I get really excited about email. Not because I work at an email infrastructure company, but because email is a universal interface. Everyone with a computer knows how to use it. Meaning both my eighty year old grandmother and my ten year old cousin can communicate with me using the same protocol. I can choose to receive email on my terms, send read receipts only if I want, and respond how I desire. It provides more functionality than Facebook messages, and has been around for five times as long. It’s amazing!

I’m always excited to see use cases for email that stretch how we think about the service and decided to compile a list of some of the most interesting uses.

Periodic Emails

Remember how I said email was a universal interface? It can easily allow for apps to interact with people without breaking their workflow. Many apps send periodic emails for this reason: giving or getting information from people without the user needing to do anything different (say navigate to a webpage or open an app).

  • Sunrise – SendGrid user Sunrise sends daily emails to its users to tell them what’s going on in their day. Users get their schedule all while reading their morning email, informing them without forcing them to do something different.
  • idonethis – idonethis, another SendGrid customer, emails users to ask what they achieved today. Users can respond with their accomplishments and it’s logged by the app. Again, users don’t need to do anything differently, just continue to answer their email, but still get use out of the app.

Complex User Interactions

Emails can contain HTML, something most people take advantage of, however, this can be brought to the extreme to allow for highly complex user interactions. Seemingly, without leaving their email client, users can fill out forms, answer surveys, and review products. Keeping people in a familiar interface inspires action, whereas if the user had to click a link, they may just ignore the email.

  • Google Drive Forms – Forms created using Google Drive can be sent directly in emails. Recipients can fill them out and submit them, only leaving their inbox to see the confirmation page.
  • Amazon.com Product Reviews – Amazon.com always prompts customers to review products after purchase, in the email the company has users get started by giving the product a star rating. Upon providing Amazon with a star rating, the user is placed on the site to write a long form review.

Amazon uses rich emails to engage users before they leave their inbox.

Email Parsing

People are constantly receiving email. With the average office worker recieving an estimated 65 emails a day, there’s an immense amount of data in emails. By freeing this data from email, treasure troves of information are available.

  • TripIt – TripIt is a fantastic travel app, that keeps all your reservations, itineraries, and plans together in one place. The folks at TripIt realized that users are often emailed information about their plans in confirmation emails and rather than forcing users to manually enter information about the plan (e.g. time and location), users can forward plans@tripit.com any confirmation email they recieve and it’s immediately brought into the app.
  • The Resumator – The Resumator is an applicant tracking and management system. The most common method of applying for a job is an email. The Resumator allows recruiters and HR managers to forward resumes in to the application and the applicant’s information is parsed out and thrown into the app where it is filterable and searchable.

App Interface

I always have the ability to send email, even when the internet is too slow to browse the web, or I don’t have my phone to use an app. I always have email. Many apps realize this and allow you to control them using exclusively email.

  • Buffer – Buffer allows users to queue posts to their social networks. Although Buffer has fantastic web and mobile apps, it also allows you to post via email. Through a variety of keywords, users can control the networks where a message is posted and and even when to schedule the post.
  • Super Calendar – Super Calendar is a personal scheduling assistant, that takes all the hassle out of scheduling appointments and meetings. The app’s only interface is the familiar one of email. To schedule apointments, you only need to ask.

Using Buffer exclusively by email. It will post the subject line to Facebook and Twitter as soon as the app receives the email.

Communication Layer

Whether it’s messaging, leaving comments, or making posts, users always want to talk amongst themselves. Many apps take advantage of email to add an interface for users to take part in these discussions without removing them from what they’re doing.

  • Basecamp – Basecamp emails users whenever an action involving them occurs. Users may respond to the email to comment on the action and advance the discussion.
  • AirBnB – When renting a place with AirBnB it’s common to message with the host to coordinate. AirBnB notifies customers of messages by email (using SendGrid). Users can then take part in the conversation, just by replying to the email.

Replying to a discussion about this post on Basecamp. My email was automatically imported into the app.

Today, email goes beyond a simple messaging protocol. It allows people to create richer apps that distract users less. By incorporating email into your app, you can drive users to engage and participate with it, without forcing them to change their habits, and thus increase the likelihood they’ll keep using your app.

SendGrid Team
Expert advice and insight about all things email including best practices tips, examples, and advice for marketers, developers, and everyone in between.