TL;DR: Your emails are too long

photo credit: Urlesque Buttons via photopin (license)
photo credit: Urlesque Buttons via photopin (license)

I recently met with an interesting startup from Israel called TL;DR that has changed the way I’m thinking about and using email.

TL;DR stands for Too Long; Didn’t Read. It started as a quip used on Web forums and now occasionally stands in as a shorthand for “Here’s the summary of the long-winded thing I just wrote.”

The TL;DR app only works on iPhone 5 and 6 models, and I don’t have one of those, so I’m not actually using the app. But its approach resonated with me: It encourages you to write very short emails by explicitly giving you a “TL;DR” box to summarize your messages in 30 words or less. In some cases that turns out to be all you need.

It also presents incoming emails in a Facebook-like “card” view so you can easily scan them and dispose of them or reply to them. Neat.

But the philosophy, not the app, is my takeaway:

1. Most emails are too long. That’s fixable: I’m now skipping most of the greetings, the signoffs, and the excess verbiage I used to use. I’m writing emails more like Tweets now.

Sure, I sometimes write longer, when I need to convey a lot of information or I’m being extra-polite when introducing myself to a new person. But my default email is now very short.

2. If you treat email as an endless stream of social data, its less burdensome. Somehow email has come to seem like “a pile of things I have to deal with” rather than “a series of messages I might be interested in.” But you can look at your inbox more like Twitter, and it changes your relationship to it. Older than a week? Forget it; I’m not feeling obligated to look at it. Next year, my cutoff might be a day or two.

Finally, a tip: I found an easy way to scan through Gmail in a way that speeds up reading a lot. It is not as elegant as the TL;DR app demo I saw, but it is almost as fast.

You need to enable Gmail shortcut keys for this. Here’s my current workflow:

Open up the first message in your inbox. Look at it, and if there’s no action to take, press the [ key (the left square bracket), which archives the current message and then displays the next one. This works better than Y, which archives the current message but then returns you to the inbox.

In this way, I can plow through a lot of messages just by going [ [ [ [.

If there is an action to take on a message, you can reply to the message quickly (press R), add a star (press S), or defer taking action by moving to the next message while leaving the current one in the inbox (press J).

Also useful: Press M to mute a message thread, so you won’t see it in your inbox again unless someone directs it explicitly at you. This is really useful for those long, useless intra-office pile-on threads.

Using this workflow I’ve been able to read most of my incoming “Priority” messages every day, while leaving a minimal number of other messages in my inbox for later followup or monitoring.

And as for the rest? I don’t worry about missing them any more than I worry about seeing every single Facebook update.

Here’s an Oatmeal comic about the problem with email. It’s kind of long, so TL;DR: Your emails are too long. Write shorter.

Matthew Inman, The Oatmeal
Matthew Inman, The Oatmeal (This is just the first panel — click through to read the rest of the comic)
TL;DR: Your emails are too long

First Floor Labs, .XYZ domains, and DJI Drones: My appearance on NBC Bay Area

I was on NBC Bay Area’s Sunday show “Press Here” a few weeks ago. This is a really fun show to do: It’s like a local version of “Meet the Press,” hosted by Scott McGrew. They bring in a couple local journalists and do a few short segments where we interview entrepreneurs about what they’re working on.

This time, I was on with Michal Lev-Ram of Fortune. There were three segments. We talked with Eric Cheng of DJI Drones, a big manufacturer of drones:


And Daniel Negari of .XYZ domains:


And Mendel Chuang of Smoopa and AOL’s First Floor Labs:


First Floor Labs, .XYZ domains, and DJI Drones: My appearance on NBC Bay Area

Heroic levels of hype

I’m going to try something new this week. I’ve been admiring emails by Om Malik, Alexis Madrigal, and Caitlin Dewey, who send daily or weekly lists of links to interesting things to read. (You should sign up for their newsletters — all three are wonderful, in very different ways.)

And my occasional emails have felt a little self centered. I write just a handful of posts every week, after all. And yet each week I come across a lot of wonderful things I’d like to share: great stories written by the VentureBeat team, things I saved to Instapaper, long reads on Medium, links I tweeted, and more.

So I’d like to try sending you a few interesting links in each of my weekly emails. Just a few: I’ll keep it short and limit it to high-quality things you might actually enjoy reading.

The focus will reflect my day job — lots of business technology news — but I might start including some things off that path too. And I will continue to include links to my weekly columns.

Let me know what you think!


Hillary’s Email [Medium]
A minor scandal erupted last week about Hillary Clinton using a personal email server, instead of the official State Department email, for her entire term as Secretary of State. Here’s a really smart take on that. “It’s probably the case that if Hillary Clinton was focusing solely on security, using her personal email with 2 Factor Authentication was probably way *more* secure than using the honeypot mess of IT that is the State Department’s email servers.”

The Year We Broke the Internet [Esquire]
News, or “newsiness”? “We in the media have been struggling for twenty years to solve that riddle, and this year, the answer arrived: Big Viral, a Lovecraftian nightmare that has tightened its thousand-tentacled grip on our browsing habits with its traffic-at-all-costs mentality—veracity, newsworthiness, and relevance be damned.

