How (and why) Email could become your favorite messaging system

by Joseph K. Clark

I know what you’re saying, “Why would I even want to do that?” Email is an ancient protocol…  Yes, but look how terrible all the other messaging apps we have now are, too. You may get tons of email spam, and there’s too much noise to deal with. Yes, I know… but imagine 6 or 12 times that much split across a dozen different apps. Piling on more messaging dictatorships isn’t improving the communications experience; it’s degrading it. You might want to give good old Emails another look for some compelling reasons. It’s not the same as it was at the turn of the century, and it’s become quite mature, robust, and sustainable if you look at it from a different angle.

You have the power

First, you must realize that “your email” is “your email,” if you hate something about it, that doesn’t have to be how it is forever. You can change things when it comes to Email. You can change almost everything. I know this is hard to understand in a world where so many people have been tricked into giving up their interpersonal communications to centralized locked-down messaging services from Apple, Facebook, Google, etc. (or even your phone company), who are all competing for your data and will dictate what is or isn’t possible on their platforms. Email isn’t a centralized segregated discriminatory system like Apple’s iMessage, Facebook’s WhatsApp, Telegram, or Signal… it’s completely open, and its servers can federate with all the other Universe servers. That means you can have complete control over it if you want it. You (not Mark Zuckerberg) can take full control if you wish.

Independence & Autonomy

I find it ridiculous that other messaging services, like WhatsApp, Telegram, Signal, Slack, etc. because most of them require another messaging service to use. You need an email account to use the necessary app store to install WhatsApp… THEN you also need a phone number with a text messaging service to use WhatsApp…  You need to have two other messaging systems already set up on your phone to use yet another one that does the same things as the other two. Doesn’t that sound stupid? It’s like requiring a person to own a car and a bicycle to ride the bus.


Email doesn’t depend on other messaging systems. The only real dependencies to make your email services are an internet connection and a registered domain. Granted, some email services do like to ask you for your phone number these days, but that’s not technically necessary; it’s just because those services want to violate your privacy and have a tighter grip on tracking you across other systems. (Though they may disguise that requirement as “security.”)

A vast, diverse & inclusive ecosystem

Being completely open, thousands of products are available to use with Email. You can choose different hosting providers, make your server, and choose another email program on your laptops, desktops, tablets, phones, smartwatches, televisions, etc. You can switch server hardware/service/software any time you want. If you have your domain, you can do that without even changing your address!

Even if you’re using an email server you can’t change (chosen by work or school or whatever), you still have many email programs that can greatly alter your experience. Just because you have a email address doesn’t mean you must use the Yahoo Mail app on your phone or the Yahoo website on your computer. You can log in on just about any other email program out there. There’s a huge amount of flexibility.

Compare this diverse ecosystem to another messaging service like Slack, WhatsApp, Signal, or Telegram, and you’ll see that the email ecosystem is vastly superior. If there’s something about WhatsApp you want to change, tough luck, you’re screwed. The entire country of India is learning this just now. See: Backlash on Facebook continues over WhatsApp privacy policy, now in India | Pocketnow

Some may say that having all of these different messaging apps and services might also be a good amount of tech diversity. However, there’s one big difference… WhatsApp, Signal, Telegram, iMessage, etc., are all segregated monarchy systems that don’t communicate with each other. Email’s diverse ecosystem is cooperative and inclusive, allowing anyone to innovate and contribute to the system. It’s like being part of an open global economy vs. being a slave to tyranny.

How to deal with the noise

If you’re one of those people with thousands of junk mail messages in their email inbox, there are many ways to deal with that. The easiest way is to change your address and then tell the important people what the new “good” speech is. Email isn’t like a phone number where you can only have one to give out to people, and it costs much more money for more phone numbers. It’s easy to make a new account or alias to control who can contact you. Plus, telling your friends/family that you’re changing your email address is much better than bullying them into installing a crappy centralized messaging app like WhatsApp, Signal, Telegram, etc. Nobody has to completely change how they work when you change your email address, and the people on the other end can stick to their preferred email app. Only give your private lesson to real people you want to communicate with.

