Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Unroll.me Beta - An Early Look (A Work-Related Post)

I recently read about Unroll.me on Lifehacker, a new website that promised to make decluttering one's mailbox brain-dead simple. At work, my team sends out all the emails for the organization. Because of how inexpensive email is (compared to direct mail, which they pay for out of their budget and email, which comes out of the organization's budget with no charge-back to them), and because of how many different ministry offerings we have, it can be a struggle sometimes to hold back the tide of emails that people want to send. But we remind them that they're not just competing with other departments for attention, but also Best Buy and Living Social and even your subscriber's mom and dad.

So when a new tool came out that promised to make unsubscribing as easy as clicking a checkbox, I had to show this to my co-workers.

Here's a video that explains more:

Unroll.me is currently in very early beta phase.

I was able to secure very early access by tracking down one of the founders (ah, the power of the internet).

When you get to the site, the first thing you do is select your provider:

You never provide your credentials to Unroll.me directly.  Right now, they only support four major providers and for Gmail, only those that end in @gmail.com.   I rarely use my @gmail.com account anymore, only for Google Analytics and Google AdSense since I can't change them, but everything else is on my Google Apps domain.  I am looking forward to when they open it to Google Apps domains so I can give it a more thorough try.

After you select your provider, you are taken to that provider's website to grant access.  

You never give your account information to Unroll.me, you simply grant them temporary access.  I've blacked out the URL of the beta site, but even if you had it, it wouldn't do you any good if your invite hadn't been granted yet.  (Get on the waiting list.)

Then, the program launches right into action.  The FAQs say that it only searches your inbox, but in my experience, it also looked in subfolders.  The subscriptions begin popping up on your screen one-by-one.  Because I don't actively use the email address anymore, there wasn't a lot in my account.  

Next to each one on the far right is a large checkbox.  Once it's completed its scan, it offers you a big red "Unsubscribe" button and a checkbox offering... (Unsure..  a monthly scan? Or possibly you're signing up for an email subscription for a monthly reminder to rescan?  That would be humorously ironic.)

Once you check one or more boxes, you're off and running and on your way to a cleaner, more organized inbox in seconds.  (I wonder what happens for subscriptions that you definitely want to keep - if it de-emphasizes them in the list after a few runs or if eventually they add a second checkbox to hide that subscription from the main screen on subsequent runs.)

I would also like to be able to jump from the tool right back into my inbox with a query designed to show me all the emails in that subscription.  Really I'm subscribed to modnique?  What is modnique?  Show me the emails.  In this case, it was one of the Yahoo!Groups entries, but since it's not an automated process, you still have the ability to skip over ones that you want to keep or are unsure about.

All-in-all, this is a pretty slick offering.  The presentation is nice, the idea fabulous (or scary, if you're an irresponsible emailer who relies not on relevancy but on intertia/laziness as a way of keeping your subscription count high) and the potential is great.

In this early beta, I only had a 50% success rate.  Two of the four hits were actually for a Yahoo!Groups mailing list, but it incorrectly identified the individual sender as the list owner.  (So maybe it's more like a 66% success rate.)   But, it's still in early beta, so I'm pretty sure that based on my feedback they'll get this corrected in no time.   I also would expect that the tool will learn over time from the collective wisdom of the crowd and learn more and more about how to identify less obvious or more complicated subscriptions.

How does it work?  There's not a lot of explanation, but in the FAQs it does not that you might see some emails in your sent folder (I didn't), so in some cases, it may simply send the not-all-that-well-known "unsubscribe" reply email back to the sender.  It may also rely on "unsubscribe" links in the emails or the X-Unsubscribe-Web and X-Unsubscribe-Email or any number of other possible headers (Good coverage here.)  Not sure how it'll handle on-the-fly email addresses like tvjames+cnet@gmail.com, but people who use those kinds of tricks are already recognizing they want more control, so it's probably not going to target an audience like that.

What's the point?  List Hygiene is always a struggle.  On one hand, you have people who want to see quantity:

"I want a big list!  I want to send to lots of people!  Every recipient is a possible sale!  Let's send out another blast!!!!"

and on the other hand, you have the people charged with sending the emails who aim for quality:

"If I sent to 30,000 people on Comcast.net and only 2,500 have even opened any we've sent in the last year, Comcast is going to consider us a spammer and deliver all 30,000 (even the 2,500 engaged reader's) emails directly to the spam folder."


"I have a mandated goal of a 20% open rate, a 5% clickthrough rate and an unsubscribe rate of less than 0.25%.  If you keep making me send to all of those people who have indicated through their inaction that they don't want to hear from us, I'm not going to be able to make good on these goals you've given me."

Unroll.me becomes another tool in the arsenal available to inbox owners to re-take control of their inboxes.  I am not sure yet how Unroll.me makes money - perhaps the momentum of Gmail, Yahoo!, AOL and Microsoft allows them to pursue deals with Comcast and other mid-level email providers.  Or perhaps this is an engineering feat designed to get them noticed and hired by bigger email firms.   No doubt there is also valuable data to be mined once this tool picks up steam and reaches critical mass.

I had begged for the early invite because I had a meeting earlier this week with a group that wanted to learn how to be "better emailers" - the meeting got postponed, but this is definitely something I will be presenting at the meeting... just another reminder that in the world of email (and social), the subscriber/follower/customer is in control.

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