Reply by email
A killer feature for more engagement.·
This is an announcement post about my website's new (killer) feature. It's a button. A reply by email button. Oh yeah.
Well, technically, it's a link that looks like a button (and does buttony things). But let's not get carried away with semantics.
After running this blog for 4 months, I have realized it is missing one thing. Engagement.
Shout-out to all the great people who responded in any way to my blog so far. I appreciate all the LinkedIn comments, Mastodon replies or in person feedback. Keep it coming. But there has to be a more direct way for readers to reach out.
For a brief moment I have considered that my blog needs comments. For another brief moment I have considered that it requires something even more sophisticated: webmentions. But in both of these brief moments I tried to remind myself of my minimal viable product (MVP) mindset. Eventually I might get around to implement the most sophisticated way for my readers to reach out. But the time is not ripe.
Most of the feedback I've received was from co-workers in the offline world and I wanted to introduce an accessible way to increase engagement with my readers. Then I reminded myself of possibly the most thoughtful way of online communication: email.
You might have the following associations with email:
- These annoying messages that live in Outlook, which you usually check at the beginning of your work day and which usually mean (more) work for you.
- These other annoying messages you get by automated systems whenever you sign up for an online account or when you forget your password.
- These different annoying messages you get by Nigerian princes that announce to you that they have a huge fortune to share with you, since you are their only heir. Wait, is that still a thing?
While all of these associations with email are valid, there are also benefits that come with it.
Nowadays, thanks to our short-attention society, we expect everything that's digital to happen without interruption. Instant messaging is a prime example (hence its name). Apps like WhatsApp or MS Teams are designed to convey this immediacy. We see typing indicators when others are writing a message. We see indicators when others have opened our messages. The whole point of instant messaging is to have a real-time conversation with someone.
Email on the other hand is non-instant. Delays are expected. There's no pressure to respond right away. As a consequence I get the feeling that emails tend to be written with a more thoughtful and dedicated mindset.
Conversations with instant messengers also seem to have no definite beginning or ending. Sometimes conversations appear to be going on forever.
Email messages are so much closer to its analog counterpart, the letter. They are self-contained messages that come closer to a letter-like structure of greeting, main content and closing.
You can't send a message from WhatsApp to your friend who's using Signal. With so many instant messengers nowadays, you might end up with a shitload of messaging apps on your phone.
Not so with email. The protocols used by email allow for interoperability. Gmail users can communicate with Fastmail users or any other email provider. Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) is a universal protocol used by all email providers and which makes the magic happen.
Oh yeah, and did I mention personal? Back when I built my about page, I found inspiration in the task by reading The Importance of an About Page by Kev Quirk, a fellow blogger. I responded to his blog post to let him know how much it helped me. We ended up having an email conversation about accessibility, fonts, and you guessed it: a reply by email button. Kev told me, how introducing the feature increased engagement with his blog.
After our pleasant, personal conversation I finally took his advice. He also wrote a post about Online conversations & website engagement that actually convinced me even more that my killer feature is indeed killer. Thanks, Kev.
A reply by email button
Two weeks ago, I have received my first email from a reader. Unprompted! There wasn't a reply by email button yet. I haven't written this blog post about reader engagement yet.
Still, someone was thoughtful and dedicated enough to reach out to me. And that felt really nice.
I will now leave you with this great new feature that I have conveniently placed at the end of all of my blog posts.
Do as you please!