Hey isn’t for me, for now

I’ve tried Hey email service for 10 days in its 14 day evaluation period and have finally decided that it’s not for me.

I was awestruck by Hey’s phenomenal introduction video. It resembled the presentations of Steve Jobs. It got me excited and eager to try it out. I’ve been a loyal GMail user since it was released 16 years ago but the privacy concerns have made me to look for alternatives. I looked at fully-encrypted solutions which were too much for my threat model. I just want to be able to search my mail without downloading everything on my machine.

I immediately switched to Hey with full commitment as soon as I received an invitation code from a friend. I forwarded all my email addresses to it and installed the app, made it the default email app on my phone.

I tried to use Hey’s Windows Store app too but it was just a less accessible version of the web app. For example, it wasn’t possible to adjust the text size on the app. So I decided to stick to the web on desktop.

Hey impressed me on some aspects. I really liked the proactive “Spy Tracker Shaming” feature that immediately exposes any email that tries to trace your views and clicks:

The feature made me feel empowered. I was suddenly aware of a privacy problem that I was oblivious to previously. Later mentioned by a friend who works at Google that GMail also prevents these from working by mirroring the image contents to its local server so you’re actually never exposed to that kind of tracking when using GMail. I just wasn’t aware. It could have been communicated better I guess.

First friction I encountered was that there was no shortcut key in the “Mark All As Seen” in the “Read Together” tab. I’m not a “full keyboard” person. I use mail app like an FPS game. My left hand on WASD and my right hand on mouse. “E” being the archive key, I usually scroll the mail using mouse and archive it with “E” key on GMail. I wanted to do the same on Hey, I wasn’t able to. But, to their credit, Hey team was nothing but good sport about it.

Approving every new contact seemed empowering at first, but quickly turned into a chore. It was just too much cognitive overload for me, because I’m not always in the mindset that I can decide which contact I want to continue messaging with, and more importantly, which folder (Imbox, The Feed, Paper Trail) I should be putting it. I decided that I just don’t want to decide these upfront. I can spread this over my email session in GMail. I glance at mail. I let it stay there for a while. I revisit it, I archive it, I mark it as spam, but never upfront on a single run.

Also, approval causes the fear of blocking out some contacts accidentally. I know, there must be a history of these somewhere (and there is, don’t worry), but going back and trying to find it creates a new problem for me. I just don’t want to deal with these problems. Mail should have as little friction as possible.

Another problem with Hey is that reading an individual mail implies that you’re effectively done with it unless you set it aside explicitly. That’s not my default. Reading rarely means that I’m done with an email. I prefer to have it stay read and decide on what to do with it later. I need this to be default. This is one of the core philosophical differences of Hey, and that’s one of the things that made me think that Hey can’t work for me in its current shape.

The mail that I set aside becomes too prominent. It’s good for some mail that I need to stay prominent but not for the ones that I need to look at sometime. I usually make the distinction in GMail by using the newly adopted Snooze functionality from Google Inbox. It’s perfect. “Add as a task” also works great with GMail to categorize these.

The problems with all those features of Hey were that I was anxious of doing the wrong thing and, say, completely ignoring an important recipient, or forgetting to follow up an email. GMail alleviates these with additional features, having the right defaults, and by putting an “Undo” link briefly after every action which gives me confidence on my decisions. Undo is theoretically possible with Hey by visiting some other history screens but not as easy as an Undo.

The final dealbreaker for me was that not having the ability to use different “From” addresses which is important for me to keep the conversation on the right channel. I just don’t want to perplex the recipient by showing up in a new email address. That makes them think “Is that Sedat’s new address? Was it a mistake? Should I add this to my contact list? What’s going on?”. I just didn’t want that, and recently had to reply to a conversation over GMail. I don’t want to do that.

I thought about subscribing once to keep my relatively shorter email alias as a forwarding address but didn’t want to do that either as I wouldn’t be using the email address anyway.

Make no mistake, I like Hey’s opinionated approach. I believe that such thinking will eventually lead us to better products, but it has that slight designed by programmers feel to it, which isn’t always ideal, and I’m saying this as a programmer. The “you can undo your wrong decisions in the screener by going to the history page” is the best example of it. User needs to jump through the hoops of disconnected but complete features while GMail just says “you can undo by clicking Undo”. I’m not saying that Hey hasn’t focused on scenarios, but they seem to have mostly focused on the happy path.

I’m also an Inbox Zero person. Any email in my inbox is something I’m not done with and ideally I have as little mail as possible in my inbox at any given time. As I understand that’s not Hey’s target user base. Hey might be a great people who have thousands of email in their inbox. Maybe, that’s why it doesn’t work for me.

So, UX frictions that I encountered as well as Hey’s general understanding of email scenarios made it a no for me. I’m going back to GMail, but I hope Hey addresses these issues in the future, or I don’t know, an alternative product comes out with better designs. Their presentation video convinced me that there is still a lot of space for innovation in Email.

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