All posts in “Email”

Helm is the personal email server you never knew you needed

Maybe Hillary Clinton had the right idea.

The idea of a personal email server may be forever associated with Clinton’s infamous email woes, but the technology — which takes email out of the cloud services that most of us use and puts it into a physical drive in your home — is sound. There are a lot of advantages to running your own email server, privacy being the main one. But, to most, it just sounds like such a hassle.

Not so with Helm, a triangular-shaped email server that aims to make setting up a personal email server as easy as adding an Amazon Echo to your kitchen counter. With the Helm, your email is no longer floating in the cloud somewhere. Instead, it’s physically in your home — still accessible from anywhere, but only by you and people whom you trust.

It’s hardly a revolutionary idea, but up till now personal email servers have been the domain of security buffs and various public figures: people with the knowledge or resources to set one up. Helm wants to make the benefits of personal email servers accessible to all, regardless of skills or means.

It’s a solid idea. But the company’s ethos is even more compelling. Backed by Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian’s Initialized Capital to the tune of $2 million (total seed investment: $4 million), Helm’s mission is to chart a path to taking back our digital identity from the cloud. Over the past two decades, we’ve migrated much our digital lives online, but that’s left our information in the hands of companies like Google and Facebook. And if the past year has shown anything, we don’t really know how are data is being used, or how it’s protected.

“The big tech companies today have been co-opted into a tremendous amount of government surveillance,” Giri Sreenivas, CEO of Helm, explained during a demo of the Helm at Mashable’s offices. “In addition to that, they do their own corporate surveillance. They’re looking for how they can monetize their users’ data and their users’ online behavior.”

Taking email back

Helm wants to change that, starting with email. The email server, which is about the size and shape of a large hardcover book, opened to a page in the middle and placed face-down, costs $499. The product has 128GB of built-in storage, and it has a tray to add more, up to 5TB. There’s no fan — it’s passively cooled.

The Helm server has 128GB of internal storage and a tray where you can load a drive up to 5TB.

The Helm server has 128GB of internal storage and a tray where you can load a drive up to 5TB.

Image: Pete Pachal/Mashable

In a demo at Mashable’s offices, Sreenivas showed me the Helm email server and how to set one up. Like a mesh router, you start by plugging in the server and downloading the app, which walks you through the process, step by step. It mostly involves filling out various fields, picking a domain name (one’s included, but you can roll your own, too), and waiting for the server to verify itself with the Helm service. It probably took about 5 minutes, but if you need to register a domain name it’ll probably take a little longer.

An important step is creating a security key. And by security key, I mean a physical, metallic key that’s included in the box. It connects to the USB-C port that’s beneath a small removable cover on the top.The server automatically encrypts your email so even if someone gets physical access, they can’t access the data without the key. The server will also create a backup key that you can keep on your phone.

The back of the Helm

The back of the Helm

Image: Pete Pachal/Mashable

But what if you lose your key and your phone? Helm will offer the ability to create multiple keys, on other devices.

Putting your email on a single device means you have a single point of failure, but Helm mitigates the risk: If the device is stolen or damaged, the company will overnight a new server to you, and you’ll be able to restore from an (also encrypted) online backup. If power goes out in your home, that will prevent you from sending and receiving emails, though caching and syncing will. Helm will also eventually offer a Stage 2 service where you can have two servers, in different locations, mirroring each other for redundancy.

Once it’s set up, the server is compatible with any email client that works with IMAP mail, including Apple Mail, Microsoft Outlook, and whole bunch of others. It will walk you through migrating your email from a cloud service like Gmail, and adding family members with their own addresses is trivial.

Subscribing to peace of mind

The bad news: The Helm turns having an email account into a subscription service, costing you $99 per year. Because of course it does: The syncing and security services have an associated cost, and certainly there are the requisite feature updates and bug fixes. 

The mainstream audience Helm is going for might balk at the idea of paying a recurring fee to use email, but Sreenivas points out that the free email service you’re using isn’t really free — it’s just subsidized by the personal data you’re giving up to the service provider. Sorry, customer: turns out you were the product all along.

