I was introduced to Hey by Jason Fried's demo video, which might be one of my favorite product demo videos ever. The ideas behind Hey seem very obviously good, which makes you think: 1. Will this actually fix my email, and 2. Why has no one ever done this before? I cover the first question in this post. (Edit: The second post is now up.)
I love getting email, but my personal Gmail inbox feels like an overflowing box of dirty rags that could use some love. Auto-classifying emails into social and promotions was an improvement, but that was 2013, and my email habits have evolved.
- Time available to manage personal email is going down.
- Amount of "read-only email" (newsletters and other updates that don't need replies) is growing.
- IM apps are taking over sync communication, which is changing the nature of email conversations (mostly intros, files, "store of info" versus "medium of exchange", to use a Bitcoin analogy).
- Growing discomfort with the Google ecosystem and an urge to pay for, and therefore control, my email.
Gmail was launched in a world where email storage was a constraint (offering 1GB, 500x more than competition). Hey focuses on productivity and lack of human attention — and gets it mostly right. I feel much better about my personal inbox, but the migration hasn't been smooth.
The apps feel great
The web and mobile apps are clean and fast. Large font sizes and information density that feels just right. Page loads and app launches are snappy. I can open emails in separate tabs with the web app—something that feels weird with Gmail because of how heavy the app is. I've picked up the keyboard shortcuts, since they are given first-class treatment and not hidden away as pro features. The mobile app opens links in Safari, without any dark UI patterns to nudge me towards Chrome.
Composing an email feels comfortable. The compose modal in Gmail has always left me feeling on edge: what if I accidentally closed the modal, and my train of thought with it. Lack of formatting options is awesome. Customizing font face, color and size should have never been invented.
The feed is a stress reliever
Hey gives you "the Feed", to put read-only, non-urgent email. Emails in the Feed don't contribute to unread counts and the one-page newsfeed-style UI works great for such emails.
Control incoming emails, finally
Unsubscribing from unwanted emails is finally solved with "the Screener", where one can screen out unwanted emails from landing in the inbox. Explicitly defining where emails go (inbox, "Feed" or "Screened out") means I never have to drag emails to the primary tab to teach an algorithm.
Mobile notifications are turned off by default, and can be turned on for specific threads when required.
While the Screener is incredibly useful, the decision to screen someone out feels overloaded. Screening out marketing@techstartup is easy, but screening noreply@techstartup isn't, because techstartup decided to reuse the same account for receipts and offers. I can check "Screened out" for false negatives, but it feels like browsing spam.
Cannot send calendar invites
The lack of a calendar integration is my biggest issue with Hey. More specifically, the inability to send calendar invites. My current workaround is to schedule Zoom meetings, which only works for a pandemic world where all meetings are on Zoom.
Email forwarding feels ugly
I'm now stuck with two email services. While Hey is my primary email inbox, my dependency on Gmail is here to stay. I still use Gmail to search old emails and prefer replying from within Gmail for some cases, especially when a new address would confuse the recipient.