Much Ventured, Much Gained [Foreign Affairs]
A rare interview with Michael Moritz, one of the most successful VCs in history. “Clarity of thought. The ability to communicate clearly. A great sense of mission. A massive willingness to persevere. A willingness to make painful decisions. Extraordinary energy. And a belief that he or she has embarked on their life’s work. Those are the hallmarks of the truly wonderful entrepreneurs behind the handful of fantastic companies.”

What to Think, Ep. 44: Using big data to improve your March Madness bracket [VentureBeat]
In this episode of VentureBeat’s weekly podcast, Jordan Novet and I do our best to cover for our almost complete ignorance regarding the NCAA in order to have what turns out to be a really interesting conversation with Nik Bonaddio, the founder of NumberFire.
And here’s my column for this week:Welcome to Hero City, land of opportunity — and heroic levels of hype

The first thing you notice when you walk in the front door of Hero City is a gleaming, black Tesla. Except the Tesla has been cut in half, lengthwise, and converted into a reception desk.

The second thing you notice is that, underneath the sweeping, high ceiling, in front of the grand staircase up to the second floor, dozens of desks are arrayed, about half of them empty, the other half with young entrepreneurs hunched over laptops, typing away, working on their plans to change the world.

Then — over there on the wall to the right: a giant mural. Two stories high and probably fifty feet wide, it covers one entire side of this giant room. Painted in comic-book style — by DC Comics artist Jim Lee — it features Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, and Robin. Robin is saying “Holy amazing opportunity, Batman!” Wonder Woman, who is standing next to a group of professionals (a lab coat-wearing doctor, a tie-wearing office worker, and a hard hat-wearing construction manager) is saying “Unleash the Heroes!”

And next to Robin stands a 15-foot-high cartoon portrait of Hero City founder, third-generation venture capitalist, and political gadfly Timothy C. Draper, ripping open his standard-issue VC blue dress shirt to reveal an orange superhero leotard with a Draper logo on it.

Draper, you suddenly realize, kind of looks like Superman — in the portrait as in real life. And damned if he isn’t making the very most of that resemblance.

continue reading:  Welcome to Hero City, land of opportunity — and heroic levels of hype

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Heroic levels of hype

What 2 runaway llamas taught us about net neutrality

"Katy was so worried when you two just took off like that"

For about two hours today, all the Internet wanted to talk about was the FCC’s historic net neutrality decision. (They’re in favor of it.)

Then, suddenly, all work stopped as the digerati focused their collective attention on two runaway llamas scampering around Phoenix.

Short attention span much? Sure. Never accuse the Twitterverse of being able to focus on any one thing for very long. And if it involves cute animals, a skycam, or — wonder of wonders — both of those things, well, it’s hard for those of us brought up in the school of quick clicks to resist.

But the two events are more connected than you might think. Without belaboring the point too much, it’s clear that the Llama Drama could never have happened without a fairly substantial stack of technologies, all working together smoothly.

Helicopters? Check. High-bandwidth, real-time digital video connections from the helicopter to the TV station? Check. A social network primed to share links (and jokes) about an entertaining, developing “news” situation as it happens? Check.

The ability for a local TV station in Phoenix to broadcast live video anywhere in the world, in real time, with a minimum of lag and pretty decent video quality? Check.

Now imagine a world where that TV station wasn’t able to broadcast real-time HD video without paying extra fees. Where Netflix, because it had paid extra fees to your ISP, could guarantee that you’d be able to watch the upcoming release of House of Cards season 3 without hiccups, but at the expense of the live video feed from ABC 15 in Phoenix. Where ABC 15 couldn’t even be sure its video feed would get across at all, because it hadn’t made extra payments to every ISP and content delivery network along the path from its servers to your browser.

Now, this argument works for both sides of the net neutrality debates. The FCC just made its decision today, but as of today’s Llamapalooza, those rules were not yet in effect.

ISPs and wireless carriers — starting with Verizon — have mocked the FCC for trying to apply ancient, 1930s-era communications policy to the modern world’s technologies. And we were all able to watch the llamas without an explicit net neutrality mandate just fine, thank you very much.

But net neutrality proponents point out that there are plenty of examples already where carriers have prioritized the content of paying customers over others. It’s only a matter of time, the argument goes, until you can’t get through to customers in any kind of reasonable way without paying extra. Just because you could watch Llamarama today doesn’t mean it’ll be streaming smoothly the next time it happens — and that’s why we need regulatory enforcement.

As for me, I can see both sides of the argument, but I feel there’s a strong argument to be made for the FCC to ensure that everyone — individual consumers as well as small-time video broadcasters — have access to a basic level of service. That shouldn’t eliminate the option for companies like Netflix to hire CDNs to ensure fast, timely delivery — as long as that priority channel doesn’t adversely affect the transmission of basic email, web content, and video.

