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.

Pioneering companies wanted to do more with the user’s attention in the inbox. Not satisfied with a simple click (or reply which was actively discouraged by using “do not reply” to style addresses) companies thought it was a good idea to code in text entry fields into an email and run get/post type functions through JavaScript.

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.

Unscrupulous actors quickly realized that since early webmail clients and desktop clients allowed executable JavaScript to be included in the code they would render (and run on receipt and open), they could do things like:

  • 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.

Almost every webmail builder switched off JavaScript. Emails that arrived with bits of JavaScript in their body would appear broken. It became a losing proposition for any marketer to use it in any way shape or form. *Phewwww!*

Eventually, some receivers began to penalize anyone sending email with JavaScript by deprecating their ability to deliver to the inbox. The fight against JavaScript in the inbox didn’t end then, as recently as 2017 Gmail announced that they would no longer accept .js attachments as they posed potential security issues.

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:

“You can drink java while coding email but please don’t code your email with JavaScript.”

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.

Len Shneyder is a 15+ year email and digital messaging veteran and the VP of Industry Relations at Twilio SendGrid. Len serves as an evangelist and proponent of best practices and he drives thought leadership and data-driven insights on industry trends based on the massive volume of email SendGrid delivers on behalf of their customers. Len is a longtime member of M3AAWG (the Messaging, Malware, Mobile Anti-Abuse Working Group) and served on its board in addition to Co-Chairing the Program Committee. He’s also part of the MAC (Member Advisory Committee) of the EEC (Email Experience Council) where he serves as the organization's MAC Chair. The EEC is a professional trade organization focused on promoting email marketing best practices. The EEC is owned by the ANA (Association of National Advertisers), a nearly 100-year-old organization where he also sits on the Ethics Committee. In addition, Len has worked closely with the ESPC (Email Sender & Provider Coalition) on issues surrounding data privacy and email deliverability.