So I use this great thing called OtherInbox. They’re in closed beta just now, but if you follow them on Twitter you’re likely to see when they hand out another round of invites (which they recently tweeted would be coming early in January, if I remember right). Let me tell you a bit about OI before I go into my rant. Hopefully it will segue nicely.
OtherInbox is an email, uh… application. Like Gmail or Hotmail, sort of. When you sign up for OI, though, you don’t get firstname.lastname@example.org, you get a whole subdomain and infinite email addresses at it. So, email@example.com. Then, when you login to your account, you’re presented with folders based on the email address that the email came to. It’s sort of like filters in other email clients, except you don’t have to set them up, you just hand out a new email address. So if I sign up for a new site, I hand it firstname.lastname@example.org and when they send me email, it automatically goes to a folder in my OI named after that site. So I have an Amazon folder and a Twitter folder, etc. etc.
You can also have a vanity URL and edit your MX records on the host so that email gets routed to OI’s servers, so that you don’t have to use the long username.otherinbox.com in your emails. So I have benhamill.com set up that way. Very, very nice feature, that.
Okay, so why might you want this service? Well, spam, firstly. If I’ve only ever given a certain email address away to amazon.com and I start getting spam to that address, I know who the culprit is. Also, if I want to sign up for something that I expect to get spam from, I can do so without fear. After getting that confirmation email, I can just hit the “Block All” button and OI will just not show me those messages. I don’t have to worry about it ever again.
Another use case which I’m loving is when you sign up for what’s called bacn; stuff you want, but not, you know, right now. I use OI to sign up for email lists and such that I don’t want cluttering up my inbox. Stuff I might want to read, but over the weekend or whatever; stuff that’s not time-sensitive.
Which leads me to my rant. If you’re not an OtherInbox user, the following might not make a lot of sense, so you might want to skip it until you are. And I highly recommend you become one. I found that the more I used it, the more I liked it. So, rant on…
OtherInbox is not your primary inbox. It’s right there in the name. I was confused about this at first, too, but it should be obvious. You don’t ditch gmail for OI. You use them both. How you divide it up is something people do differently, but here’s my rule of thumb: If it is sent by a computer (as opposed to a human), it goes to OI. What this does (ideally, since I haven’t finished converting all my accounts over to OI addresses) is makes it such that the only emails that show up in my gmail account are ones that are actually to me.
I mean–how many emails do you get from computers? If you’re like me then a lot. I get email every time someone follows me on Twitter and every time someone sends me a message in my online Diplomacy game and every month when Rock Band sends out their “zine”. Why not have a computer help me deal with it all? It’s not going to read it for me, of course, but it will help me process them. If I know I ordered something from Amazon, then I will look at new emails to my amazon address when they show up. Otherwise, I’ll probably ignore it.
However, OI is pretty bad at displaying conversations. I mean–that’s not a fault, that’s not part of their core mission. They’ve been talking about adding a feature like that since it makes sense for mailing lists, but for personal email, gmail is still king. Tags and search and conversation view, etc. That’s what gmail is good at. OI is good at sorting spam and bacn.
People who talk about having their friends each email an OI address based on their name just confuse me. Your friends aren’t going to sell your email address to spammers or send you stuff you don’t want to read (or, if they are, get new friends… elderly relatives, on the other hand, who will send you random jokes might warrant an OI address), so there’s no need to hide you real email address. If you want, you can set up auto-forwarding for an OI address, but just hand that out to real people like you would your real address.
It can get sort of heady, making up any old address to give to people, but if you’re handing out OI addresses to real people, you’re sort of defeating the purpose of OtherInbox. Either you’re using OI’s interface, which is optimized for dealing with emails en mass, or you’re having to set up a bunch of auto-forwards to your primary inbox (with the nice interface for dealing with individual emails). OI is supposed to make it so you don’t have to set up filters or auto-forwards all the time.
I really love OtherInbox. If you’re not a user (and you didn’t skip the rant), really go follow them on Twitter and get an invite code. Or find someone who’s in the beta now and see if they have any invites left (I have a single one as of this writing). I didn’t think I was really an awesome candidate for an OI user, but that’s only because I didn’t realize how much email I get from computers. It’s really freeing to be able to click “Yes, send me updates” on everything. If you never get anything from them that’s worth your time, you never waste any time on it. Throwing away that email address it completely trivial. The real trick to having OtherInbox improve your life is not swimming against the stream, though. So remember my rant when you sign up.