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Startup idea: short, paid email (diegobasch.com)
42 points by nachopg on Sept 11, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 52 comments



The biggest problem with this idea is that it violates people's expectations. People already know how email works. They don't expect to hit a character limit. They will simply get annoyed.

If you want to "take features away", you need to create a completely separate concept in people's minds. Twitter works because people don't think of it as "email that's limited to 140 characters". They think of it as a completely separate category.


That is a good point. However, this already happens. How often do you email support@somewhere only to get a response that says "your email has been received, we'll process it within 24 hours?"

In some cases you'd like to have the option to pay something so that it's processed in one hour.

Also, some people don't care if you're annoyed. VCs, celebrities, etc. get tons of email that they can't read anyway. What if Lady Gaga received 30 short emails per day from fans who paid $100 (adjust the numbers until it's manageable for her) instead of 100k emails that go to /dev/null ?


> What if Lady Gaga received 30 short emails per day from fans who paid $100 (adjust the numbers until it's manageable for her) instead of 100k emails that go to /dev/null ?

Fanmail is a part of being a celebrity, and managing your fans is what keeps them happy and giving you money in innumerate ways.

Asking your most fanatic to pay you more money just to email you would be insulting and might trigger backlash.


They would get (well) annoyed when the message bounces back with no prior warning. Perhaps slightly less annoyed if they could see a 'countdown'. Hence a new interface or dedicated app as suggested above.


Something like this? https://shortmail.com/


Yes, I wonder why it hasn't taken off. Perhaps lack of word of mouth, or the fact that it's lacking the "paid" component.

I would feel bad about telling people to email me at shortmail.com, but a VC who receives tons of unsolicited pitches wouldn't. Some would love charging a fee to get pitched over email. If it takes 30 seconds and they pay you 20 bucks, why not.


I love the concept and I've been trying to use it for over a year now. I see two issues:

1. No native Android application. They try to sell themselves as a replacement for both SMS and email combined, which would be great, but if I'm limited to IMAP, there's no way it can replace email.

2. Yet another email address. Sometimes someone does need to send me a long email, and I do need to read it. The process needs to be possible but mildly painful (to discourage them from doing it). Quarantining/bouncing the email (their current solutions) aren't quite right. But they're on the right track.

However, I'm holding out hopes for one reason: they're implementing this as an open protocol - ie, within the extant email headers, so the functionality isn't limited to Shortmail-hosted email.


Probably because that landing page doesn't tell me much about how it works. It's "limited to 500 characters"... for the sender? What happens if it's more than 500 characters or has an attachment? Or wait, is this a walled garden thing? I can't tell.

So I check the "Why shortmail" page (which 99% of visitors will not do), and I'm still not sure what happens if incoming e-mails are longer than 500 chars.


The sender gets a notification that you only receive messaged shorter than 500 characters, and you have the option to forward larger messaged to another email address.


My point (probably didn't make that clear) is that might be a reason it's not more popular - because it's not really obvious how it's supposed to work.


The truth is that only the Robert Scobles in this world are affected by head-aching e-mail management problems. For the rest of the 99% it simply isn't that MUCH of an issue. That's why I don't think it will catch on. But nice idea though.


Hmm... but Robert Scobles, and more to the point, Beyonce, Jay Z, Lady Gaga etc might be willing to use the service as a screening tool for all the promo pitches they get. Or at least their agents & publicists might.


Beyonce surely has an army of PAs and social media managers to shield her from it.

Scoble is probably in the small intersection of people with massive volume of incoming messages who doesn't have a human screening it. It's in his job description.


That may be true, but that would be a pretty small market.


What if you market it as some high end service? I mean exotic cars and luxury handbags have a pretty small market too, right?


"Any idiot with money can send you an e-mail directly" doesn't scream high-end to me.


I think there is something to this idea. It's wrong to call it "email" though.

This would be something for celebs to get brief, easily digestible feedback from their fans. Right now, this either means going through lots of messages, or relying on social media to filter the message for you, but the former takes time or money, and the latter results in only the loudest voices being heard. The proposal above would cause people to filter and edit themselves.

This is precisely why calling this "email" is wrong. It would be like the counterpart of twitter, going the opposite way. It would be the multiplexer to the Twitter demux. It would not be email, however users could possibly access it through email.

