David Sigal
Jun 16, 2015 · 5 min read

April 1st, 2004 Google revolutionized email by introducing Gmail — a fresh clean and intuitive online email service with 1GB of storage. This was no Arpil Fools joke and it immediately solved one of the biggest issues with email at the time — its storage. Eleven years later no one is impressed with 1GB email account, but in 2004 Hotmail, Yahoo and the rest were barely offering a few megabytes of storage for your messages. Storage limitation meant having to frequently go through messages, having to delete or backup those we wanted to keep, so we can receive new ones.

When Google announced their email service with over 100x standard (at the time) size storage for free with no strings attached this was a breath of fresh air. All of a sudden deleting messages became a thing of the past, forcing competition to adopt new rules of the game. The email was reborn.

2015: Email is alive and well

Fast forward to this day in 2015 with our multitude of messaging apps of all kinds and frequent prophecies of email’s inevitable demise, yet email is still one of the most important communication means we use every day. It is alive and well. It is ever so easy to check, read and write emails any time from any device. Yet something is missing, something I’d say essential in our daily email experience is not yet as common as it should be. I’m talking about email tracking.

WhatsApp read ticket

Read Receipts

See, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Skype and the rest of non-email messengers already notify me when a recipient gets my message. Over the past couple of years it became a standard feature across the apps in this space, but not the email. Why not? Not like it is technically or financially prohibitive. In fact email tracking has been around for awhile.

Who’s Who In Email Tacking

Today there are plenty of email tracking services that can seamlessly integrate with your Gmail or Outlook and notify you when your recipient has read your message, their location and how many times was your message viewed. Soon this feature will be widely available on the smartphones making it even more useful in our always on lifestyle. Problem is, this email enhancing functionality comes at a price.

Sidekick’s Gmail integration

Hubspot’s Sidekick gives you 200 free monthly notifications (where one notification equals to one instance the email was opened). Another popular solution Yesware gives you only 100 monthly notifications for free, but they already have a mobile app and give you a few extra features. Both solutions offer a premium subscription in a range of $10–$12 a month for a simple user account.

MailTrack interface from mailtrack.io

MailTrack.io looks promising, giving basic email tracking functionality for free with no monthly limitations and a premium plan for $6 a month, that adds some extra functionality, like CRM integration. What’s the price of the free account here? Besides not being always accurate, which is true of all of email trackers I’ve seen (just see some of the reviews on the Chrome Web Store), MailTrack adds their signature at the bottom of the free account email that advertises to your recipients their service, kind of like what Wix does for their free plans.

Now, why should we pay for a feature that is essentially free on other communication platforms?

Or in other words why doesn’t Google, Apple, Microsoft, or Yahoo make their own elegant tracking feature that would natively integrate into their ever so popular email services?

To try to understand it, let’s look at the dark side of the email tracking. A spammer using this feature would all of a sudden learn a few important things that otherwise make their job that much harder, verifying that:

  1. the email address is correct;
  2. the message was not stopped by a spam filter;
  3. it was viewed by the recipient and when (incl. # of times it was viewed);
  4. location of the recipient;
  5. links inside the email were clicked.

Making spammers pay for such service makes them think twice whether their message is really worth it.

Could it be that email giants are not interested in this market and want to let smaller players develop it and then to acquire the winners, when they emerge?

Could be, but unlikely. True, bigger players buy smaller companies all the time to stay competitive and either to integrate a new service to their ecosystem, or just to prevent competitors from doing so. At the same time, why would a big player not be interested in adding new and what many would call “essential” feature to their service?

Gmail for example is used by nearly 1B people, it is without a doubt one of Google’s core services and adding such a feature as part of its core will benefit tons of people. Who if not Google can get it right, make it available to its users across platforms, make it accurate and not require us to share our sensitive data with yet another company?

Let’s face it, email tracking services that are available today are limiting on so many levels, yet we already enjoy free native message tracking on our communication apps, why not email? I hope it is a matter of time and the sooner the better. Who knows, maybe as I’m typing this article, Gmail is planning an announcement or will just quietly introduce it and see how people accept it. #onecanwish

David Sigal

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I'm passionate about technology and making our world better.

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