Tl;dr It’s about getting to the root of your problems

Want new productivity powers in ActiveInbox? Just tell us the single main workflow problem you’ve been trying to overcome (note: there’s no need to talk about desired features or solutions, just the problem that you experience – a subtle difference that makes a huge difference to how quickly ActiveInbox can be improved).

How to take the survey (in about 3 minutes)

If you refresh Gmail today, you should see a link to the survey at the top, in a black bar.

Let me add a quick bit of background…

You’re very reasonably probably thinking that 2016 was the last time you actually saw a big upgrade to ActiveInbox. Partly that’s just the nature of a mature product (ActiveInbox began in 2006), and partly because the internal plumbing had to be ripped out and entirely rebuilttwice – in response to the Gmail platform changing in that time. But there’s something else I’ve not spoken about.

Back in 2006, there was only one other plugin for Gmail (a grab bag of power settings, like removing chat), and the idea of treating emails as a flow of tasks was brand new. It was a really satisfying period, because everything was fresh and innovative, the community was extremely active, and any solutions we collectively came up with made a big difference. But, as the field of apps to ‘control email overload’ matured, opportunities to do anything more than refine it evaporated. Perhaps more than anything else, it was a desire to stop our thinking becoming ‘boxed in’ that led us to begin looking again for original ideas that might better solve the problems people were still facing.

I ended up overseeing 5 new prototypes – brand new solutions – that tackle the problems of too much email, co-workers who are too busy to reply, too many tools to switch between, and improving low quality newsletters.

But such exuberance came with a cost I hadn’t anticipated: decision paralysis. I feel I’ve lost the ability to ship constantly, because now we had a mature product and mature audience, combined with lots of choices for what to release, I felt the pressure to get it exactly “right”. Which is always death to taking creative risks. (In contrast, when ActiveInbox was originally released, it was the 3rd extension I’d built in under a year, and was only a ‘side’ tool to the main startup I was doing… so I felt zero pressure just throwing stuff into the public arena).

I think there are two ways to break free of this (with the benefit of actually getting some of that code into your hands!):

  1. By doing our new survey, I’ll be able to pull together all the ideas we had into a cohesive solution to your main problem. There will be renewed focus, basically. It’s a bit of a cheat though, because by asking for consensus I’m still not taking the creative risks, so there’s also…
  2. Get back into the habit of releasing little ideas as tiny products that you can try, and then growing the promising ones. I believe this is my underlying desire in explaining all of this: to be as transparent as I can so you can feel comfortable joining in by sharing your input, knowing it’ll be heard and go directly into how the actual products get built.


This was written by Andy Mitchell