Maybe call it "Faninn" "Feedforward" or "Feedgram?" I would allow messages to be marked private or public, with the public messages appearing on a white-labeled website, subject to a reddit or HN style upvote system. (Private messages would be subject to the fee.)

Think of it as a way for any celebrity to have their own HN-style site and executive ombudsman, without the work or expense of setting it up themselves.


Linkedin has sort of tried this w/ premium accounts. 3 InMails for $20/mo. Not sure if premium accounts are really driving their revenue as much as recruiter solutions.


In Q2 premium generated $43M. Not the $121M that Hiring Solutions made, but still not chump change.

http://press.linkedin.com/node/1223


Worth noting that "InMail" credits aren't the only benefit of a LinkedIn premium account, and in fact of people I know with paid accounts very few of them care about this particular aspect.


This is somewhat tangential to the post but isn't the 140 character limit on Twitter messages directly related to the fact they started it as an SMS service and couldn't figure out how to stitch together multipart inbound messages?

I personally think having the character limit that low is horrible but even if you love it, it wasn't some brilliant design decision imposed by Jack Dorsey it was just a limitation of the technology they were working with initially.


Yes, this is correct about the SMS. Its also a love it/hate it element, but at the end of the day that's what makes it. Its the unique rule, the constraint, the sine-qua-non that defines what it is. Like haiku: without rules, a non-idea.

At functional level, forcing people to "think small, think short" actually works. Where people have short attention spans. As a mode for a 21st century communication.

Over time, people adapt and "think" thoughts in the language that they express. Be it poetry, or visually, etc. Or, if you speak a second language, you learn to think in the constraints of what works to communicate.


I don't imagine this would take off, especially once people realize they can't receive any automated emails anymore (sign up confirmations, email validation requests, e-bills, reciepts for online purchases, any kind of service notification, etc). It would require probably maintaining a second email for those kinds of things, and then you've got the same problem as before but now with a second (extremely limited) email on top of it to worry about as well.

Something a little less extreme such as a whitelisting system might work better (only people on my whitelist may email me... if you email me and you're not on my whitelist you have to fill out a captcha or something in a response before I ever see the email, and then I have the option of either whitelisting you, doing nothing, or adding you to a permanent blacklist). That would allow me to whitelist the addresses I really care about while cutting out all other unwanted content. Main problems I see with something like that would be that email becomes even more asynchronous and unreliable than it already is.

Best solution is to just tear it down and replace it across the board with something better like XMPP. (A man can dream.)


The problem with that of course is that automated emails won't get through unless they can also solve your CAPTCHA or you have whitelisted them in advance which would either make usability worse (when you sign up for a service you have to remember to go and whitelist them) or your CAPTCHA has to easy enough for a bot to break which basically defeats the point.


Agreed. You would have to pre-whitelist, or at least have a junk folder you could look in where non-captchad messages get stored for a certain amount of time before being purged so that you could fish out the emails from non-whitelisted addresses that you're actually expecting to get (and then presumably whitelist them from there for future emails).


The problem with that is that you're actually going to look at email in your junk folder. Spammers would love this because they know that there's a chance that you'll actually see their crap even if it gets filtered.

The entire point of having a junk folder is you don't have to check it apart from the rare occasion you get a phone call saying "hey , I sent you an important email why haven't you replied?"


How about an app that donates the 20 bucks it costs to send someone an email to charity? Seems like it would have a built in marketing strategy.


This is somewhat orthogonal but am I the only one that usually finds businesses built on "do X and help charity at the same time" as pretty weak? It's strikes me as though the business operator doesn't believe in the value they are providing so they piggyback off the value of donating to charity.

There are exceptions, things like the Humble Bundles, but I tend to buy those primarily as call to actions for charity donations themselves. Out of two bundles I've only ever played one game. I never got the sense of the value piggybacking (maybe determining how things get split is part of it).

I just get wary when charities are thrown into the mix with these things. It seems like something bolted on at the last minute to boost conversions.


The donation isn't so much about piggy backing (although I see why it seems like that since I made that marketing comment). The money ensures that the sender is serious while not simply providing a platform for celebrity entrepreneurs to further enrich themselves (not what I had in mind while reading this guy's idea but an equally valid business model I suppose). As far as the sender and receiver are concerned the only thing the fee does is ensure that sender is serious about this email. You could just as easily collect the fee as the middle man and not distribute it to either. The charity thing just helps senders feel a little better about where their money is going (while helping the world suck a little less). Remember, people don't like feeling manipulated and paying a company to "prove" that you are serious about an email isn't something that would sit well with me.