The other downside: Walling off your email, by its nature, means you’re cutting yourself off from advanced email tools like Gmail’s smart replies or even a decent search experience. However, Sreenivas says it’s not as much as you might think.

The front of the Helm

The front of the Helm

Image: Pete Pachal/Mashable

“One of the things that we have seen that’s fundamentally different about running a server 20 years ago versus running a server today is what we can do with mobile applications. We can provide experiences where people can have this degree of ownership and control without experiencing significant trade-offs.”

The distinctive triangular form factor of the Helm, devised by NewDealDesign, isn’t just a gimmick. It’s designed to be modular, with future products — such as an IoT hub, VPN, media server, and more — docking to the email server via the USB-C port up top, stacking like V-shaped pancakes.

The ultimate vision: your digital life returns directly to your control, with your personal data under physical lock and key, in your own home, only shared on your terms. It’s an idea that has a lot more resonance today than it did 3-4 years ago as we’ve all gotten more skeptical of the “free” digital services we use every day. If you’re sick of feeling like the product, the Helm sounds like a good first step toward feeling like the customer again.

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How to functionally abandon email

Let’s face it: Email is a drag. 

Whatever shine unsolicited links and messages once had back in the early days of the internet is long gone. Today, the contents of your inbox are likely closely aligned with that of your cellphone’s voicemail — unwanted and unchecked. 

It doesn’t have to be this way. It’s within your power to functionally give up email. It is surprisingly easy, and feels so, so good.  

First off, let’s all agree that writing and replying to emails is a pain. Even the companies that provide the service know it’s unbearably tedious. Google has tried to make things less burdensome on the senders’ end with Gmail’s Smart Reply and Smart Compose features, and on the receivers’ end with Nudges, but those are just annoying Band-Aids on the festering wound of obligation.  

No new feature can solve the underlying problem of email itself, which is that it exists as a giant to-do list created by other people that’s forever hanging over your head. Some might try to combat this by reaching so-called inbox zero, but that’s just playing your digital taskmasters’ game. 

It is not your obligation or responsibility to make yourself available in the manner that best suits others. 

Don’t do it. 

If you follow a few basic guidelines, mostly opting out is easy. 

You may not have the option of ditching email in your professional life (bummer), but your personal life is hopefully all yours. So let’s focus on that. 

Your first step should be acknowledging the few places where, unfortunately, you need to keep email. Think about when you purchase plane tickets or need to reset an online account’s password. Email here is key. 

But don’t let the fact that you every now and then need to have an email address get you down. 

Remember, you don’t need to open your email except in the few specific situations where you want to — say, for example, when you’re checking into that flight to Hawaii. 

But what about all the other reasons to use email, like paying bills? Unless you’re somehow paying bills directly via email, you don’t really need an email account. Cell phone bills can be paid automatically, and your power and water bills are likely due on the same day each month. Set a calendar reminder on your phone and pay them online like you would anyway. 

Simple. 

That brings us to the slightly stickier issue of other people. There are two approaches here: The auto reply or the email signature. If you just want to wash your hands of the entire thing, consider setting up an auto response that goes something like this: “This email address is no longer in use. Please get in touch by other means. If the matter is urgent, text or call me.”

This accomplishes several things at once. First, it lets the person who emailed you know that you will not see their message. Second, it pushes the person to other channels of communication that are not email. Do you frequently text, exchange phone calls, or Signal with the person? Well then, they can just hit you up that way. 

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, it acts as a de facto filter. If the sender has no other way of getting hold of you other than email — they don’t know your cell number, Twitter handle, mailing address, landline, whatever — then maybe they’re not that close to you in the first place. And hell, if it’s really important, they’ll figure it out. 

However, if you can’t fathom walking away from your inbox altogether, you can still reduce its power over you by checking it less frequently. Like, a lot less. Try once a week (at most). This is where the email signature comes in. 

Create an email signature that lets the recipient of your response (because you should never be initiating email chains) know the account is checked super infrequently, and that if the matter is urgent they should text or call you. Again, do not put your phone number in the email signature. If they don’t have your phone number? Well, whatever. There’s a little thing called the White Pages. 

