Russell Davies: It's unfashionable and caked in spam, but e-mail still rules

By Russell Davies,, Thursday, 04 October 2012 08:00AM

I woke this morning with that gnawing mix of fear and obligation I get when I can't think what to write for Campaign.

Russell Davies: It's unfashionable and caked in spam, but e-mail still rules

I did my usual morning ablutions, performed the mandated overelaborate artisanal coffee ritual, stepped on my Wi-Fi-enabled bathroom scales, blanched in horror at the read-out and sat down at my computer to check my e-mail. (I know, I know, a terrible way to start the day, but I can't resist it.)

And there, I realised, was what I should write about. Because among all the badly targeted PR spam were all these useful and interesting services that I've gradually been signing up for - services that have realised that e-mail can still be a productive and effective channel.

First, there was an e-mail from Beeminder (odd name, I know, but therefore highly Google-able). Beeminder is a service that tracks your goals and aspirations, and graphs them in motivating and stimulating ways, using lots of clever psychology and elegant stats.

I use it to tell me I'm fat. It extracts data from my scales and sends me an e-mail that puts my weight that morning in a broader, more understandable context that shows me how I'm really doing. That's actually a good thing to get in the morning.

Second, there's Timehop, a daily e-mail that tells me what I was doing a year ago. Timehop has access to many of my social media accounts - Foursquare, Flickr, Twitter - and uses these to give me a picture of myself a year ago. Which is obviously narcissistic twaddle but is also quietly revealing.

Most of the time, it points out how little has changed, which I don't mind too much - life's not too bad at the moment. But, occasionally, it draws me up short and re-minds me of some dramatic moment or other, some life event that makes me think about change and circumstances and the circle of life. That's not a bad thing in the morning either.

Third, there's Sunrise. It's another daily e-mail but one that looks forward rather than back. It has access to my Google Calendar and Facebook and constructs a nice automatic schedule for me for my day.

It tells me what meetings I have and something about the people I'm meeting with. If I had a LinkedIn account, it would use that data, but since I don't, it does its best with Facebook. Again, it's useful and arrives at just the right time. I print it out on a little thermal printer and keep it with me for the day - it's easier than checking my phone all the time.

Just as we start to write a channel off, that's often when it becomes useful again. It's happening with e-mail - I wonder where it'll happen next.

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