The comparison I had in my mind is something along the lines of paying a fee to complete a bitcoin transaction. The fee is distributed to a "charity" of sorts (the bit coin miners) and goes toward making the world suck less (making sure the block chain is secure). Also it legitimizes the transaction so the sender knows these bit coins are the real deal. If that doesn't make sense feel free to ignore that last paragraph :P


The selling point here would be that the charity donation isn't thrown in there as a value-add, it's that the cost is a necessary feature and to prove the case of necessity over greed the money will be going to a good cause rather than the receiver's bank account.


That is true, and my point was more an aside about businesses that have a profit motive and incorporate a charity component to it so this probably wasn't the best thread to muse in.

That being said, I don't know if the charity aspect would still accomplish the desired goals. What if the recipient started skimming emails, with no real intention of following through, just because they want to see their favorite charity get a few more bucks? If the money went to the recipient instead I would probably think there would be a greater likelihood of it being read as anybody I'd be willing to pay to read my emails would stand lose only their sense of integrity but the charity aspect might make it easier to blow off.

I might be splitting too fine a hair here.


Interesting thought, but if your aim was to get as much money as possible for a charity then a.) skim reading as opposed to reading fully doesn't earn your charity any more and b.) if anything, people are more likely to spend money again if you pay them attention and respond fairly


Hmm, you've got a point. I didn't think about the possiblity of email conversations and how that would impact any cost imposed as well as whether charity was involved.


I this case it's more about the relative value of time for the recipient vs. the sender. It comes across as a little snotty to say "pay me if you want to talk to me." But charity still conveys the value discrepancy.


I'm going to reply to my own comment because I just came up with an awesome feature for this app: Priority inbox based on how much the sender donated.


What do you do when you're trying to explain a technical issue that can't be explained in 500 chars or requires code snippets? Maybe move to a different medium? A different email address?

A codepaste might work for snippets as long as it's not sensitive. You still might need a way to explain how to reproduce a problem.

Maybe these are all just add-ons for such a service.


I don't think he means you replace your email with this, just have this as a public email. You will still give coworkers or collaborators your regular address and they could send you long code and messages, but strangers wouldn't be able to.

And obviously if you are in a position where strangers should send you random unsolicited code or long messages you should just not use this.


The problem is that it's difficult to know if a stranger might send you a long unsolicited email. Perhaps one of your friends meets somebody who might have a job for you and gives out your email address or whatever.

The majority of the spam I receive is under 500 chars anyway so it wouldn't really help in that regard.


I think the point is that that stranger should introduce himself first in less then 300 chars and then you can decide whether it is important enough to hear him out fully.

Your last sentence makes me feel like you didn't understand the idea at all - it is not to fight spam, but to help you manage communication with real people that you don't know. The basic example is a VC flooded with long copy pasted pitches instead of a poignant and succinct pitch.


Paid email? Regardless of the merits of the idea here, its worth looking at history. The idea "if I could charge 1 cent for every e-mail" is the most scalable business model. But every Mckinsey consultant and two-bit MBA has dreamed of this "Goose" that lays the golden egg, since the dawn of the internet. So has every tax-seeking government. But it has not happened. There is a deep seeded respect online for 0 marginal cost communication. Large enough to even hold off the shadowy forces of very powerful monied interests. At least to date. The idea is in a certain way disrespectful to the foundations of online culture. LIke asking, what if PG charged for every post on HN? This is not passing judgement on the idea itself, more raising context, unintended consequences and other latent forces at play. In other words: overcoming this inertia, would be part of the challenge.


Hi Diego... Yes, heavy inflow of emails is a great problem to solve... Also because this problem gives birth to another bigger problem - the problem of managing email inboxes effectively and locating and retrieving information from email. Though a raw thought and suggested by the likes of Michael Arrington and many other known Silicon Valley faces, I don't think charging senders for emails will ever gonna work. I wrote a pretty long post on the same last month when I started out to work on MetisMe... http://j.mp/problemwithemail


This reminds me about http://www.lettersofnote.com/2012/08/the-morning-mail-is-my-... -- where E.B. White sends back an aggressive letter to a kid's piece of fan mail (The kid questions why he hasn't written another book, he claims that he could write another book if only he didn't receive as much fan mail).

