Don't Email Me at 2am

Series: delightful products August 02, 2013

Almost every web app these days sends emails. You’ve got your “thanks for registering” emails, your “password reset” emails, your “someone added a comment to your post” emails. Whatever, that’s fine.

But I wish developers would pay a little more to attention to the context in which they are sending me these messages.

I’ve noticed the difference recently in two apps in particular.

Beeminder is a goal tracking application that encourages you to make steady progress to stay on track. Every day or so you enter data into the app about your goal. When you start going off track, Beeminder starts buzzing you.

You start getting a daily email that summarizes your progress and lets you enter data straight from the email by replying. But there are some smaller details that I really like.

The email comes at 9:30am — at the start of the day — so I’m reminded to make some progress that day. It is a small thing, but they could send an email at 10pm asking me to log what I did that day. But at 10pm, it’s probably too late to do anything if I forgot.

Compare this to an email I got this morning from Leanpub.

Leanpub is a tool for authors to create ebooks that makes it easy to add updates and get them automatically beam them down to my Kindle. I really like the app and have brought a dozen books using their platform.

At 1:48am this morning, I was drifting off to sleep when my phone buzzed. I had an email. It was Leanpub telling me that a new version of a book I had purchased was available. That’s great, Leanpub, but I don’t really care and you just woke me up. Now I have a negative connotation associated with your emails, I might unsubscribe or mark them as spam. But mostly I’m just annoyed.

If I had to guess, I bet the logic for Leanpub goes something like: when a publisher updates their book, email all the book owners to tell them an update is available. Sounds great, until you consider an author in California pushing an update at 10:48pm that buzzes my phone in the wee hours of the night. Leanpub should really batch up these emails and send them out during normal waking hours.

Another thing that Beeminder does well is when you stop entering data into the app, it starts a gradual back-off. If I stop responding to daily emails, it starts sending them every few days, then every week, then just stops completely.

This is another trick that Leanpub should steal. I’ve gotten 5 emails about updates to a certain book I bought. I haven’t clicked any of the “download update” links in any of the emails. Why doesn’t Leanpub start emailing me less often? Maybe only when a major update happens, instead of several minor ones?

The major difference between Beeminder and Leanpub emails is that one feels like a thought-out user interaction and the other feels like a developer afterthought.

Beeminder probably sat down and worked through how a user would receive their emails, where as it seems that Leanpub probably had a story that said “As a user, I want to receive an email when a book I own gets updated” and just cranked it out.

The moral of the story: if you are going to send an email in your application, make sure you think about the context. Trivial details like when the user is going to receive the email can make all the difference.

built with , Jekyll, and GitHub Pages — read the fine print