Letter to HEY

December 11, 2023

HEY promised to change email. In their own words, "Email sucked for years. Not anymore - we fixed it." I was sold on the feature list. To recap, here's what makes HEY different:

  1. By default, no emails are allowed into your inbox
  2. Senders must be manually "Screened In"
  3. When screening in a sender, you have three options:
    1. Your inbox (titled Imbox for some reason)
    2. The feed - a good place for newsletters
    3. The paper trail - receipts, etc

At launch, this concept of an email whitelist seemed to be a genius content moderation tool that could be launched quickly. For every new email address a user recieves, let them categorize it or block it. No room for a half-baked algorithm to disappoint users. Clever.

But here we are years after launch, and these core concepts haven't matured much. It's left me feeling oversold and underserved.

If we look objectively at the offerings of Gmail (or even Fastmail) and compare it to HEY, it's the former that should deserve the $100/yr price tag. That's really how this lack of tooling feels.

I'm not asking for much.

The sad thing is that it wouldn't take much to turn the ship around at HEY. I've outlined my thoughts here.

1. Better Screening

HEY is designed to make maintaining Inbox Zero breezy. Unfortunately, the worst email actors employ tactics that make use of dozens of marketing email addresses. There should be a way to blanket-block all addresses that match a certain pattern. You know, a filter.

Another common pattern of email from small companies or even individual creators is to use one email address for all correspondance (receipts, newsletters, and even handwritten personal messages). HEY currently can't do anything about this - you get one simple rule per email address. I'm left having to miscategorize something. Gmail makes this easy. Once again, a filter.

2. Better Search

HEY's built in search is overly simplistic. I've had trouble finding really basic stuff in my email. Unfortunately I struggle to define exactly what I need here... I just know I can't find shit. And this HEY account is only a few years old. Meanwhile I've hunted down decades old emails in Gmail with ease.

Another issue - screened out emails are gone forever or at least unsearchable. Never want to see some trash a company is sending you, but then decide you need to reference it later for archival reasons? Block someone abusive but then want to reference their vitriol in a court case? Too bad, you can't find it (at least not easily). It basically didn't happen (At least I'm pretty sure... the simplistic search feature makes it hard to know if the emails are accessible or not).

3. Stop Useless Features

Why is Hey World the biggest feature release yet? That might as well be a separate service nobody asked for. If the creativity of this aspect of HEY could be applied to deepening its existing features - the features that drove lots of the early hype, I think this service could be even greater.

Update from the future (1/15/24): the release of HEY Calendar further drives home my point. This is an even bigger release... an entirely new product. Why?

Anyway, don't join if you're new.

If you're considering signing up for HEY, I'd suggest you don't. Just about any other option will probably give you similar service for a lot lower price.

While the cute design of HEY and the potential for vanity emails are a nice touch, in my experience, the service degrades the more you use it.

Credit where it's due.

Before I wrap up here, I want to list out the things that are nice about HEY, that I'd love to see other companies and products embrace. The things making me stick around, with fingers crossed, hoping my concerns will be addressed. Because I really want to like this product and use it far into the future.

Customer support. Although I gave credit to Gmail above for its advanced filtering, good luck speaking to a human about anything. I've had help from HEY's customer support multiple times and it has been fantastic.

Online "until the end of the internet". When a product stops getting updates, I usually fear it will be abandoned and shut down. While HEY might one day be abandoned, DHH suggests that they will always keep all of their products online, forever.

Fun design. No other product (that I use) looks anything like HEY. It looks like a personal software tool because it is one. I wish other companies would break out of the box a little, too.

Still a cleaner inbox than Gmail. While I struggle with searching, am frustrated with the filtering tools, don't enjoy the Feed design too much, at least the most important part works well: my inbox. Every day when I log onto my email, it's only mostly important stuff staring back at me.

To the founders

If by slim chance this lands in front of David or Jason, please know that I've sent versions of this writeup through support as a form of private feedback. This isn't written with ill intent, it's only a request for certain changes.

Thanks for reading.

PS: Why is it called Imbox? I still don't get it.