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How many e-mail clients do you need?

by Alex in | | | | | |

Jodie Tonita is a lovely person. She is passionate, funny, kind to children and small animals, and an amazing hula-hooper. Unfortunately she was sent by our alien overlords to ensure I never do my actual work.

As evidence, check out this message Jodie left on my Facebook wall:

Wall post from Jodie Tonita asking if the Sparrow email client will change her life

I realize that it is theoretically possible to read a message like that and reply with an “I don’t know, you tell me”. But what Jodie and her alien overlords know is that I am incapable of not trying any kind of productivity app that is put in my path. They know this because they have previously lured me into testing and reviewing about 412,832 different project management and task management applications, at least half of which the overlords built themselves simply to distract me.

But what Jodie and the A.O.s don’t know is that I have figured out a way to defeat them. All I have to do is download or register for the software they have asked about, spend a few hours reading up on, testing and blogging it, and then I can return to my normal life.

That’s the approach I’ve taken to Jodie’s inquiry about Sparrow. The enthusiastic TechCrunch review Jodie pointed me to, combined with a comparative review that said that Sparrow is good for “people who like to try new things” (hello!), got me curious. So I decided to take the free version of Sparrow for a spin: its main limitation is that you can only use it with a single Google account, so if I were to get serious about using it I’d upgrade to the paid client which supports multiple accounts.

And on first glance, Sparrow looks mighty nice. Here’s a glimpse:

Sparrow screenshot has pleasing, Tweetie-like interface

Aesthetically, it’s a big leap forward from Mailplane, the app I currently use when I want access to the Gmail web interface. Mailplane looks like…well, it looks like Gmail:

Mailplane looks exactly like Gmail as you see it in your web browser

That Gmail-ness is a limitation of Mailplane — let’s face it, aesthetics aren’t Google’s strong suit — but it’s also its strength. The whole reason I installed Mailplane is that even though I mostly process email from within Mail.app, there are times when I need to access Gmail directly: typically, when I’m editing mail rules or labels. Mailplane has also made it much easier for me to switch between Gmail accounts, which I need to do occasionally. Sure, I could just use my browser, but I access Gmail’s web interface often enough that it’s very handy to have an application icon sitting in my dock, so that I don’t lose my Gmail window in a sea of browser tabs.

Sparrow can’t replace the Gmail-ness of Mailplane: it’s more of a compromise between the mac-like interface of Mail.app and the Gmail-like interface of Mailplane. If you’re the kind of person who wants to deal with one mail client, and one mail client only, it could be just the ticket.

But I think that many many people benefit from using multiple mail clients. One common scenario is if you maintain one e-mail address for work, and one for personal correspondence: you could access both within either Mail.app or Mailplane, but it can be easier or more relaxing to have completely separate e-mail programs you use for those two different purposes (so you don’t come across that stressful work folder while catching up with pals).

Another scenario is mine: you want the efficiency and aesthetics of Mail.app for your day-to-day e-mail, but the power of Gmail filters, labels and search. Mailplane makes it easy to pop into Gmail without having to use your browser. And it makes it a LOT easier to juggle multiple Gmail accounts: just click on the “accounts” button to open a drawer listing all your accounts, and double-click the account you want to switch into.Account drawer shows list of multiple=

For many people, the answer to this blog’s title question is therefore simple: two. One client for work, and one for home. Or one client for most things, and another client (like Mailplane) for contact with the Gmail interface.

So that’s it, you think: I’m free of Jodie and her alien overloads, at least for today. But it’s not so simple. Jodie’s message reminded me that I’ve been meaning to try out Postbox as an alternative to Mail.app. I’ve only just started the testing process, but I’m already impressed by its optional Facebook and Twitter integration: finally, all my messages in one place! The great reviews Postbox gets from its enthusiasts have pointed me towards other useful features I’ll look forward to testing during my 30-day trial.

You could say this lapse into Postbox testing represents a victory for the overlords. If so, I’m glad they’ve won. Questions like this are what inspire me to try new things, to continue exploring, and thus, to cultivate the range of tech knowledge and skills that are crucial to my work. And in fact, I don’t need a message from Jodie to remember that: she’s one of a handful of people I often picture when I’m writing a blog post, because I know that if I write something that’s useful for her — something that doesn’t just talk tech, but talks about purpose — I’m writing with the right kind of focus and intention.

If you’re a blogger, you need your own Jodie: the person who represents who you’re writing for, and why you’re blogging in the first place. I’m grateful to have a few Jodies, and if the price is obedience to the alien overlords, then it’s a price well worth paying.

First posted on March 23,2011
  • http://grownetworks.org Jodie Tonita

    Alex you are an absolute gem. A briliiant shining jewel of wisdom and effectiveness. Your generosity elevates my capacity. Your example inspires me to be a better member of the collective. I love being a part of your hive. Back at you dear one: http://grownetworks.org/2011/03/23/social-networks-at-work/

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=317263 Edward West

    LOL. . . Now, because of how much I enjoy Jodie, the A.O. are wanting me to subscribe to your RSS, and try Mail.APP and Mailplane!

    Blessings to you both!

  • http://twitter.com/gideonro Gideon Rosenblatt

    Any article that features a picture of Jodie Tonita is an article that has my attention and respect.

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