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October 09, 2013

Reinventing the Email Wheel

I've started running into an alarming number of individual enclaves that reinvent communication on the internet. For example, a way to contact customer service. You use a web form to submit a message and it uses the same fields as an email. A "to" field which is usually limited by a selection box, a subject and a body for the bulk of the message. All further communication is handled through the website. Is there really value added to reinvent email? Even worse is that many of these systems don't alert you that a reply has been posted, so you need to continually log in to this system to poll and see if a new message has arrived. Messages are also sent as notifications, in which case you aren't even expecting them and have no idea they exist or to look for them. Certainly there are cases where there is value added by creating a new system online. Perhaps to track more information in a database or to secure or authenticate the communication beyond what email provides for example. But the system can still send email with the details in most cases and in all cases it should at least send an email notification that a message exists in the enclave. Email is a well understood and utilized system, while these enclaves vary in the usability, functionality, security and quality. I've run into plenty of systems that were severely lacking common features and/or were full of bugs. Two recent examples. A system where you couldn't see replies to your message and another system where you couldn't reply to a message because it contained "illegal" characters, yet somehow the message containing them was sent to you.


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