Bozhidar Batsov

October 22, 2021

Strong HEY opinions, weakly held

A while ago I was trying to figure out if HEY had some keyboard shortcuts for its text editor (e.g. to make something bold or to start a list) and I came across two articles from the same author:

They were written a year apart and amused me a lot, because of the sharply contrasting titles and perspectives shared in both of them. I'd say those are some pretty strong HEY opinions, although weakly held. If it were me, I would have probably edited the title of the original article after I decided to go back to "ordinary" email. I value consistency way too much.

I never  had such strong or conflicting opinions of HEY myself - like many people I got curious about the service during the initial launch, as it was heavily hyped on social media, but I never felt it was a perfect fit for me. I liked it that someone was trying to change the status quo, but for various reasons it was immediately apparent to me I won't be making HEY my primary email providers:

  • I couldn't find a good way to deal with huge volumes of notifications-like email. Normally I use folders/labels for those, plus some filters to avoid them landing in my inbox. With HEY the best I could do was to use their "bundled email" functionality, but this felt like a step back.
  • No inline responses. I know that's by design with the intention to improve the flow of the conversation, but in some contexts (e.g. programming mailing lists) it's really useful to be able to quote the part of a message your responding to. On the bright side - HEY made me appreciate the simplicity of top posting, which is pretty much what we had with real mail back in the day.
  • No keyboard shortcuts in the email editor. That's a big bummer for me, and I have no idea why someone would skip such a basic feature. I hate clicking on some buttons with a mouse for formatting purposes.
  • Emails under "Previously Seen" in the Imbox are sorted in the order in which you've read them, not the order in which you've received them.  I find this a bit confusing and I would prefer a simple chronological ordering based on the receival time.  
  • No support for custom domains. is an awesome domain, but it's just not enough for my needs.
  • Operating on multiple emails feels a bit awkward to me.
  • No built-in calendar. I'm all for focused products, but email and calendars go hand in hand pretty much everywhere. Every time someone sends me a calendar event on HEY I'm forced to use some external tool.
  • HEY is a proprietary product that doesn't work at all with existing email clients. I guess that unavoidable if you want to create something novel, but it's slightly disappointing regardless.

Don't get me wrong - there's a lot to like about HEY, and I think it's probably a perfect fit for many people. I'm just not one of them. I do enjoy:

  • Using HEY to have conversations with people. I'm always excited when I see that an actual human sent me an email.  
  • The screener. Obviously every email provider has the functionality to block certain senders, but you're way more likely to bother to do this, if it's something that's mandatory for each sender. I know I never blocked senders this aggressively with Gmail, before being exposed to HEY. Fortunately, Fastmail makes it easy to emulate this behavior - there you can just apply a filter targeting all senders that are not in your address book.
  • The Feed and the Paper Trail. The Feed rekindled my interest in newsletters delivered over email and the Paper Trail made me work harder to put relevant emails (those I might want to look up later) there. Those are concepts that I also copied to my Fastmail workflow.  
  • Being able to browse all the attachments is also kind of cool. It really helps me find some files I know I received recently. 
  • Clips are awesome! I wonder why other services don't have something similar. 
  • Being able to rename threads is also nice, even if I rarely had to use this functionality. I assume it will be way more valuable if I had a lot of email traffic going through my HEY account.

For me, however, the coolest feature of HEY was introduced after its launch and it's HEY World. I totally love the simplicity of making blogging as simple as writing one email. If only the text editor was a bit better or supported Markdown... One can always dream! 

Anyways, going back to the beginning - I was never in love with HEY, and admitted I never used it that much.
I never had any strong options of HEY either, and I've seen plenty of those online. Still, I appreciate every effort to modernize/revitalize email, and I'm curious how HEY will evolve over time. That's why I keep paying for it, even if I'm using Fastmail pretty much 99% of the time. Actually, HEY started my journey to find a good privacy-focused Gmail alternative, so for that alone I'd always be grateful to them.

HEY is a bit expensive, at 100$/year (actually it's 120$/year for me with the VAT included), especially given what the competition is charging (many services start at around 50$/year) and offering (most competitors I checked had way more features). Basecamp will do well to reconsider their pricing structure down the road. At the very least custom domains should be made part of the standard HEY subscription.

That's all from me for now. Email forever!

P.S. I'd be curious to learn what's your own take on HEY and whether you're still using the service.