May 18, 2013

Email as an Interface

A few days ago I tweeted:

Are there any products using email to perform user actions w/o visiting the site/app? E.g. reply w/ “yes” to accept a friend invite.

— Ryan Hoover (@rrhoover) May 15, 2013

Later that day Google announced embedded email actions to give Gmail users the ability to interact with products or services directly from their inbox. With a only few clicks you can RSVP to a birthday party, review a film you watched last night on Netflix, add an article to your Pocket queue, check-in to a flight, add the new Daft Punk album to your Spotify queue, follow a recommended user on Twitter, or reply to a friend’s Facebook post.

That’s right. Email just became another product interface.

Reducing Friction

Traditionally, a user would have to:

  1. Open the email
  2. Read and interpret the message
  3. Click a link
  4. Navigate to a webpage
  5. Perform action

Now with embedded actions, they simply:

  1. Click embedded action button
  2. Perform action

Embedded actions reduces friction, increasing user’s ability to perform the behavior desired by product designers and marketers.

And as ability increases, so does usage.

This Isn’t New

Several products allow users to perform similar actions by sending or replying to an email. Examples:

  • Publish a post on Tumblr.
  • Share your daily to-do’s on iDoneThis.
  • Reply to a comment on Dispatch or Disqus.
  • Record expenses using The Birdy.
  • Post photos through attachments with Olapic.

What’s been missing is the interface and a clear call-to-action that “normals” can understand and easily engage with. Yes, you could review a movie by replying to an email using a standardized syntax (e.g. “rate: 4 stars”), but how many people will actually do that?

New Habits

I’m excited to see how product designers and developers especially Email-First Startups) use this new functionality to drive higher engagement and new habits by attaching to an existing daily routine: email.

How might you use embedded actions within your own product?

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