybe the masterplan isn't to migrate everyone over from email, but to create a parallel world of Google Wave. Ugh. Another inbox to check, in addition to email + RSS + twitter + Facebook + bug tracker + Hacker News.

Update 5: Just saw this comment on HN. A pretty good summary, if a bit too negative.

Friday, May 22, 2009

I need your IMAP Settings!

I'm planning to build an "IMAP Settings Directory" for an upcoming version of reMail Search, and I need your help!

Right now when you sign up for reMail Search, you need to manually enter your server settings. That means not only looking them up on your computer. You also need to type it in on the iPhone's small keyboard. That's painful.

In the next version of reMail Search, I want to take a different approach: You tell me who your email provider is, and reMail will pre-fill IMAP settings for you. I want to have this for the top 20 hosted email providers at a minimum.

If you're using a third-party provider to host your email, please leave a comment on this post with a link to their IMAP configuration page. This crowdsourced approach worked well for an Outlook-related request I had last year, so I'm going to try it again.

Here are two examples for what I want:
  1. Mailtrust IMAP configuration page
  2. Gmail IMAP configuration page

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

reMail Search - New Version: V1.4

Users of reMail Search: Please upgrade to the new version, V1.4! It's available on the App Store starting today.

The new version fixes a couple of minor bugs and improves autocompletion speed.

On your iPhone, click on the "App Store" icon, click "Updates", and choose "reMail Search".

P.S.: In case you were wondering: We didn't skip any version numbers. Versions 1.0-1.2 were version numbers we used while testing the application inside our YCombinator batch.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

reMail Search Status Update 2

There are lots of people waiting to get into the reMail Search Beta, and you might be wondering why you haven't gotten your invite yet.

I've been working on fixing problems that early users have been reporting, one by one. I've also uploaded a new version of the application into the App Store approval process - it fixes some small issues and speeds up autocompletion and query parsing significantly from the first version. Let's hope it will make it will get approved quickly!

And during all of this, at a strategically bad time, I've moved into a new apartment, but more about that later ...

I've been sending out small batches of invites every day or so. I'll keep you posted on reMail Search right here.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

reMail Search Status Update

The people want powerful full-text email search on their iPhone.*

They want it so badly, in fact, that our servers were running red hot yesterday with signups and new users - many more than I had expected.

I turned off new signups for now. For the days, I'll be working on adding more servers, storage capacity, and resolving some bottlenecks in our code. I'm pretty sure I'll be able to add more accounts by Thursday morning Pacific time, but I can't quite guarantee it.

Right now, if you download reMail Search off the iTunes Store, you'll see a screen saying that we disabled signups for now. It will also ask you to join our waiting list. I'll send out notifications to people on the waiting list once I've added more capacity, so please do add yourself. I've also included a few questions about your email behavior to better understand our users.

Thanks for your patience!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Launching reMail Search

Quick, what's the most annoying thing about the iPhone's email client? Yup, it's the lack of email search. That's why we built reMail Search for the iPhone. And we're launching a first version today.

reMail Search doesn't just search the subject, to, and from - it's full-text search of your email, on your device.

Even better, reMail Search works offline! You can search your email when you're driving through a tunnel or when you're in a plane. Our server syncs emails you're likely to search for on the device, and you can search them even when you're offline. When you're offline, you can search your entire email archives - with older search results coming from reMail's server.


We've built a lot of smart search features into reMail Search. The feature I use the most is initials search. Typing on the little screen is hard, and the most common type of search query is for people's names. Let's say I need to find an email from Jessica Livingston at YCombinator - I type in "JL", and reMail will suggest a search for "Jessica Livingston".

Sometimes you'll want to do advanced searches from your phone. Stuff like "Only search for everything from Paul that I got last week". If you type in "paul inbox last week", reMail will detect that "paul" is a person restriction, "inbox" is a folder, and "last week" is a time restriction. No advanced search dialogs or typing search operators.

For more, check out our product website at www.remail.com.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Gmail T-Shirt, an Artifact from the Past

I'm moving to a new apartment, and am busy packing up my stuff. Somewhere deep in my clothes drawer, I found this washed-out gem. Here's the front:



And here's the back:



I love this T-Shirt because it's a good reminder of just how big of a deal 1 GB of free storage was 5 years ago. Also, I did get a gig with Google in 2004, and my start date was, I believe, Apr 17 - close enough. I thought I'd lost this shirt in my last move - happy to have it back.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Releasing Something New, Every Week

I'm trying something new: For the next four weeks, reMail will be releasing a new feature or product every single week.

