Creating a hey mail style mail organizer - Intro and Project Definition

This feels a little weird to share at this time given everything that's going on with basecamp and the fact that I just discontinued my use of the hey mail product. It's just that this is an idea I've had for a while. From the time that hey mail launched in fact.

At a conceptual level, the workflow that hey delivers is second to none. It is very similar to the GTD workflow in the sense that your "Screener" and "Imbox" is a list of items to process. To decide what action you want to take against them. Do you want to receive these mails in the first place? Where do you want these mails to actually go? And then there's the concept of setting them aside to reply later or setting them "aside" which tracks very closely to GTD's "next actions" and "reference" concepts.

Once I saw hey, I wondered, how come they built this as their own email service instead of as an email client? But then I thought about all the custom workflows and features they'd need to support and I realised that's not going to fit in with Basecamp's method's of building opinionated workflow based software. But I'm not a company. I could build an open source tool that does a lot of the stuff that Hey does right? And it doesn't have to be perfect because there are no businesses that should be depending on it. And the tool I build would support open standards such as IMAP and would be able to communicate with any inbox whether it be gmail or fastmail. Well... It wouldn't be able to communicate with Hey Mail because... Hey doesn't support IMAP 😭

Anyway. That's what I want to build. What I've wanted to build for a while. A client that interfaces with any type of inbox and one that promotes the hey workflow of processing email.

So without further ado, into the project definition we go! Given below are the raw notes I made for the project definition

Timeline: My timeline is 4 weeks starting from tomorrow. So my start date would be May 7th 2021 and my end date is June 4th 2021

Problem statement

The workflow that hey mail uses is incredibly powerful. However, the methodology does not exist for other email services. Furthermore, hey does not integrate with other email providers which means that we have an opportunity to build the workflow but into a client that supports all types of email inboxes

Proposed solution

To build an email organizer which syncs with your standard inbox and then screens in email from contacts you've never seen. When screening in, emails can be screened into the "communication", "feed", and "paper trail" folders. Once screened in, the tool will also organize any fresh mail that has come in. Screened out mail goes into a "screened out mail" and all mail is marked as read.

Mails going into the paper trail and feed will automatically be marked as "read" ideally.

With this process, the "inbox" of the email service being used (gmail, fastmail, etc) will only contain "new" mails. Very much like what an actual physical inbox would.

The goal of the tool will be to just organize the mails. In the future it may become more than that but for starters, it's sole purpose is to keep a standard web mail inbox from turning into chaos

Scope limits

  • Will not be building a full on email client.
    • May only make it possible to read the emails waiting to be screened. Will probably not bother with that for this project
  • Will not handle custom folders or already existing mails
    • In order for the system to not be overwhelming, any existing mails should ideally be moved into an archive style folder
    • Old mail will not be moved into respective folders. This will need to be handled by a separate process
  • Will ideally not handle creation of folders.
    • Although this is essential, at this stage, users would have to create the folders "Communication", "Screened out", "Paper trail", and "Feed"
  • Will not offer exporting of the organization right at the start.
  • Will not be launching as a product or even a refined project. However, it will be available on github for others to use if they wish.
  • Will not offer "authentication". May add login screen but the config of it will be text based. Like the way plausible does it.

This blog doesn't have a comment box. But I'd love to hear any thoughts y'all might have. Send them to [email protected]

Posted on May 06 2021 by Adnan Issadeen