The old adage “everything old is new again” couldn’t ring more clearly (and with more truth) than in the recent Google news that AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) was coming to email—thus creating a more interactive inbox.
The new framework will allow users to do much more than read and click on links in an email. New features will ensure that the content delivered to the inbox is fresh and relevant. “Micro-app like” capability enables users to interact with the content of a message without leaving the inbox, thereby removing friction from the overall user experience.
Sounds remarkable? Yes. Truly. New? Not so much.
Where it all started
Back in the late 90’s and early 00’s email was flourishing—marketers understood that licking stamps costs money and saliva, however, email was relatively cheap and immensely effective. Not to mention it saved a lot of spit.
I can see the security folks out there wince.
This seemed like a reasonably good idea. Companies like Ask Jeeves cleverly included a search box into the body of an email allowing the user to kick of a web search from their inbox.
Awesome, right? Imagine this is long before the advent of any kind of email authentication.
This is why we can’t have nice things
Spammers are as eager to exploit email and the growing e-commerce side of the Internet as companies are to capitalize off of a captivated audience busily buying their first online books from a fledgling Amazon.
- Spoof a legitimate brand
- Run a fake dialog box purporting to allow the user to log into an account
- Capture that information, and voila, your identity begins its somber journey into the underbelly of the dark web
Thankfully, this didn’t last too long.
It seemed that interactivity in the inbox would join the rubbish heap of Internet history as a cool, but untenable technology. Or in other words: this is why we can’t have nice things in our email!
Here’s a handy way to remember this basic rule I stumbled across when researching this article:
Where we are now
Flash forward! The next golden age of email design happens when screens shrink! Smartphones are a brilliant new canvas for email designers to take advantage of. With smaller screens and rapidly shrinking attention spans, email becomes simpler, less cluttered, and leverages a single column layout.
But the real revolution isn’t in the design aesthetic, (that was going to happen one way or another) it’s the technology that allows marketers to limit the number of templates they need to code. CSS 3 and HTML 5 become integral components of an ever improved customer experience on small(er) screens.
The problem isn’t even that the screen has shrunk from laptops and desktops, it’s that there are a plethora of unique screen sizes ranging from smart phone to phablet to tablet to [insert new form factor here].
In addition to managing this complicated render-verse, designers begin to create really cool interactive elements like micro shopping carts. This isn’t the only use for interactive email, some applications are much more subtle and may go completely unseen.
Take for instance our client eBay—because the vast majority of items on their site are unique within their newsletters, if not opened upon arrival, time out and become defunct as auctions expire and items sell out.
eBay developed a proprietary technology that refreshes the content of the message upon open, thus creating a more relevant and timely experience for each individual user rather than the #sadpanda of clicking on an auction and learning that you missed those Gucci sunglasses.
These unique experiences are revitalizing the inbox as more than just a place to get news, it’s proving that the inbox is a place for unique experiences and potentially conversions!
Google’s AMP for Email fits into this niche—although the technology won’t be supported in Gmail until later this year, developers can start working and experimenting with the various components and use cases in the initial release.
I for one am terribly excited about the prospect of more tools in a designers toolbox. Given the native integration between Gmail & Youtube, I can see some really cutting edge experiences built into email design through AMP and video down the road. It seems as though the 40+-year-old technology may be experiencing yet another golden era because as I said before, everything old is new again.
For more on email design best practices, check out our Q&A about email design best practices to boost email engagment.