Hey, Control, and the Importance of a Good UI

Posted by Matt Birchler
— 2 min read

One of the things I see a lot in comments about my videos/articles ab out Hey is something like “can’t you do this by blocking people in Gmail?” or “can’t you just control who gets in with Sanebox?”

I think that depending on what you like about Hey, then maybe you could do this in one of those services, but I’ll let you in on a little secret: I’ve allowed probably 95% of people sending me emails in through Hey’s “screener” feature. I’m not using Hey to block things from getting to me at all. It is nice to be able to know when someone is messaging me for the first time and decide right up front if I want to let them in, but most of the time I let them in, so what’s the value?

The value all comes down to the user interface for how Hey handles those emails once I let them into my system.

Most emails I get are mildly important, so they get put into The Feed, which is displayed outside of the inbox and abbreviates emails so they look more like a Twitter timeline than a list of emails I need to cycle through. I used to check the feed many times per day, but now I check it maybe once per day, and often a couple days will go by before I scroll through and see what’s there. It’s really nice.

Because most things get put into the feed, that means only emails I am excited to get are in the inbox. I sometimes get s single email in there over the course of a day, and that’s something completely foreign tome previously, but it’s a great feeling.

The other things that really stick out to me are the “set aside” and “reply later” queues I can dump emails into. The “set aside” queue is for emails I want to read, but don’t have the time to do so now. I often put newsletters or business emails I need to read, but don’t really need to act on. “Reply later” is for, I’m sure you already guessed it, emails that I need to reply to, but don’t want to do so now. Having separate queues for different actions I need to take is really helpful for me, and it’s much better than just leaving things in my inbox where they tend to sit for too long. And again, this is all about UI, so the way Hey does this works really well for me in ways that a label in Gmail just wasn’t as slick.

Anyway, I know you’re probably over articles about Hey at this point, but I wanted to clarify the use of the service. The marketing around Hey involved statements like “would you pay to get less email?” and while that is true, I don’t think the draw of the service is only in how easy it makes it to block people from sending you emails: it’s about building a UI that lets you have control over the emails you do let in.