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Don't Send Email, Send Notifications

How much of the email in your inbox fits into the category of a person or company notifying you about something? If you are anything like me, it’s a lot. Amazon letting you know your product has shipped, or Google send you an alert telling you about a brand or URL mention, or someone confirming a meeting date or time. Part of the problem with inbox overload is that all these notifications come into your inbox, you read them and get the message, and then they sit around unless you are diligent about always deleting them. For me, that doesn’t seem like the best way to get all these notifications. Instead, I would love to see them in a stream as I can see updates from all the people I follow on Twitter. Or how I can see the activity of all my friends in my news feed on Facebook. In short, I’d love to subscribe to my own email

The easy argument is that I already have that and that the real solution is to train myself to get better at reading and filing my email. Yet, if you think about it, many of the senders of this type of email could perfectly easily somehow "tag" their emails as notifications. I think of it akin to a self-destruct button on these emails – where as soon as they were read they would be filed or deleted (depending on what a user wants). An alternative could be, just like I can have a spam filter for my inbox, perhaps someone should create a notification filter. It would organize all my notifications together and send them to me any way I choose … as a stream, or as Twitter messages, or as text messages. These notifications could also come from sources that don’t typically use email, like when your name is on the wait list for a table at a restaurant or you are in the car shop waiting for your car to be serviced. My point is, notifications need a different category and method of delivery than just being lumped into email.  Anyone out there seen or currently working on a notification filter or similar solution?  I’d volunteer in a second to be on your beta testing team …

  • Mike Keliher


  • Mark Mitchell

    It is true. I have a deletionphobia. I don’t know why but it always seems like I might need something in my inbox for use later. The reality is that most of it will never be needed.

    I think a solution to this problem is the filters. I filter almost all of my incoming Email into folders that help me sort it out. Unfortunately this system is not fail-safe and one occasionally goes to the wrong folder.

  • Matt Curtis

    Rohit -

    Since most of these emails are already in an RSS-type format (they give the important information in the subject heading and usually the reader only needs to glance at this section), your problem is basically that you don’t want to manually delete these notification-type emails. If I’m understanding you correctly, then I believe there is a simple way to fix this issue.

    The first easy way would be Outlook. In the program (and most likely other mail clients), I’m fairly sure that there is a simple way to create a macro that auto-archives your emails based on certain filters. I’m sure this would be easier than creating some elaborate Twitter / SMS forwarding RSS feed (though obviously way less cool).

    In my opinion, Gmail is an excellent solution to this problem as well. First, with the storage size they offer you expanding like the universe, there really is no reason for you to focus on manually delete messages. Second, one can use their labeling and filtering features to easily sort and manage such emails.

    Set up a label called “Notifications” (you can even color code it!). Then create an email filter, which automatically assigns that label to incoming emails from addresses that you can elect. Later, you can search and organize these emails with the click of a button. Ah, technology!

  • Roderick Sutherland

    I agree with you. There is too much sent as email which actually has a very limited shelf-life – or need for a shelf-life.

    I love RSS, especially since I have discovered the wonderful Snackr RSS ticker (

    One friend of mine also recommends the following for email – unfortunately I don’t use Outlook so will never know if he’s right….

    His quote (from an email) follows:

    Since then, I have slotted Xobni into Outlook 2007 and abandoned filing emails to separate folders, relying on Xobni to trace threads, conversations and topics. After deleting the 50% of inbox crap. anything I can’t deal with in a minute, I drag into the task box in the To Do window in Outlook. Turning emails into tasks that can be prioritised is possibly something that everyone else does but for me, it’s been a bit of a revelation. Result: so far very good and an empty in box and a manageable list of prioritised tasks.
    link to

    43Folders provides lots of productivity stuff but here’s the top 5 tips on emails link to . I have switched from 1 minute auto checking for incoming emails to an hour.

  • Web Success Diva

    I agree whole-heartedly! Excellent post.

    Maria Reyes-McDavis

  • Web Success Diva

    I agree whole-heartedly! Excellent post.

    Maria Reyes-McDavis

  • Hutch Carpenter

    Rohit – great post. This is something I’ve been thinking about as well. Email as an interaction platform is on the wane. Email as a notification platform is on the rise. I wouldn’t delete those notifications. They actually have value on their own as a digital archive.

    Here’s a post I wrote on this, “Email’s Changing Role in Social Media: Digital Archive, Centralized Identity”. link to

  • Peter Kim

    Hi Rohit – I second Matt’s recommendation on using filters in Outlook and Gmail. Here’s what I do, which I think gets at what you want. Not as complicated as it looks.

    1. Create specific logins for the sites you use, tied to a personal domain. E.g.,, etc.
    2. Set up a new Gmail account for notifications only, e.g. Forward all the addresses you created in #1 to this address.
    3. Create filters on the Gmail account to sort messages neatly, e.g. email from is labeled “airlines” and archived + forwarded to your mobile phone, e.g. (hint: use IMAP)

    So you get your self-destructing notification (txt msg), and neatly filed and archived messages for future reference. Just be sure you’re on an unlimited texting plan!

  • Internet Advertising

    Innovative idea… I agree with you…it is true that emails as interactive tools may be slumber. Great post.