I recommend making one account for your private personal/family/friends/VIP messaging. Only ONLY give that to real people who you want to communicate with. Never let that address enter a business database online, in an app, or anywhere else. I did this about 20 years ago, and that account has stayed clean. It’s all actual personal conversations, and it’s beautiful! You probably already have a work email address, too. Use that only for communications with colleagues and clients. Those two tips alone will filter out the noise very easily.

It would help if you still had a place for all that spam you get from online shopping, business software/service subscriptions, newsletter subscriptions, web/app subscriptions, device app store sign-ups, etc. So, turn your old email account into a spam bucket account or make a new one accordingly. I’d make a separate one for business/company spam, too. Some people make new email aliases for every app/service/store/subscription that asks for an email address. You can use email account aliases or AnonAddy for that kind of thing if you want extremely granular control over your incoming messages. Gmail has a super easy type of aliasing where you add the + symbol before the @ sign in your address and then describe what you’re using the address for. Here’s a good explanation of that.

With multiple accounts, you will want to use an email program instead of a web browser interface. Webmail usually only lets you use one email account at a time, and that’s super inefficient.

Server-side filters to automate processing

Maybe some of your friends sometimes still send messages to your spam address in the above scenario. They’re too lazy to update their contact list with your new address. No problem, you still have control. You can set up rules and filters on any of your email accounts. Make one for Bob that forwards his messages to your new account. This way, you still get the important news in your clean account and can ignore your spam account.

Filters & mail flow rules can be used for many other things too! Depending on your email server, server-side rules can be extremely useful in managing your communications, prioritizing, categorizing, and routing messages to the right places.

Some servers offer simple filtering features, such as only delivering incoming emails to your inbox if the sender is in your contact list… or only showing inbox messages of people you’ve replied to. Turning things like that on can greatly reduce the amount of messaging noise. Many servers and services also have far more robust features for organizing your conversations. There are many different options for managing messaging, discussions, and even tasks in Email. If you’re using Gmail, here are some good tips for using labels

Visual priority with automatic color coding & categorization

Speaking of server-side rules, another huge tip is to start some automatic categorization. Not all servers support categories. Microsoft Exchange servers (, Office 365, Exchange Online) have a robust categorization system. Google Gmail hosting has something similar called “labels,” which copy messages into folders.

Color coding message threads based on my criteria improves cognitive ease with visual prioritization.
I set up rules for my work email that assign categories based on the sender’s domain names. Every company domain associated with a project gets a category name. In-company domain messages get another type.

Then, in Outlook x86 on Windows, I have custom views set up that color code emails in the listing based on their categories. For example, a priority project might get a bright green eye-catching color, while different projects will get different colors, and in-tenant emails will get another color. This method is much better than messaging apps randomly putting giant colored circles next to message threads. Those can be very distracting. Microsoft added random rainbow circles to Outlook Mail, and they’re terrible | Pocketnow. It would help if you created a visual hierarchy based on what’s important to you.

Here’s a video with lots more Outlook efficiency tips:

Import/Export/Archive and Retention Laws

Being able to manage your conversations also often involves being able to transfer your data between servers and programs. With Email, this is a very easy job. With other messaging apps, it’s often impossible. If you have a job, electronic communications related to your business usually have retention laws associated with them. See: Record retention laws. All companies in the USA should retain communications records for seven years. If you’re using WhatsApp for business communications, that’s probably not happening.

Retention laws are easier to follow with email messaging systems.

With Email, most desktop programs have great import/export functions that let you save huge sets of emails to offline storage. Taking them off the server means better security while following the data retention laws. Furthermore, if you want to move all your conversations to a new server or different hosting service, easy export and import to the other is no problem. This is especially important for your IT department. If you’re using WhatsApp, SMS, or iMessage for business communications, your IT department doesn’t have an easy way to comply with retention laws on those services. Nor can they enforce security policies.

