Sunday, June 22, 2008

Book Review: Send

Send is a refreshing book. In email research and email software startups, we spend our time coming up with better ways of displaying and organizing email. In this book, David Shipley, Op-Ed page editor of the New York Times and Will Schwalbe, a journalist and editor, discuss the other part of the equation: The humans behind those messages.

Send shines the light on emotions and motives: The emails that are sent to create the impression of progress. The passive-aggressive messages you send when you feel like you’ve been wronged and, more importantly, how to avoid them.

At parts, the book reads like "Email for Dummies", but there are some highlights: I shiver when people send me subject lines like "Quick question" and "Great News", when they should have written "Release date for next version?" and "Expenses approved". This is the book you want to hand out to the guilty.

I'm already wondering about how to put this into a product: Could we make software that orders people to rewrite the email in a more effective manner? It could pop up "Your subject line sucks" and make you rewrite it before you send. Could we find out the mood someone was in when sending a message and display it alongside the email? Food for thought.

Disclosure: I didn't buy this book - I found it in my snail mail one day, and I can only guess that the authors sent it to me. Keep'em coming - this is a good way to get your ideas read by the email community.


Dan said...

I read the book as well, and it was entertaining. Still, I found it patronizing in parts: They spend 3 or 4 pages on telling us how to choose To vs. Cc recipients on an email. Yawn.

Will said...

Guilty as charged! I am one of the authors and I did send you a copy of the book via snail mail -- because I am so interested in what you are up to at Xobni. I love email but it has also taken over my life, so I'm interested in everything people come up with to try to get it under control. Xobni is brilliant.

Glad you liked the section on subject lines -- the other kind of subject line that drives me crazy is an outdated one.

And thanks to Dan for the comment. But I need to disagree on the need to go on about To: versus Cc: -- I think we could have spent twenty pages on it and still people would mess it up. The problem is that people email reflexively -- they hit "Reply All" and let the fields fill in automatically, but don't think to examine who the email is now addressed to and who is now cc'd. Our point: you really do need to think about this every time you originate an email or reply to one.