Shortmail - Free Email Service

The Bottom Line

Shortmail emphasizes easy, fast and effective communication with an email service limited, essentially, to 500 characters per message.
Longer emails can be forwarded, and Shortmail offers simple but effective tools to organize and find mail. Still, hassling senders the way Shortmail does is not without peril, and you may wish for better productivity tools.
Shortmail is no longer available.

Pros

  • Without ballast and vouching for brevity, Shortmail may foster better and more frequent updates, notices and emails
  • Shortmail offers IMAP and POP access in desktop and mobile email programs as well as other email services
  • Keyboard shortcuts make Shortmail on the web effective to use

Cons

  • Shortmail bothering people trying to send your longer emails need not bring more good than harm
  • Without features to sort, label and organize mail and few search operators, Shortmail may be ill-suited for some tasks
  • Shortmail does not quote at all in email replies and adds an image to outgoing (rich-text) email

Description

  • Shortmail is a free email service that emphasizes simplicity and brevity.
  • Emails sent to and from Shortmail must not exceed 500 characters (about five typical sentences). Quoted text does not count.
  • When a sender mails more, their message is quarantined.
  • You can recover mail from your Shortmail quarantine to another email address manually or automatically for known senders
  • In addition, the long email's sender is alerted and gets a chance to curb their existing message to fit within Shortmail's limits.
  • Shortmail normalizes all mail to legible plain text.
  • On the web, Shortmail organizes mail by contact, group and thread.
  • Email with which you've dealt is archived easily. Global search finds it (and what's left in your inbox) reasonably fast.
  • Silencing a conversation has future messages in it go to the Shortmail archive immediately, skipping the inbox.
  • You can also snooze a conversation until later, when it will automatically turn up in the Shortmail inbox.
  • Keyboard shortcuts make operating Shortmail effective.
  • Where possible, Shortmail lets you know whether an email you sent has been opened.
  • Shortmail includes simple contact management. Gmail address books can be imported easily.
  • Connecting Shortmail to Gmail email imports short messages automatically from the Gmail inbox and forwards long messages automatically from the Shortmail quarantine.
  • It's possible to make conversations publicly visible on the web and, optionally, allow anybody to comment.
  • Shortmail is available for access and use in email programs (and other email services) via IMAP, ​POP and SMTP. For iOS, a special client is available, and some email programs (e.g., ​Sparrow) offer Shortmail character counters.

Review

Short is good, in particular when few words convey much information clearly. Character limits, consequently, have improved much writing — and they continue to do so, even in your email service and program if you like.

Sending Better Emails with Shortmail

Shortmail not only counts the characters you type in an email, it ominously counts down from 500.

500 is it: if you cannot say what you need to express with these about a hundred words, Shortmail has but another email to offer.

500 characters comprise almost 4 tweets. That's not enough to provide detail after posting the bottom line on an email's top. Possibly, the summary alone will suffice. 500 characters is more than most short emails, of course. I may want an extra star for staying below 150 or type more just because.

Whether your great emails are opened (and, possibly, read) is tracked comfortably, for the most part, in Shortmail with automatic and integrated return receipts.

Getting Better Emails with Shortmail

"Restraining myself in outgoing mail is all well," a Homer Simpson may be forgiven thinking unapologetically, "but what's in it for me?"

What you get for using Shortmail is a special email address (either your Twitter handle @shortmail.com or any user name @shortmail.me) that curbs incoming mail as consequently: anything exceeding 500 characters is automatically quarantined.

The sender does receive a notification of their excess from Shortmail — and a chance to have their message delivered all with a Shortmail editor that, yes, counts characters. While leading by concise email example should be welcome and emulated, hassling senders is a different matter altogether. At least the immediate blame and wrath falls on Shortmail.

For emails within the limit, Shortmail strips all formatting, which can be a fantastic boon for legibility and, hence, productivity. Maybe it could preserve linked text in some form — and not include an image in the rich-text signature it automatically adds to outgoing emails. That Shortmail never quotes in replies is also less than perfect for people whose email programs and services do not automatically put incoming emails in context.

Email Subjects and Attachments in Shortmail

Shortmail's quest for simplicity does not stop at emails' lengths, of course. Shortmail also does away with an explicit need for email subjects when you compose a message. It copies the message's first dozen words instead (though you can edit the subject, of course). Inside Shortmail, subjects are mostly mute and history (though still prominently visible).

In like spirit, incoming attachments are stripped mercilessly without trace or notice. Some hint of missing documents would be nice, and integration with one of the many file hosting services could even allow for easy file sending in addition to serving received files.

Taking Conversations Public

With emails now composed so well, should those not private be confined to your and the other conversants' mailboxes? Shortmail does not think so.

For whatever it's worth, making threads public, then, is easy — maybe frighteningly so. Like a mailing list archive, Shortmail can publish certain messages for anybody to view. With another option, "open", you can allow all readers to comment on the web, too.

Organizing Mail in Shortmail

Shortmail emails are neat and effective. They still stack.

They need not grow wildly, though. Automatically, Shortmail groups all mail (sent as well as received) by correspondent. All emails arrive in the inbox, but archiving them out of sight when you've dealt with them is particularly easy. When you need to return to a conversation later, Shortmail can make it turn up again automatically in your inbox at that time.

Shortmail does not offer any further folders or labels, but search helps you find particular messages. Search operators for more precise matching could help with growing archives. No means to group all a project's emails with different contacts could be a disadvantage.

Considering how essential contacts are to Shortmail's organizing mail, its address book is surprisingly meager in both function and form.

Shortmail in Your Email Program

It's fantastic for Shortmail to try new things with email without shutting to existing infrastructure. You can exchange messages with every existing email address, of course, but you can also exchange them with most every existing email program: IMAP and POP access let you set up Shortmail in your favorite email program on the desktop and on the go. Other email services can download from Shortmail, too, but you cannot, sadly, have Shortmail forward to them automatically with the exception of Gmail, from which Shortmail can also automatically import suitable messages. Shortmail's own app for iPhone and iPad is handsomely adept at exploiting iOS and Shortmail itself.

While some email programs do count characters (or, noting your using — or sending to — Shortmail, even down from 500), you're typically on your own slashing words. It will be easy.

The harder part may be finding a place and use for Shortmail. Designed as a guardian for users not yet known short email adepts, Shortmail should probably not become yet another inbox to check.