It is not your obligation or responsibility to make yourself available in the manner that best suits others. If people need to contact you, they will — email or no. 

From phones, to Facebook, to Twitter DMs, to Slack, we are already overloaded with communication channels. Cutting one loose won’t break your life. In fact, it might just significantly improve it. 

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Is your inbox a mess? The Mailstrom app can help — and it’s on sale.

Just to let you know, if you buy something featured here, Mashable might earn an affiliate commission.
Don't let an avalanche of emails get you down.
Don’t let an avalanche of emails get you down.

Image: pexels

Managing your email account hasn’t gotten any easier in recent years, especially now that spam mailing lists have nearly become self-aware and all your personal and work messages have had roughly two decades to pile up. Luckily, Mailstrom is an app that can help you sort through thousands of emails instantly, bringing your Inbox back down to a reasonable size and keeping it that way.

Mailstrom is a mail management app that uses settings you define to sift through every message you’ve ever received and keep your organized. 

You can set Mailstrom to automatically block specific senders or even subjects from your Gmail, Yahoo, and Outlook accounts to keep unwanted junk from ever passing in front of your eyes, and you can use its intuitive one-click Unsubscribe feature to instantly rid yourself of mailing lists you’re no longer interested in or never signed up for in the first place. Best of all, Mailstrom never keeps your password, so your privacy is never at risk.

Normally, a lifetime subscription to Mailstrom sells for $999.75, but right now Mashable readers can jump on a 93% markdown and get one for just $59.99 by clicking on the button below.

Google’s experimental email client, Inbox by Gmail, has only 6 months to live

Bye bye Inbox.
Bye bye Inbox.

Image: mashable/Elizabeth Pierson

The launch of the new Gmail in April was surely a sign that Inbox, Google’s productivity-focused mail app, would soon meet its demise.

Now we have an official date for the app’s end: Inbox by Gmail will be permanently out of office by the end of March 2019, the tech giant announced on Wednesday.

Google said it wants to focus solely on Gmail, which has recently adopted a number of Inbox’s features like smart replies and snoozing emails.

Launched back in 2014, Inbox by Gmail was initially invite-only and sought to compete with innovative email apps like Boxer and the now-defunct Mailbox. 

Inbox eventually opened up to the public in 2015, steadily picking up experimental, new features like gathering emails from an event, newsletter previewing, and an unsubscribe card which would appear when you didn’t click on emails for a while. 

But progress on Inbox noticeably slowed, and we can’t help but think many users preferred the comfort of Gmail rather than the flashy, if unfamiliar Inbox.

As the curtain falls, Google has prepared a guide for users transitioning from Inbox to Gmail, despite complaints from devoted Inbox users on Twitter.

They’ve complained that Inbox’s handy features, like bundling of trip-related emails and GitHub/Trello notifications, haven’t quite made their way to Gmail yet, and who knows if they will.

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Say goodbye to Inbox by Gmail

With the launch of the new Gmail, the writing was on the wall, but today Google made it official: Inbox by Gmail, the company’s experimental email client for Gmail, will shut down at the end of March 2019.

Google says it’s making this change to put its focus “solely on Gmail.” While that makes sense, it’s a shame to see Inbox sail into the setting sun, given that it pioneered many of the features that have now become part of the new Gmail.

I would have loved to see Google continue to experiment with Inbox instead. That, after all, was one of the reasons the company started the Inbox project to begin with. It’s hard to try radical experiments with a service that has a billion users, after all. Today, however, Google now seems to be willing to try new things right in Gmail, too. Smart Compose, for example, made its debut in the new Gmail (and many pundits correctly read that as a sign that Inbox was on the chopping block).

While the new Gmail now has most of Inbox’s features, one that is sorely missing is trip bundles. This useful feature, which automatically groups all of your flight, hotel, event and car reservations into a single bundle, is one of Inbox’s best features. Our understanding is that Google plans to bring this to Gmail early next year — hopefully well before Inbox shuts down.

So there you have it. Inbox for Gmail will shut down in six months, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Google resurrected the idea in a few years to try some other email experiments. Until then, here is Google’s guide to moving from Inbox to Gmail.