Pretty radical, eh? Here's why I'm doing this: I'm a perfectionist and need to be constrained by time rather than "good enough". Here are the three recent events that triggered this experiment:
  1. I organized a Post-YC dinner for my former batch and invited Dropbox Fouder/CEO Drew Houston to come and speak. He talked about Dropbox's private beta period, and how early audiences don't care about perfect; They care about new ideas and usefulness.
  2. I built reBoxed, an experiment in email prioritization, in 3 days, with that specific deadline in mind. Despite being a work-in-progress at launch, the result was successful and gave me plenty of new ideas.
  3. I need to start testing my hypotheses about email users (if you've been reading this blog, you know I have a lot of them), and there's no better way to do that than to give them a product to play with.

I have a couple of these products/features in various stages of completion, so I know roughly what I'll be doing for the next few weeks. I'm also thinking about charging for some of these products and features from the get-go, Eric-Ries-style. "Buy before you try", if you will. More on that later.

I'm leaving for a weeklong trip to Europe on May 26 to visit some friends, and that week will conclude this experiment. Until then, watch this space.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

reBoxed: Global People Rankings

reBoxedI'm experimenting with a new feature for reBoxed, the email prioritization tool I built two weeks ago.

By having you and others vote on people's relative importance, reBoxed re-sorts your inbox according to the importance of senders in your inbox. But wouldn't it be interesting to see the most important contacts based on the votes of you and others? That's why I built a feature called "Global Ranking", which gives you the global importance of people in your inbox based on everyone's votes.



I'm enforcing two rules to protect everyone's privacy:
  1. You can only see the global importance of people you have communicated with from the Gmail account you're using.
  2. You can only see the global importance of people whom you've voted on yourself (either for or against). If you don't see enough people in your global ranks, you should re-play the reBoxed voting game a couple of times.
Additionally, Global Rankings will not show rankings for addresses you've marked as "not a person" - bulk senders, spammers, and the like - that adds a little more sanity to the page.

You can access the feature through your reBoxed Inbox, by clicking on "Global Rankings".

Give it a spin and let me know what you think! As always, you should report bugs on the reBoxed GetSatisfaction page.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Email Reply Behaviors

I found a great paper by Thomas Karagiannis and Milan Vojnovic at Microsoft Research Cambridge in my email this morning and thought I'd share some of the highlights with you.

In the paper, they surveyed email behavior in a large company, and analyzed how likely it was that emails will be replied to, and how long the replies would take. They looked at all the various factors - length of the email, number of recipients, time of day, and so on. I thought I'd paste in a couple of the highlights.

First of all, let's look at the relationship between the size of an email and average reply time. Anecdotally, I reply to short emails quickly, but if you send me a long email, you're going to have to wait for a reply. This is true in general:

Let's look at queue size vs. reply time. When I get lots of emails, some of them get pushed further and further down my inbox, and it will probably take me a while to get to them. This is a beautiful visualization of that effect:

Do replies get sent at particular times of the day? Heck yeah! The graph below shows time of day vs. replies sent, and you can see how they follow a clear awake / asleep pattern:


But a main takeaway for me is the following graph. I've always assumed that you'd reply faster to people above you in the company hierarchy - your manager would get replies faster than people at your level or below. You'd think you reply to Steve Ballmer faster than to Joe Intern. This does not hold true. On the graph below, dots to the left are "replies higher-ups", dots to the right are "replies to lower-downs". As you can see, more important people do not receive faster replies.


Here's the paper for people interested in more detail:

Behavioral Profiles for Advanced Email Features, Thomas Karagiannis and Milan Vojnovic, Microsoft Research, WWW-2009, Madrid, Spain [PDF]

Friday, April 17, 2009

48 Hours of reBoxed

reBoxedAnother quick update on reBoxed. I launched it a little more than 48 hours ago. Here's the visitor curve so far from Google Analytics - looks a lot like a hockeystick:



And this is what has happened since my last update:
  • reBoxed was covered in ReadWriteWeb and Lifehacker.
  • reBoxed now has 414 users - compare that to 128 users at this hour yesterday.

I expect that growth will fall off over the weekend, as fewer people use the Internet on weekends. I've decided that I'll take a few more days trying to incorporate user feedback and make the site more useful (rather than working on reMail's core product), but I'm taking part of the weekend off for my own sanity. Hopefully, you'll see new features on reBoxed sometime early next week.

reBoxed on ReadWriteWeb

Marshall Kirkpatrick writes on ReadWriteWeb:

Former Gmail engineer Gabor Cselle has been working on improving email for years. This week he built a new system for prioritizing all the emails in your inbox. It's called ReBoxed, and it relies on crowdsourced A/B preference voting on email senders, and Cselle built it in just 3 days.

Marshall points out some flaws in our current ranking algorithm (There any many, considering I wrote it so quickly), but closes with this:

ReBoxed is a small project that presumably could become a part of Cselle's larger email startup company, ReMail. That service is yet to launch but if this is the kind of creativity that will be included there, we're excited to see it.

I'll be working on reBoxed all day today and will keep you updated. Meanwhile, check out reboxed.remail.com.