Latest Writing & Things of Interest

February 16, 2018

On AMP for Email

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I’m an email guy. I’ve written three books on email, spoken at a bunch of conferences on the topic, and help build tools for other email folks at my day job. I love seeing the email platform grow and evolve. I love seeing people working on interesting ideas that make email more valuable for the subscribers that receive them.

So, you’d think I’d be thrilled by Google’s announcement about adding dynamic content and interactivity to Gmail with AMP for Email. You’d be wrong.

Although I do love the idea of making emails more interactive and (in theory) more valuable to subscribers, I have severe reservations about Google’s approach to doing so and their ability to make it happen.

AMP for Email is an offshoot of the Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP)project, which “is an open-source initiative aiming to make the web better for all”. It’s goal is to allow publishers to create better performing pages for mobile audiences. Less bloat, faster load times, happier users.

While the stated goals of AMP are noble, there has been a massive backlash from the developer and publisher communities against how AMP for the web has been implemented. From concerns about a Google monopoly to accounts of even more bloated pages, the response from the web community has been full-throated and harsh.

As an email geek, I’m liable to disagree with a lot talk in the web world but not in this case. I think AMP for Email is a bad idea. An interesting idea with some cool demos, sure, but poorly executed by Google.

Here’s why:

  • Although it’s touted as open-source, Amp is fundamentally controlled by Google. They set the agenda and everyone else falls in line.
  • That agenda benefits Google first and the web and email next (if at all). If it was just about building faster mobile pages, there wouldn’t be amp-ad. Granted, AMP for Email doesn’t have an ad component (yet), but who wants to bet against me that it will eventually? Anyone?
  • Amp goes against web standards. It’s essentially creating a fourth, proprietary language beyond HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.
  • Amp for Email uses that language instead of HTML and CSS. We have enough problems with basic HTML and CSS in email clients, now we need to worry about yet another markup language?
  • People are already creating rich, interactive experiences in email using tools already available to everyone. Why not put your collective might behind improving that strategy instead of creating another one? Answer: Google wants to create and own its own version of the web and, now, email, too.
  • From a practical standpoint, AMP for Email requires the use of an additional MIME type beyond the standard HTML and plain text ones.
  • No ESPs support that MIME type and I don’t expect any to add support in the near future, making AMP for Email a non-starter for nearly everyone.
  • Gmail is the only client that will be supporting AMP for Email off-the-bat. And we’re not even sure which version of Gmail will get that support. Even though it’s an open spec, so any email client provider could implement it, do you think anyone will anytime soon? I don’t.

Logistically, I just don’t see Google getting the adoption it needs to make AMP for Email work across ESPs and other email clients. I absolutely think the Gmail team should be working to bring interactive and dynamic emails to their users, but they should do it in the context of improving support for proper HTML, CSS, and JavaScript (if they can wing it).

Philosophically, I’m completely against Google’s AMP project and AMP for Email, too. I will always side with the open web and the standards that power it, and AMP is actively working against both. I’m all-in on a faster web for everyone, but I just can’t get behind Google’s self-serving method for providing that faster web.

What do you think? Email me or join the conversation over on the Litmus Community.

February 10, 2018

Link: Everything Easy is Hard Again

This post from Frank Chimero is eminently quotable. As someone that remembers a much simpler time in the web design world, I found myself nodding vigorously throughout. A sample:

My web design philosophy is no razzle-dazzle. My job is to help my clients identify and express the one or two uniquely true things about their project or company, then enhance it through a memorable design with a light touch. If complexity comes along, we focus in on it, look for patterns, and change the blueprint for what we’re building. We don’t necessarily go looking for better tools or fancier processes. In the past, I’ve called this following the grain of the web, which is to use design choices that swing with what HTML, CSS, and screens make easy, flexible, and resilient.

And:

It seems there are fewer and fewer notable websites built with this approach each year. So, I thought it would be useful remind everyone that the easiest and cheapest strategy for dealing with complexity is not to invent something to manage it, but to avoid the complexity altogether with a more clever plan.

OK, one more:

The web needs pockets of slowness and thoughtfulness as its reach and power continues to increase. What we depend upon must be properly built and intelligently formed. We need to create space for complexity’s important sibling: nuance. Spaces without nuance tend to gravitate towards stupidity. And as an American, I can tell you, there are no limits to the amount of damage that can be inflicted by that dangerous cocktail of fast-moving-stupid.

