I had a worrisome email today from one of my favorite people, a colleague in many ways and a very influential blogger, in which she asks:
Hi Tim, are there any changes planned to Email Center Pro soon? Such as permissions to view/handle certain messages?
The first thing that worries me about the question is that I’d love to just say "yes, that’s coming" because that’s by far the best way to answer any user request. Pleasing the user is a great way to lead software development. However, in this case at least, the real answer is "no, we’re not going to, and for some very strong reasons." And it’s not just the real answer, it’s also the right one.
Email Center Pro has a mission: better business email management. And that means, for us, doing some things different than what most people expect, not because we want to, or because we think it’s cool, but because there’s a deep business background to it. It’s simply about transparency; and accountability.
We think we do a lot of people a favor by making the distinction between shared business email accounts, like the famous info@ or sales@ or help@ email addresses; and personal email. There’s Hotmail, and Yahoo! Mail, and Gmail, and many other providers to manage your personal email, and, more importantly, your employees’ personal email. Furthermore, Email Center Pro doesn’t need to replace the normal email server that has everybody’s "sort-of" personal business email — the firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com email addresses.
It’s not just transparency, either; it’s also a matter of managing information and communications and contacts with customers. What happens in the real world, with email management, is emails relate to issues and customers and projects and such, and should be managed as bits of information, and messages in communication that are part of the whole business process. And in the business process we shift things from one person to another, frequently, as a matter of getting things done.
For example, think of the email triage function, which comes up quickly even in small business. An email that comes in to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com needs to be dealt with by Ralph or Mabel, depending on content, context, and function.
Email Center Pro includes the function of assigning emails to people, and moving the responsibility. If things were locked, that wouldn’t work.
And, then, on a more theoretical level, whether we like it or not, our business email isn’t really private. The system operators can see it, if they want to. And it’s come up in court cases. And given that email isn’t really private, is it good management to make it look and feel private, even when it isn’t? Sometimes I think — as a person, not as a developer or publisher or employee of the publisher of Email Center Pro — that our users are very much better off managing their business email in an environment that keeps it plainly clear and obvious that email is business documentation, public by definition.
It reminds me of some email I sent, many years ago now, to several of my children who were then still in college. I reminded them that email felt private, but really wasn’t. That they should always remember that it can be forwarded and, potentially at least, misused. Given that this is the case, maybe it shouldn’t feel private.
So it is my personal opinion that it’s a good thing if more people get comfortable with matching the metaphor of email — business email, transparent, accountable, and manageable — to the email interface. That’s one of the missions of Email Center Pro.