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(Couple in front of a burning house; one comforts the other) On the other hand: inbox zero.

Hotmail

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I’ve given up on inbox zero, that holy grail of email productivity. For that matter, I’ve given up on pretty much everything zero.

My desktop is an anthill of icons (shoveled periodically into folders because I read once that every icon on your desktop chews up processor cycles and also is an abomination unto Apple). My browsers are bursting with open tabs. I have more Finder windows open than there are windows in every house I’ve ever lived in. I have four books partly finished on my Kindle and three science fiction novels on the go on my nightstand.

And you know what? I’ve made my peace with it. With all of it. Because I think at some level, I actually want a queue in every one of my life’s inboxes. Subconsciously, maybe I’m terrified of dying alone and unloved… but by god, at least I’ll have my two hundred open Firefox tabs to keep me company.

Perhaps what’s lacking for those of us who haven’t reached inbox zero isn’t persistence, but unbelievable, superhuman courage. Inbox zero demands that you one day stare unblinking and alone into the abyss, without the comfort of knowing several thousand unread newsletters (that one from last week, “Top marketers share their branding secrets for the afterlife,” would sure come in handy right now, wouldn’t it?) are standing be your side.

So to those of you with immaculate desktops, cavernous empty inboxes and a single, perfect browser tab open, I’m in awe. And it’s only partly from your work ethic and level of organization. What really impresses me is your capacity to embrace the looming void, your Kierkegaardian ability to define meaning in your life without relying on an endless list of unsorted Evernote clips to provide that meaning for you.

Inbox zero is for superheroes.

And good for you. Now if you’ll excuse me, Clark Kent here has some email to read.

(battered knight to wizard) I have found the Sacred Hidden Link, chanted the Incantation of the Unknown Username, and slain the Captcha Dragon. I now claim my reward: unsubscribe me from your damn newsletter.

Are you sure you want to unsubscribe? Really, really sure? Really, really, rea–

Are you sure you want to unsubscribe? Really, really sure? Really, really, rea– published on Purchase print

The late, lamented TV comedy Better Off Ted has some great lines. But few surpassed Veronica telling Phil and Lem “I would like to unsubscribe from whatever you’re doing right now.”

Unsubscribing is something email list managers usually don’t want you to do. They like to have lots and lots and lots of records in their lists, even if the people represented by those records don’t especially want to be there. And more than a few mailing lists make unsubscribing a pain in the ass — apparently in the hopes that would-be unsubscribers will give up.

Which, frankly, is more than a little crazy. I can think of countless seething reasons why as a subscriber, I find that abusive and unethical. But I’d argue it’s also counterproductive for email marketers, too.

Sure, the marginal cost of maintaining one record out of thousands (or millions) and sending them email is trivially small. But if a lot of your subscribers have no interest in what you’re sending — or at least in reading it in this format — then you pay in other ways.

Like the way performance measurement and benchmarking become a lot less meaningful. Are you way behind your peers’ open rates because that last email’s subject line read “Keep Calm And Buy Our Tractor Pistons,” or because their lists aren’t inflated with reluctant subscribers? Is your clickthrough rate steadily declining because your calls to action aren’t working, or because apathy is building up in your list like barnacles?

I’m not saying email marketers are the worst about this. (Facebook still beats them all with their heart-string-tugging “But these close friends will miss you if you leave Facebook!” account-deletion-confirmation screen.) But c’mon, people.

By the way, while I was searching for the exact Better off Ted quotation with keywords including “Ted” and “unsubscribe,” I came up with this lovely TED talk by James Veitch. Enjoy.

 

The Oops Files: attachments

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Number two in our oops files: forgetting to send the attachment. The only thing worse is when you then send a nagging note saying why haven’t you read that document I sent you?

The Oops Files: cc

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Having screwed up in a minor but still awkward way in an email exchange with a friend earlier today, I sent them a little self-deprecating image that I hoped

a) they would find funny, and
b) would prevent them from hating me, and prevent me from dying alone and unloved.

Then, after making a realistic appraisal of my chances of ever having a gaffe again, and Skitch still being open, I made a few more – just in case.

And I now give them to you, because I don’t want you to die alone and unloved, either. (Updated: I’ve moved them into separate posts for the sake of, well, for the children.)

Knock, knock

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Think about spam, and you probably think about unsolicited commercial email. You know, replica Rolexes, cheap pharmaceuticals, suspiciously low prices on Adobe software and, uh, enlargement offers (which turn out to betotal ripoffs that take advantage of emotionally vulnerable people… ahem).

But it turns out it’s also an issue in the building-a-better-world world. Nonprofit organizations that get a little caught up in the importance of their message turn to blasting out email to recipients who’ve never given them permission… and wind up surprised when their domains turn up on spam blacklists.

Enter No Nonprofit Spam, a new blog devoted to the premise that nonprofits are damaging themselves and the broader ecosystem with unsolicited bulk email. The blogging team includes some giants in the nptech community, folks like Deborah Elizabeth Finn and Peter Campbell.

Even if the issue doesn’t speak to you, it’s a fun read. Especially because it hasn’t shown up, unsolicited, in your inbox.

 

 

Inbox Zero saves lives, people.

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