What I'm getting at is that your current idea has more applications other than a simple VC pitch -- but expanding it to celebrity's sounds more like a Mickey Mouse Fan club subscription than email.


I like the idea for length-limited emails, it's original and clever. Unlike shortmail, this limits people who aren't on your whitelist.

Automated response email (good catch Rudism) could be handled via some sort of separate inbox or UI organization.

One counterintuitive thought: this may work even better within corporations. My external email isn't bad, but company internal email has always been a few hundred messages a day for me. A length limitation might put the onus back on the sender to be efficient.


The Marc Andreessen scenario aside, sounds like the right direction for some future of consumer direct marketing... rather than the $s going to an intermediary... it should ultimately transfer to the consumer (assuming said marketplace is sufficiently designed to minimize the aggregate effect of people trying to hack the market without ever consuming).


Oh, you want all the noreply@ receipts to just bounce and disappear?

No thanks.

Maybe the other way, though. Paying as the sender for longer messages. But I don't understand what advantage this would possibly have over the free email services.


Ew.

Accept and master the limitations that come naturally to you or your technology, sure. But don't go looking for ways to limit yourself.


This is pretty dumb and reflects the increasing mentality of "it's like X with the useful functionality removed".

Email is nothing like twitter at all, twitter became popular because it allowed celebrities and the like to share their thoughts with their fans without feeling like they had to maintain a longform blog.

Email is used for 2 way communication, yes companies like to build email lists and use it for push marketing but that's usually seen more as a nuisance to email users.

If somebody is going to charge me in order to send them an email the message I read into that is "My time is so much more valuable that if yours that if you want me to read what you say then you better make it worth my while".

And sometimes emails need to be long, am I supposed to maintain 2 separate email accounts?

In reality, legit commercial mass mail usually does have to pay to send because if you want good deliverability you are probably using mailchimp or a similar service.


This is pretty dumb and reflects the increasing mentality of "it's like X with the useful functionality removed".

I think there is something to this idea. It's wrong to call it "email" though.

Email is nothing like twitter at all, twitter became popular because it allowed celebrities and the like to share their thoughts with their fans without feeling like they had to maintain a longform blog.

This would be something to get brief, easily digestible feedback from their fans. Right now, this either means going through lots of messages, or relying on social media to filter the message for you, but the former takes time or money, and the latter results in only the loudest voices being heard. The proposal above would cause people to filter and edit themselves.

Email is used for 2 way communication, yes companies like to build email lists and use it for push marketing but that's usually seen more as a nuisance to email users.

You just contradicted yourself here. Email is versatile enough to be used in many ways. That's both the best and worst quality of it.

If somebody is going to charge me in order to send them an email the message I read into that is "My time is so much more valuable that if yours that if you want me to read what you say then you better make it worth my while".

Yes, that is the message such a service would have to send. (But in a more subliminal way.)

And sometimes emails need to be long, am I supposed to maintain 2 separate email accounts?

This is precisely why calling this "email" is wrong. It would be like the counterpart of twitter, going the opposite way. It would be the multiplexer to the Twitter demux. It would not be email, however users could possibly access it through email.

Maybe call it "Faninn" "Feedforward" or "Feedgram?" I would allow messages to be marked private or public, with the public messages appearing on a white-labeled website, subject to a reddit or HN style upvote system.


"In reality, legit commercial mass mail usually does have to pay to send"

The point is that they don't pay you. It's an externality:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Externality


I don't really see how paying me would help though.

Either I want to read your email or I don't, paying me $1 a time to read all my viagra spam isn't going to help anyone.

Plus what happens if I really want to send you an email but I don't want to hand my credit card info over to whatever payment provider you use is?


I don't agree that twitter popularity lies on how easy it is to publish on it but in the fact that it establishes a reading contract. I know exactly how much time reading a single tweet will take me so I can read them in many circumstances. That's why I think apps like TwitLonger make no sense.

The point is not to remove a functionality but to further constrain a contract (and enforce it).


The problem is that you are trying to enforce it on top of an existing platform with a use case for which it doesn't really make sense.

If you really don't want to receive long emails from strangers you can always add a filter in your mail setup that deletes any email over 500 chars long from people not in your address book with an autoreply that says "I don't read anything over 500 chars long".




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