Email you can trust.

closeup of "we trust" on a $20 bill

tl;dr: I’m joining ValiMail as head of communications, because I like email and want it to work right.

I’m kind of a fan of email. I’m weird like that: Most of the journalists and tech experts I know say they hate email. But I keep coming back to it.

Email is ubiquitous, and since it’s based on open standards, it’s not controlled by any single company. Unlike the rest of the web we lost, it stands, almost alone, as a bastion of universality, accessibility, and openness. You can set up your own email server if you want, with whatever security or lack of security you deem appropriate, and you don’t have to ask anyone’s permission or pay a fee. You can write lengthy formal missives to your friends and business associates or short notes to yourself or your baby daughter. You can use email as your to-do list. You can treat email like SMS and write tight messages without punctuation or capitalization. It’s all good, and it’s all up to you.

photo of a book page showing how to send email
This is how we did Internet e-mail back in the day, kids.

Email was one of the first things that caught my interest when I first really got online in 1991, and when I published a book in 1995, the most useful four pages in it explained how to send email from one online service (like Prodigy) to another (like CompuServe) via the Internet. (It wasn’t obvious at the time.)

Since then I’ve written about how I’m deluged in mail, passed along secrets for getting me to read your email, made a case for writing shorter emails, and argued that we would all miss email if it died.

Email continues to be an essential tool for communication between people and companies. It is the most effective marketing medium bar none. The spam problem is largely taken care of due to sophisticated and adaptable filtering.

But there’s one big problem remaining, and that’s trustworthiness.

In most cases, it’s far too easy impersonate someone in email by putting their name and email address in the From field of your message. There are no built-in safeguards in email’s basic protocols to validate the sender of an email.

As a result, phishing is rampant. Roughly 90% of cyberattacks start with hackers sending phishing emails to individuals, and those emails often impersonate senders the recipients would trust (like their company’s IT manager or CEO, or their bank, or Google.)

That’s where email authentication comes in. To simplify a bit, once a domain owner has enabled email authentication and has set an enforcement policy, emails from any authorized senders — to any recipient — will get through. But emails from unauthorized senders won’t even get delivered.

It’s complicated to implement, and that’s why most domain owners have not yet enabled authentication, even though the majority of email service providers (like Gmail or Office 365) are compatible with it. And that’s the job that ValiMail handles, by automating the process of setting up, managing, and monitoring email authentication for companies that want to protect their domains.

The headline benefit is that it stops phishing. Close behind that is that it protects a company’s brand reputation from bad guys who would impersonate it. A third benefit includes the ability for IT people to get control over “shadow IT” services: cloud services that random employees have signed up for. Whenever those services attempt to send email on behalf of the company, and most of them will, the IT folks get a notification and can make a decision about whether or not to authorize those emails.

To make a long story short, ValiMail offered me the position of head of communications, and I accepted. My first day is Monday. If you’re a journalist and want the inside scoop on email authentication, or you could use data on phishing and its broader impact on cybersecurity, let me know. I am going to be a zero-BS comms guy, because I’ve been on the other side and I know what is useful PR and what’s not. I’m going to be useful.

If you’re not a journalist and you’re interested in this topic, tune in to the ValiMail blog, where I’ve been writing for over a year and will continue to post what I hope will be interesting and illuminating updates.

I didn’t set out to find a job. I was very happily running my own show at Tweney Media, enjoying life as an independent consultant and freelancer. I’m proud that I was able to deliver some great results for my clients.

But I like the people at ValiMail, I like what the company is doing, I think there’s a big opportunity there, and most of all, I believe they’ve got something real that will have actual, material benefit to the world. I’m not saying that Snap Spectacles or your social network for dogs don’t have social utility, but with ValiMail, I can clearly see a real benefit that I can get behind.

Besides, did I mention that I really like email? And I want it to stay open and free — just more trustworthy.

Email you can trust.

PR folks: Here’s how to pitch me

Matthew Inman, The Oatmeal
Matthew Inman, The Oatmeal

The lovely Ayelet Noff from PR firm Blonde 2.0 interviewed me on the best way for PR people to approach me with stories. Here’s an excerpt, but read the full story on her site if you’re wondering about this kind of thing.

1) What’s the best way to pitch you?

The very best way is to look at the contact form on VentureBeat’s website, and either use the form there or use the list of reporters to figure out which reporter to pitch:

http://venturebeat.com/contact

If you can’t figure out which reporter is the best contact, it’s ok to email me.

It is *highly* recommended that you copy tips@venturebeat.com any time you have time-sensitive news that you are pitching, whether you are emailing me or anyone else on my team.

That form, by the way, as well as tips@venturebeat.com, go to the whole news team. We do monitor incoming messages constantly, though we don’t reply to everything.

If you don’t hear from me, it’s ok to follow up in a day or two (just re-mail me in the same thread so I have all the context right there).

How to pitch me: Dylan Tweney

PR folks: Here’s how to pitch me

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