Bookmarked this one to read yearly.

February 6, 2018

Link: Hurray For The Riff Raff Tiny Desk

Alynda Segarra is amazing. The Navigator is the best album to come out in recent memory and these stripped down versions of Rican Beach, Pa’lante, and Nothing’s Gonna Change That Girl are a testament to her songwriting, singing, and sheer performance skills. Everyone should watch this.

February 2, 2018

Link: The Framework Project Interviews Jenn Schiffer

Jesus Christ, this interview with Jenn Schiffer is fantastic. I wish I could just quote the whole thing, but this paragraph should pique your interest:

So how do we be seen as good at our job while also doing some emotional labor in order to make sure that the people who look up to us or could look up to us have an easier path than we did? I saw this a lot when I was in university, where my professors, especially the women professors, were very tough on me. And I saw that they were trying to groom me to have a thicker skin and stuff, and in retrospect it’s like, “Oh, I appreciate that you were that tough on me because things were tough for you, but wouldn’t it be great to break that cycle? And how do we do that?”

OK, maybe one more:

We were talking at lunch about the Pepsi commercial. People were complaining like, “Yeah, the commercial sucked,” and they were drinking Pepsi. And I’m just like—we have Coke—and I’m just drinking my Coke like, “Oh, yeah, sure, yeah.”

Sorry, I can’t stop. I want to be Jenn Schiffer when I grow up…

I had this frustrating meeting yesterday with a bunch of New York City JavaScript meetup organizers I had never met. And they were saying, “Oh, your meetups are great! How do we collaborate?” But I had mentioned how one of the meetups didn’t have a code of conduct, and I was like, “You need to have something in place whenever,” and he was like, “Oh, they’re so negative, though.” And I’m like, “You know what else is negative? Being harassed at a tech meetup.” It was just a really frustrating meeting where I felt like I had to explain myself, and it’s like, “You brought me here to give you advice. I’m giving you advice, and you’re fighting me on it, and I have the experience, and you don’t. So what is the point here? Was the point just to bring a few women”—because a few of my collaborators are women—“a few women in here to make you all feel better about yourselves? Because it’s not going to happen.” It was just a huge waste of my Monday, and so I’ve just been in this mood and then during lunch, I was like, “Ugh.” And then Anil came and was like, “What’s up?” And I’m like, “Ugh! Just had the full dose of the white male experience,” which everyone has who’s not a white male. Ugh, the fucking code of conduct discussion all the time. And then I went on that guy’s meetup site, and there’s a code of conduct on there—he doesn’t—ugh, God. What a world.

February 1, 2018

Link: Two Very Different Kinds of Illustration

A really good observation from Khoi Vinh on editorial versus product illustration. I’ve always strived to make my site here more on the editorial end of the spectrum but it’s not always easy. I wish more brands/people/publications would opt for bespoke, professional illustration. Khoi sums it up nicely:

In fact, it might actually be desirable for some brands to look, y’know, distinctive and unique.

January 30, 2018

Link: Christian Heilmann on Developer Evangelism

One of the major practitioners of DevRel on what a developer evangelist actually does and how to do it well. Some good information that a lot of companies should read. And even better advice for anyone moving into the role.

January 20, 2018

Should you learn email marketing?

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Every week, I get emails from people asking for advice about email marketing, design, and development. While I try to take the time to respond to each one, I’ve found that I get similar emails over time that might be better addressed via a blog post.

One of the most common questions I get is about the viability of email marketing and design as a career and whether or not people should consider specializing in email. Recently, Richard wrote:

I just read your book The Better Email and really enjoyed it. It’s actually made me want to consider a bit of a career change. I am currently a frontend developer and over time I realized working with React, Angular and all those other JS frameworks is not for me and I have been looking for a different path. I am using your book and resources on your site to become a lot better at email development. I guess my question is: should I go into email marketing or should I stay focused on one thing?

My hunch is that a lot of people are in similar situations. They may not be frontend developers, but they’re considering learning about email marketing and development and want to know whether or not it’s a worthwhile pursuit.

So, is learning about email a good idea?

The short answer is: Fuck, yes.

The long answer is still yes, but gets a little murky when you start throwing in the idea of specializing in email marketing or development. I’ve decided to split those topics out into two articles. This one focuses on why you should learn about email marketing and development, whereas the next one will focus on whether or not pursuing it as a career choice is a good idea.

