Nik Kantar

Monday, March 1, 2021

HEY? Nay.

I got super excited for a new awesome looking email service, but it’s got a fatal flaw that has me looking elsewhere.

Last year the folks at Basecamp launched a really intriguing email service called HEY. While I’ve never really gotten into Basecamp itself, I have a fair bit of respect for that team, and the HEY pitch is appealing, so I’ve been keeping an eye on it.

I’ve actually been wanting to move my nkantar.com email off of Gmail for years now, and Fastmail has been the main contender for most of that time. Laziness has prevented me from following through so far, but I’ve gotten more and more interested in doing so in the last year. The timing of HEY’s launch couldn’t have been better.

Except there’s a deal breaker: no import.

Lack of Import = Sadness :(

I have two main email accounts I use: one is on this very domain, and the other on gmail.com. I figured no service would let me import the latter, so I’ve been slowly transitioning away from it. However, I’d like the history from the former to come with me wherever I go.

At this very moment I have 5,817 emails on this domain and 19,805 on gmail.com. This includes everything in the inbox, sent, and archive. The addresses date back to 2009 and 2007, respectively. There’s a lot of stuff in there that I honestly don’t need, but there’s also quite a bit that I do.

One of the things I remember Gmail introducing into my email use—in addition to the vast storage—was incredible search. I almost never use anything more clever than just some relevant search terms, but that’s enough. I’d say I search for something in at least one of the two accounts at least once per day.

The HEY team suggests using the outgoing email account and apps to search for these things from the past. In theory this could actually work if my searching needs moved along with time. I could double up for some number of months and slowly do it less and less. But my searching needs are much too arbitrary for that—I find myself looking for things from years back often enough that I’d expect to never shake the old setup. Maybe I’m just being difficult here, but that sounds like a pretty serious downgrade, and I’m not at all convinced the upsides of HEY’s novel approach would outweigh it.

Is There a Fix Coming?

In short: no.

I haven’t found anything other than “nope” from anyone at Basecamp/HEY regarding this subject. I’ve heard the reasoning that it would be hilariously resource intensive, and I get that. I’ve also deduced that it breaks the concept a bit, as it would be this pile of untriaged stuff from the past, and sort of get that as well. But I’ve also read the rather glib “HEY is a fresh start moving forward” from the FAQ, and find it offensive and condescending. Either way, given the amount of thought obviously put into the whole thing, I can only conclude I’m simply not in their target market, which seems to be primarily comprised by people willing and able to declare email bankruptcy. I wish.

It’s a real bummer, too, since I like so much about the service. Novel approach to handling incoming mail? Looks appealing. Focus on privacy? Wonderful. Business offering supporting custom domains? Love it. Great looking web, macOS, and iOS apps? Yes, please. Reasonable pricing? Awesome.

What About a Compromise?

What I really want is to not have to keep the Gmail app on my phone and log into Gmail in the browser to search through old mail. That means that just about any way I could do that from HEY should work:

As you can see, I’m rather flexible on the implementation.

Now What?

Well, I guess Fastmail is still a solid choice. I’d be willing to wait for months—even a year—if I had any hope this was going to be addressed in a way that works for me (and surely many, many others), but the team has pretty unequivocaly denied it. Still a bummer.

I hope I’m proven wrong before I do anything about this, but I’m not holding my breath. Oh well.


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