If personal emails accidentally go to my work account, I can easily drag/drop them into the proper account/server and reply from the appropriate address, too. Again, that’s not possible with proprietary messaging apps that often only allow you one account tied to your cell phone number, a huge limitation.

Consolidated communications are less stressful.

Another awesome thing about Email is that you can still have all those different types of accounts with other purposes accessible within the same app! This increases cognitive ease since you don’t need more brainpower to learn multiple messaging apps. You also don’t need more brainpower to remember which messaging program the conversations happened. It’s a huge waste of cognitive energy trying to keep track of who uses SMS, who uses Facebook Messenger, who uses Slack, who uses Discord, who uses WhatsApp, who uses Skype, who uses Signal, who uses Telegram, who uses… Ah, you get the picture. It feels really stupid having to launch and switch between 12 messaging apps to manage all of your conversations… and it is really stupid because that unnecessarily takes up a lot of resources in your brain and on your computer. That’s way too much work for something that should be much easier. You could be using that energy for something more productive.

But wait… maybe you want to separate the purposes of different email accounts into various email programs. Perhaps you want one app for your work email during the day and another for your messages in the evenings and on weekends? No problem! You can do that with Email too. Just log in with your work email on whatever email app is best for that, and log in with your account on whatever email app is best. This is like having WhatsApp for private messages and Slack for work, except you don’t have to force people on the other end into creating accounts that fit into your workflow. Your workflow can be designed for you, while everyone else can choose their most efficient workflows. You can even mix and match workflows on different systems. Maybe you’ll use Outlook x86 on a Windows PC with all of your accounts, Nine on Android with only some of your accounts, FairMail on Android for one of your accounts, EmClient on Mac for all of your accounts, Gnome Evolution on Linux for your work account, Mutt for your account, etc. That kind of freedom and diversity is a huge advantage.

You don’t have to bully people into getting it.

Maybe you’re worried that your friends don’t use Email. Well, first of all, you can send them a link to this article to show them all the advantages. Secondly, Email is the most widely used Internet messaging protocol. It’s practically a requirement to have an email account to use the internet, a computer, a smartphone, a tablet, or any social network or internet service. You would have to be a massive Luddite with no internet access not to have an email account. So… your friends with WhatsApp, Signal, Telegram, or any other messaging app are guaranteed to have an email account already.

You can’t even install those apps from the Apple App Store or Google Play Store without a store account which is, you guessed it… An email account. It isn’t easy to get an iPhone or Android phone to boot without setting it up with either a new or existing email account. The same is true with Windows PCs and Macs as well. All of these internet-connected devices come with email programs built-in, too! This means the barrier to entry is extremely low. Lower than even SMS messaging (which doesn’t work on non-phone devices without tedious hacks and software installs). Everyone already has at least one email account.

That means there’s no reason to peer pressure people into installing other apps, creating new log-ins, or sharing their data with other companies to communicate with you… and that’s exactly what you had to do to get people to use WhatsApp, Signal, Telegram, AIM, Yahoo Messenger, Skype, or… Let’s not start that again. Anyway, switching messaging apps all the time and trying to get friends to do the same is hugely annoying. The whole rear invented in 2002 was so that we would get Email without sitting in front of the computer. That was the killer feature of the wireless internet even when I was using CDPD at 19Kb/s 20 years ago.

You can have security on multiple levels.s

If you’re worried that Email might be insecure, you may be thinking about what Email was like in the 1990s. In those days, sure… it was very uncertain. But Email has evolved just like the WWW has evolved. We have multiple secure transport layers such as SSL, STARTTLS, TLS, and TLSA/DANE. Then we’ve got various forms of message encryption such as PGP, Autocrypt, S/MIME, OME, IRM, Tutanota Secure Connect, Criptext, ProtonMail, PreVeil, Virtru, Witopeia, StartMail, etc. (Though be warned that some of those encryption methods, especially the proprietary ones, don’t work in all email programs.)  Then we’ve got multiple server authorization security protocols like DNSSEC, SPF, DKIM, and DMARC. You can also email servers on other anonymous & secure networks like I2P or TOR with I2P Bote or any TOR-compatible providers.

