Basecamp HEY: Why’d You Have to Change Everything?

Hey is a mail service you may have heard of. It’s been one of the trendy new things on the internet this year and it’s intriguing because it so solidly comes from a “you’re doing it wrong” sort of mentality. There’s just the tiniest hint of religious zeal about it.

To be sure, though: there are awesome redesigns of the email experience in Hey. To take one small but wonderful capability: You can change the subject of an email or thread for yourself, so that you always see it with that subject, even though all the other suckers out there in old-school land still see their old, ill-considered email subject lines.

Hey Screening

And when a new person sends you something in Hey, you don’t receive it. How’s that for email magic?

No, seriously, you get a separate button that leads to a page that shows a line or two of each email from each new sender. You decide whether you want to receive emails from this sender or not. You can change your mind later, but if you wish the sender didn’t exist, then they don’t.

This is golden, I’ll be the first to say. Changing the subject header at will? Also golden. But it’s Hey’s way or the highway: you don’t get folders, for instance. You do get category labels (as with mail clients in general these days). To be honest, it may well be that categories are all anyone needs in email.

Hey, No Folders!

The fact is, I do something very close to using no folders in my various email accounts. Everything that I think is worth keeping goes into one subfolder, which I rather creatively call “hold.” Everything that doesn’t go into “hold” is deleted (by me, by hand). Multiple folders, I’ve tended to think, are for people who don’t have proper search functions.

For me, I suspect that paying a hundred bucks a year for a new email system that locks me into a particular client is a bridge too far. I’ll have already paid for Office for the year (and, frankly, in the business world there’s little choice but to do so) and that comes with Outlook, which is a first-rate email client even if it doesn’t let you change subject headers.

But I suspect that some of the features are, in some way or other, going to sneak into the world of traditional SMTP and IMAP email. Like a client that lets you screen senders on their first appearance in your inbox. Consider that Gmail already does a fairly good job of sorting social and sales-pitch emails into separate tabs. They wouldn’t have to move that much further to build the initial screening in. I don’t know that people will pay a premium for privacy (they haven’t often, historically), but they’ll be happy enough to get it for free.

This kind of thing is going to make email a better experience and that’s going to upend the world online marketing, which is still largely based on pummeling your inbox after arm-twisting you into giving up your email. If you can kill that kind of email in a single stroke (as opposed to doing the same thing in several steps by creating a rule in Outlook), then email marketers are going to have to be a great deal more engaging and entertaining if they’re going to stay alive in inboxes (where they now thrive in an atmosphere where it’s often too much bother to cull them).

No More Total Crap Marketing Emails

We’re going to have to write emails that people actually want to read. Marketing gurus always give lip service to this idea, but the arrival of Hey may mark the shift to people radically reclaiming their inboxes.