In other words, as FCC chairman Tom Wheeler said today, this isn’t a restrictive regulatory move (unless you’re a rapacious carrier). This is a guarantee of non-restriction.

This is no more a plan to regulate the Internet than the First Amendment is a plan to regulate free speech!” Wheeler said today, nearing yelling.

As for the llamas: Well, they’ve now been regulated. Both were eventually lassoed, bringing an end to the epic that future generations might call the Llamayana.

We mourn. But, like the Left Shark, the images of the llamas will live on. And so will the Internet.

from VentureBeat » Dylan Tweney

What 2 runaway llamas taught us about net neutrality

Dylan’s Desk: Why the coming messaging economy will be very big business

WhatsApp, Line, Skype, WeChat -- how do you want to chat?

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There’s a deep shift in the way we communicate happening, and it’s about to turn media and marketing businesses upside-down.

In short, the Web-based world is about to become secondary to the message-based world.

Messaging apps like WhatsApp (now part of Facebook), WeChat, Line, Snapchat, and Kik are sitting pretty in this new world. That’s because they’re the apps that young people increasingly use to communicate. Some striking stats:

  • WhatsApp: 700 million monthly active users
  • WeChat: 468 million monthly active users
  • Line: 181 million monthly active users
  • SnapChat: 100 million monthly active users
  • Tango: 70 million monthly active users

Kik, whose cofounder and chief technical officer Chris Best was on a panel discussion with me earlier this week, doesn’t report monthly active users for some reason. Instead, it reports that it has 200 million registered users — of which some unknown, smaller proportion are active users. Tango also reports 200 million registered users, so we can estimate that Kik, like Tango, probably has about 1/3 as many active users, or about 70 million.

But Kik claims that 40 percent of people in the U.S. between the ages of 13 and 25 have Kik accounts. Forty percent! That’s an astonishing number that gives some hint of how ubiquitous messaging apps are becoming.

At first glance, you might wonder what the big deal is. Why does anyone need one of these apps to communicate when we’ve already got email, instant messengers from Facebook, Google or AOL, and SMS-based text messages?

The answer is complex, but boils down — I think — to the fact that these message apps let people create unique identities that aren’t tied to their email accounts or phone numbers, and they support a wider range of content. You can send funny GIFs to your friends. You can send them custom stickers. You can send them goofy selfies that (usually) disappear in a few seconds. You can play games with them.

And, increasingly, you can read the news or make purchases via message apps.

In this, the U.S. is a bit behind Asia, where you can even buy insurance and apply for a mortgage via WeChat. But transactional features are coming to our shores.

And content: Snapchat’s move into content, with its Snapchat Discover channel, is just the start.

And search: As NYC Techstars’ Alex Iskold recently wrote, I’ve seen the future of search, and it ain’t Google.

And even more: One new startup out of Y Combinator called Magic is promising to fulfill whatever it is you need — whether that’s a pizza and a Pepsi, an order of sushi and some flowers, or a tiger. Magic works via SMS right now, but it’s easy to imagine it working in any of the major messaging apps.

Web- and content-based businesses, like Google and Facebook, will have to recalibrate their entire business models. (Facebook seems to understand this, and was willing to spend an enormous amount, $22 billion, in acquiring WhatsApp as a hedge against this message-centric future.) That goes double for publishers like Yahoo, Buzzfeed, Vox Media, the New York Times, and, yes, VentureBeat.

Apps that aren’t message-centric will need to transform themselves, or else find a way to insert themselves into the message economy somehow. Instagram’s recent direct message feature is a perfect example of a content-centric app trying to turn itself into a messaging app.

For marketers, messaging apps are incredibly tempting — and potentially revolutionary. Kik, for instance, says that 70 percent of the branded messages it has sent to its users are opened in the first hour, an enormous open rate. That’s not based on a small sample size, either: It has sent 100 million of these messages to date. What’s more, it says that the click-through rates on those messages are 10 to 50 times higher than on Twitter or Facebook. The reason it’s seeing such high rates of engagement are because people have already opted-in to receive those message. If you’re following Funny or Die (a content partner on Kik), you’ve already self-selected as someone who is interested in that brand’s content. Also, Kik limits marketers to just four branded messages per month, to help keep the frequency low and the novelty high.

Other message-centric apps are taking different approaches. WhatsApp claims that it will not carry advertising — though that’s the fundamental raison d’etre for its parent company, Facebook, so we’ll see how long that lasts. Snapchat has just started to experiment with making money. WeChat hasn’t made nearly the traction here that it has seen in Asia, and offers fewer features to its English-speaking users (and marketers). Tango has been aggressively courting game developers.

Whatever approaches win out, one thing seems clear: Message apps are flush with cash, and know that they’re sitting on top of an incredibly valuable resource — the time and attention of a young and tech-savvy demographic. Look for a lot of experimentation to happen in the next year or two.

And who knows, maybe the next big media brand will emerge on a messaging app instead of on the Web.


from VentureBeat » Dylan Tweney

Dylan’s Desk: Why the coming messaging economy will be very big business