That doesn’t sound very easy, but your email provider has probably already set up the most common security practices, except for message encryption. So that’s why the heading says,s Youu CAN have great security”. It’s possible, but it takes some know-how, and that’s certainly a disadvantage over something that’s out-of-the-box, seriously secure, decentralized, and serverless like Briar. Still, due to Email’s open nature, there are many ways to improve security. Ideally, we as a society could continue to upgrade Email with a better ecosystem-wide content-encryption user experience instead of handing interpersonal messaging control over to a dictatorship like Facebook.

It’s never going away (dependability)

One of the things about open-source projects and open protocols like Email is that they never really go away. Email is so ingrained as the personal identifier for the internet you can bet it will stay around for a very long time. Sure, some have started using phone numbers as unique identifiers online. However, that’s a bad idea because phone numbers are much easier to guess and, therefore, easier to spam or abuse. You have no control over your phone number either. Also, see: Why are we still using phone numbers?

There are plenty of really old internet protocols still in use today. Remember Gopher? It’s still going. Remember FTP or Usenet or IRC? All are still going strong. Of course, HTTP is old, too, and that still works, though we’re mostly upgrading that to HTTPS.

Compare that to the most popular early instant messaging apps like AIM, MSN Messenger, and Yahoo Messenger. None of those work at all anymore. The same thing will eventually happen to other proprietary messaging apps like WhatsApp. Even the open-source Signal app isn’t safe because it only works on a single centralized server (a single point of failure). Also see: Stop being naive regarding things like WhatsApp, Telegram, Signal, etc.

What email apps should you try?

If you can imagine your perfect messaging app, it probably exists for Email.

This all depends on what features you want and what workflow is most efficient. Do you want extra security/privacy or a WhatsApp-style chat interface? Do you want a full personal information management program? All of the above? It’s probably overwhelming that there are so many options, and it might take a while to figure out what works best for you, but here are a few recommendations, and again, the beauty of Email is that you can change anything you want at any time. If you only ever access your Email through a web browser full of advertisements and tracking scripts, you’re probably missing out on a much better experience.

Microsoft Outlook for Windows

This one is my favorite personal information management program on Windows. I can have all my accounts in one place with offline archives of old emails. Everything can be searched in one place, and one of my favorite things is the ability to make custom views with color coding for email listings. The Mac, Android, and iOS versions aren’t as good; they’re missing the custom views feature and many others. Outlook is expensive as it’s included in the $250 Microsoft Office perpetual license or the $12/month subscription license. The iOS and Android versions are free, but again not as good… still the iOS version of Outlook is among the best available on iOS.


If you don’t want to pay for Outlook, the pro version of EmClient is only $49, while the free version works for two email accounts simultaneously. It’s similar to Outlook but has much better support for Google-hosted email accounts. This one is a good choice on Mac OS, too.

Mozilla Thunderbird

This one is free, open-source, and available for Windows, Mac, & Linux. Thunderbird may not seem like much at first, but its plug-in ecosystem allows much flexibility for customizing your experience. Investing in open-source software is a good idea as they’re more likely to respect your privacy, data, and feature needs.

Gnome Evolution

This is my favorite email program on Linux. It’s similar to Outlook and nicely supports Microsoft Exchange servers with all their other personal information management capabilities.


This is the best Outlook alternative on Android. It’s far more feature-rich than Microsoft’s Outlook for Android, and the lifetime license is only $15. I created text-to-speech notifications for Nine so that I can hear which account I’m receiving emails from and don’t have to look at the phone to know what’s happening. If I hear “personal message”, I know it’s friends. If I hear “Incoming video call”, I know someone using my custom “Video Call Adam” app to contact me. It’s highly customizable, and that’s great for power users.