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So, why should you learn about email marketing, design, and development?

The main reason is that everyone online uses email. And since everyone online uses email, it’s the most valuable marketing channel out there. And, despite what some people say, it’s not going anywhere anytime soon.

Beyond that, though, there are a few more reasons why you should probably start learning more about email marketing and design. Off the top of my head…

  • Email is a very personal medium. Which allows for a lot of opportunities to connect with customers at a level which you can’t get elsewhere, except maybe in person. And that doesn’t scale.
  • If you work with code, I can pretty much guarantee that you’ll have to do something email-related during your career, whether or not you want to.
  • If you don’t work with code, I can pretty much guarantee that you’ll have to do something email-related during your career, whether or not you want to.
  • Nearly every company uses email marketing in some way.
  • Most of them do it very, very badly.
  • If you know even a bit about email marketing and design/development, you’ve got a leg up on all of those other companies.
  • Even if you don’t specialize in email, your email skills will be very valuable in other roles. You can set yourself apart by knowing just a bit about email.
  • Email isn’t that complicated. Some people make it out to be, but it really isn’t.
  • If you know a little HTML and CSS, you can build good emails.
  • If you don’t, HTML and CSS is easy to learn.
  • At some point, you’ll probably inherit some legacy email templates. The more you know about email, the easier it will be to work with those templates. Or rebuild them the right way when they make you go crazy.
  • Did I mention that everyone still uses email?

All of those reasons aside, the main point is that email is not only ubiquitous, it’s an extraordinarily powerful communication channel. I often call it “the holiest of places online”.

The inbox is everyone’s home on the internet. It’s where they always begin and where they always return to. It’s where they invite their friends and family to stay in touch. It’s been around before Facebook and Twitter and will be around much, much longer than either.

As such, email provides a massive opportunity for people that know how to use it well and seemingly insurmountable challenges for those that don’t. The ones that can provide value in the inbox will reap the rewards, whereas those that consistently spam, stumble, and sell will be quickly relegated to the junk folder. And rightly so.

Most people have a very low threshold for bullshit and can sense it with just the quickest of glances. If you’re bullshitting your subscribers, they won’t be subscribers for long. Unfortunately, too many companies take the bullshit approach to email—undervaluing its power and the people who know how to do it well—and annoy the hell out of their subscribers. That’s why email marketers have to field the question, “Oh, so you’re a spammer?” whenever someone asks what we do. That undervaluing of email and the folks who work on it will be the subject of the next post…

But, since so many do email so poorly, there’s a massive opportunity for those that put in the time and effort to execute email well. If you can put yourself in you subscribers’ shoes, figure out what’s valuable to them, and when and how to deliver that value most effectively, then you’re golden.

Even if it’s not your full-time job, understanding email will help you in your career.

  • For marketers, email is your bread and butter. Even if you user other channels, understanding your subscribers will allow you to create better content, deliver more effective messaging, and build better campaigns.
  • For designers, email works within some amazing constraints. Understanding it will help you find better solutions for visual problems, write better UI copy, and think about design in a new way.
  • For developers, email code is some of the craziest around. Working with it will teach you how to troubleshoot difficult bugs, hack around challenging problems, and understand your user base better.
  • For customer support folks, these are your people! Your subscribers and users are where it’s at. Understanding how to effectively communicate with email will lead to better conversations and better support.
  • For sales people, your job is to show the most value you can as quickly as possible. Guess what? That’s email’s job, too. If you can do email well, you can probably do sales well.
  • For leadership, email is the ground floor. It’s where your users are. You need to understand their needs, their challenges, and what they find valuable if you want to build, grow, and lead an effective and profitable organization.

Email has something to teach everyone. It has immense value just waiting to be harnessed. And, even though nearly every company uses email marketing, too few take full advantage of email’s potential.

So do yourself (and your company) a favor and start taking email seriously.

In the next post, I’ll dig into whether or not email marketing, design, and development is a viable career choice.


When you decide to take email seriously, check out The Better Email to learn more about email marketing, design, and development. If you want to learn more about code, The Better Email on Design offers a 225-page book and over 6 hours of video tutorials on cutting-edge HTML email development best practices.

Not ready to dive that deep? Check out The Better Email Resources, a massive collection of resources to learn more about all aspects of email marketing.

Visit my blog for more