I liked my trial experience with Hey enough to pay for a year and forward a pair of personal addresses over to it for daily use.

This is the second time I’ve had a run at Hey. I wasn’t a fan the first time because I was approaching it too much like “this is a new email client to try out,” and not “this is a rethink of email.”

My thinking the first time was, “can’t ingest from an IMAP server? Weak. Can’t access the service from an alternate client? Lame.” I think I was hoping it would replace something like Google Inbox.

This time around I read the docs a little more closely, set up a very transaction-heavy address to forward into it for a trial run, and then lived with it for a few days, paying close attention to what was going through my head as I used it.

Some good or okay things:

Given my volume of personal mail, I love that it puts any address it hasn’t seen before in a holding tank for triage. Stuff doesn’t actually see your inbox unless you okay it. This replaces a few existing workflows you might have around periodic unsub parties, or smart inbox training if you’re a Gmail person. I just tell Hey to ignore addresses I don’t want to hear from anymore, and that’s all there is to it – no bothering with unsubscribing, and no wondering if the smart inbox sorting algorithm is going to think something weird.

I am okay with the top-level mail taxonomy (the inbox, the newsletter/comms folder, and the receipts/transactional/marketing folder) – it’s an acceptable reduction in choice to me, because it effectively means “personal stuff,” “interesting stuff,” “robots sending you emails stuff,” and that’s an okay hierarchy. It has super simple freetagging as a second-level taxonomy, and it’s easy to do that by contact if you’re the type to do a lot of labeling. I was a prolific procmail abuser back in the day, so it is pretty easy to please me when it comes to filtering and tagging because I have suffered from over-automation and tend to keep thing simple.

I like, in principle, its “reply later” and “set aside” workflows. My personal mail flow isn’t busy enough to benefit from having a screen of ready-to-fill reply boxes to blaze through, but man I’d love that workflow for my job.

I am generally okay with the sense that your choices and workflow are heavily constrained. It makes Hey a rhythm to learn as opposed to a tool to customize. There’s just not a lot to mess with and that turns out to be okay. It reminds me of the comically simple assassin email system in Assassins, which may have turned out to be visionary.

I really like the idea that time spent classifying stuff as it comes in is a simple, quick thing to do today that will, over time, leave me in a much better place overall. As my heavily transactional email flows in, I triage it into its buckets, and I know I will only have to do that once per account. Being able to bundle by address makes it even more appealing. I didn’t realize how much friction the mail clients that offer simple triaging still have until I started doing things Hey’s way and realized how helpful it is to basically make triaging sticky.

It’s good enough for now that Hey is able to send via your existing email service’s SMTP service. They say they’re working on custom domains, and I can easily imagine flipping my personal domain over to Hey hosting when that’s available. Meanwhile, it offers rudimentary aliasing.

They haven’t even bothered to try doing the aliasing thing with Gmail. I’m okay with that, to the extent I’ve been wanting to drop Gmail anyhow. I just forward my Gmail account into Hey and mean to gently direct personal correspondents to my “real” address if they’re not using it for some reason, and re-register under a non-Gmail address for assorted services and accounts as I can.

What else?

The iPad, iPhone, and Mac clients are all dead simple and keyboard friendly. The web client is fine. It’s one of those cases where you can easily confuse the native client for the web client unless you look for the browser chrome.

Someone took the time to write a Chrome extension for Gmail that mimics a lot of the Hey workflow in a very bailing-wire-and-chewing-gum sort of way. It at least introduces Gmail to the idea of proactive and sticky triage, but misses a few other things. I have it running now, but feel sort of resentful of it because it is an outright plagiarizing of Hey’s ideas, right down to the language it uses for the mail taxonomy. Lots of mail clients could probably get some mileage with the “proactive and sticky triage” concept, only with existing IMAP services, and I briefly considered using something like Mail Act-On to create the workflow in Apple Mail, but think the extended filter ruleset for automatic triage over time would get pretty ungainly. If I were still using mutt, I think I know exactly how I could do it with procmail, macros, and some shell scripts, but … *shudder* … I’ve got a job.

All of which sort of leaves me thinking that I don’t mind Hey’s decommodification of email. The annual subscription isn’t too expensive for the quality of service I get, and the help Hey provides in helping me feel more on top of my personal email workflows. They make retrieving your data easy, so there’s not a lot of risk in running the year-long experiment.