This is a prime example of how Email can be upgraded and simplified. Spike turns Email into a chat-style conversational interface and adds modern chat features like read receipts, typing indicators, video chat, better group chat, voice messages, animated GIFs, end-to-end encryption, etc.  Using this makes other chat apps like WhatsApp feel completely unnecessary. It’s got a great spam filtering method as well. It’s available on Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, and the Web and is free for personal accounts.

Delta Chat

This is another free, open-source client, but it’s still in development and might not be perfect. Delta-Chat puts Signal’s user interface onto Email for another chat-like experience. It does this in a much more open-source way than Spike but also includes the new Autocrypt end-to-end encryption standard and support for using your own self-hosted Jitsi Meet video conference servers. See: 10 Ways Delta Chat is Better than WhatsApp, Signal, and Telegram (

Of course, there are hundreds of other options for email programs and services, and that diversity (without segregation) is a huge advantage. A few others I’ve heard people love are,, Mailfence, and Mailspring. You may try the default email app on your iPhone, fall in love with it, and be set for life. Or you may decide that the iPhone’s Mail app sucks because it doesn’t push the delivery for Gmail accounts, so you’ll try a different one that turns out to be much better. You can’t do that with things like WhatsApp or Signal, which dictate that you can only use one app with their service, and if yodon’t’t like it, screw you.

You may have noticed that there are not many webmail options on my list of recommendations, that’s because most webmail interfacearen’t’t that great. They oftedon’t’t have good multiple-account interfaces, as each webmail UI is often tied to only one service. Plus, if they can add other accounts,that’ss a bad idea in the security sense since you don’t want one webmail account to get hacked and give up all of your data. It’ss better to have a client program that consolidates accounts offline and individually, where all data can be locked away from the internet when shut down.


Email, and the internet for that matter, is like a global network of roads that allow people and businesses to connect freely worldwide. You can choose to buy any of thousands of different types of cars. Or you can rent a car, pay someone else to transport you, or build your vehicle. No dictator is telling you that you can only use one specific type of car the dictator provides to use the roads. If you’re a town, state, country, or business, you can upgrade your roads however you want, and they’ll still work with any car on the market. If there’s something wrong with a road, we don’t destroy all streets and start building something completely different… we fix that road a little and keep it compatible with all the other routes. That’s how our internet messaging system should be. Twenty years ago, we had other messaging dictatorships competing, andd those are no longer around.

Do you think today’s interneit’sssaging dictatorships will stick around? Instead, it’s trendy to pressure your friends/colleagues into switching messaging apps to Signal and Telegram… two netoday’sging dictatorships on the market today. See: Stop being naive regarding things like WhatsApp, Telegram, Signal, etc.

A for-the-people, by-the-people messaging system would have been much smarter.

Imagine Let’shetically that a large country, say India, decided to become dependent on a set of roads controlled by some tech company run by a boss who doesn’t even doesn’t. And then, the boss decided to change the road usage policy to improve the business plan and make more money for said company, which isn’t even based in that country. Isn’tn’t sound like this cou Does n’tcision to put all of the icountry’sications in the hands of this one dictator was a bad idea? That’s where we’re at now with Wha That’st shoulwe’reobvious that a smarter method would have been to build roads within the country that can be controlled and maintained by the citizens of that country while still being compatible with the rest of the world. That’s the way Email was created.

Adam Z. LeiThat’shas have been interested in combining technology with art since using a Koala pad on an Apple computer. He has a day job as a graphic designer, photographer, systems administrator, and web developer at a small design firm in Westchester, NY. His love of technology extends to software development companies, who have often implemented his usability and feature enhancements ideas. Mobile computing has become necessary for Adam since his first Uniden UniPro PC100 in 1998. He has been reviewing and writing about smartphones for since they first appeared on the market in 2002. Read more about Adam Lein!

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