410 Labs CEO David Troy said that was the driving idea behind his product Shortmail, a messaging service that bridges the gap between Twitter and e-mail.
Using Shortmail, users have 500 characters to communicate concise, efficient conversations. Not only are your messages limited, but anyone sending you a too-long message will get a bounce-back message telling them to keep it brief.
Troy said that character limitation was a natural direction to explore when looking at making e-mail better. “People have become familiar with Twitter and SMS,” he said. Seeking a base of users accustomed to brevity, Shortmail has provided an account to all Twitter users, who can claim their Twitterhandle@shortmail.com addresses by heading to Shortmail’s site.
The service now has about 25,000 users, according to 410 Labs.
As a service, Shortmail is a breeze to use once you’ve adjusted your brain to the character limit. You can import your contacts from Google or Twitter and get Shortmail delivered to mail clients and Gmail.
Shortmail also recently announced a partnership with the no-frills Mac e-mail service, Sparrow, which will even provide you with a character count to keep your Shortmail messages in line.
Skeptics of Shortmail’s system have asked if length is really the problem when it comes to e-mail. Couldn’t someone just send several shorter messages instead of one long one?
“We find that’s not how it works,” Troy said. “When people hear that the length is restricted, they tend to choose better words, fewer words...You see that with Twitter and what not; there’s no reason to think that pithy consiceness is limited to one platform.”
As a result, Troy said, Shortmail messages tend to be more conversational. Using the service also cuts down on marketing messages, and leads to getting more messages from real people.
The real beauty of it is that it gives you a public e-mail address that’s got built-in protections against spammers.
“One thing we want to do is to tie back into some notion of identity,” Troy said. “Some people don’t like the notion of a public e-mail address because they’re concerned about spam. But convert any Twitter username into an e-mail address — a fundamentally a public e-mail address — and then you have a public forum”
In addition to having a public e-mail, users have the option of making their conversations public, too. That makes it a tool for anyone who wants to have a public converstaion. Troy calls it a bridge between e-mail and the larger world.
Troy said that he’s spoken with public officials interested in using the platform for public Q&A sessions with constitutents.
“We think there’s a lot of value there. Nobody’s doing that,” he said.