Grievances with email clients and the state of email usage


I’ve been getting interested about email and how it works, from both a practical and conceptual point of view. I’ve been learning about email clients, SMTP servers etc., but also how it developed as a network for communication, using existing systems like the postal service as a starting point. This post isn’t going to be about the history of email or how email servers operate, these subjects can be explored in many other articles and books. Instead it’s about my own experiences with email, how I think the usage of email has changed over the last 10 years, and how this has impacted what features and standards which are expected from an email client in 2017.

For about a year I used Alpine as my email client, linked to the Gmail account which I am still unable to shed. During this year I was not working in an office, I travelled a lot and rarely had to exchange attachments. My emails were simple and ultimately I didn’t receive nearly as many of them as I do now, being back in an office where I regularly share documents, get feedback on ideas, book meetings, conduct group conservations over email etc..

Alpine screenshot

Recently I switched back to using Apple’s, which is very sad. I had three main reasons for doing this: operates really nicely in some respects. It has flags so I can organise my emails by type, it has reasonable search functions for finding keywords in email text, and it can manage multiple email accounts, but other things are infuriating:

Basically, it’s a big and clunky application for a task that I don’t believe should be particularly complicated. But then, I think that in general email the email system has become big and clunky, with many people using it for things I don’t think it was ever designed for, meaning that these things are often executed badly.

I always try to write my emails in plain text, but more and more I am receiving emails in HTML or some other sort of rich text. At first these were just from companies advertising things, but more recently it’s extended to emails within my department, advertising a seminar or a conference. Now luckily these emails often come with a plain text alternative, but not always. Really my gripe is that it seems unnecessary to write a simple text based email with html styling.

I often receive email attachments for online calendar services (another topic with opinions) that tries to integrate directly into my calendar application, which rarely works as planned, and given that people use so many different calendar and email clients I think it’s unlikely to work for all of them. I would much rather add my own calendar events, based off an email which contains words.