🤬 <= This was me, 12 hours ago.

I’m about share the details (and give a glimpse of life as a software maker!), but first…

Please upgrade to ActiveInbox 7.6.10 (it takes 20 secs)

If you read no further, I strongly encourage you to update to ActiveInbox 7.6.10 now.

I think the problem I’ve found is extremely rare, but if it does occur it could cause trouble for your due dates, and the right thing to do is to ask you to get the fix now.

It’s really easy, just:

  • Open your Extensions page (shortcut: open chrome://extensions in a new tab)
  • Enable the ‘Developer Mode’ toggle in the top right
  • Click the ‘Update’ button in the top left
  • Refresh Gmail

And relax!

This dramatic language rather begs the question why doesn’t it? Let me explain…

Gmail has rolled out a couple of updates recently.

This happens periodically, and for the most part, is no big deal.

Until this time.

There are two cases, one of which is urgent.

Case 1: A missing feature

First, the mild-inconvenience case is that ActiveInbox’s “I need a reply” feature may have stopped showing in the Compose popup (because it couldn’t figure out where to insert itself when Gmail moved the furniture around).

This is mostly fixed, but not perfect: on one of my test accounts, it still doesn’t appear until I click the body section of the new email and start typing. I’ll get that fixed too in the next update. (And for customer Jack, it never shows – I’m chatting to him later to fix it.)

Case 2: A risk to due dates

The bad-but-thankfully-extremely-unlikely case for pushing this update is that there is a chance that your due dates might be removed.

The good news is that as far as I know, only 2 people have been affected (1 confirmed, 1 pending), and unless Gmail+ActiveInbox takes more than 60 seconds to start loading on your computer, and you have more than 25 emails on a single due date day, there’s no reason to worry.

But the theoretical vulnerability is still there, and the right thing to do is to ask you to upgrade.

(If you’re worried, you can talk to us at support@activeinboxhq.com)

Let me get nerdy for a moment to fully explain it…

  • ActiveInbox uses Gmail Labels to track due dates on emails (in the form of ZD/yyyymmdd, e.g. ZD/20211105 for today).
  • When these due date labels are no longer needed – because they’re not on any emails – the labels get cleaned up and removed from Gmail.
  • For years I avoided this btw, because I didn’t want ActiveInbox to be able to delete anything. It still can never delete your emails. But eventually, the need to tidy up your environment became worth deleting those unused due date labels.
  • As you’d imagine, I put in a lot of safeguards. The most important of which is that just prior to removing the label, after all the other guards, it asks the Google server directly “Are you sure this label is unused?”.
  • This final safeguard is the one that has failed in the last week.
  • Due to the other safeguards, I think it’s very unlikely you’ll be affected. But it’s still a tiny possibility. And I really really don’t want you to be affected.

Convinced to upgrade? See the steps above.

This update also adds more general safety measures for easier sleeping

Ok, that might be my easier sleeping as much as yours!

When I realised what might be happening, late in the evening yesterday, my body tightened and vision darkened. This is one of those events you never want to occur.

The causes were diagnosed and fixed by around midnight, but it really brought clarity on the need for more ways to handle incidents.

So in addition to fixing the failing safeguard above, I’ve added more:

  • A history log of all label changes you make to emails, stored on your machine. It’s a form of backup – so if any due date (or other) ActiveInbox data is lost in the future, we now have a way to restore it.

    (Our servers have very strong back up, but Gmail Labels aren’t included because they’re just on your machine and Google’s servers. And I want to keep it that way, as I’m pretty obsessed with privacy – I don’t want your sensitive data on our servers! This new local back up is a good trade off.)
  • A way to remotely disable Unused Label Clean Up. I’m keeping it turned off for now, until the dust has settled, and will slowly restore it in coming weeks.

“Hey, man, are you still ok?!”

When we had a few hours of outage last month, I realised I need to start communicating much more often to let you know what’s going on at the office (ok, our homes – it is 2021 after all).

Because more than one person said “I thought you’d flicked a switch and turned off ActiveInbox forever”.

I was like “Wait, we’re up and working every day! Why do you think we’d do that?”. Then I realised I’d clearly been way too quiet.

Short version: ActiveInbox is profitable, healthy, has been going for 15 years, and I love that it helps people every day. Lisa still supports customers throughout each day, and I step in to help fix bugs and handle Gmail changes.

But something has changed in the way I work…

ActiveInbox now has siblings: Breef & Project Formz

I explained last year why it’s unlikely that ActiveInbox will get any more new features: with 1000s of customers, and already being quite a feature-full product, the changes I introduce often annoyed some segment of users as much as it pleased others.

So I spun new ideas into separate products, that you could try only if you really wished.

Breef makes use of the knowledge flowing through your inbox

If you’re struggling with a lot of unread emails, and fear missing the great insights in them, I think you’ll love Breef.

It makes your inbox as fast as Instagram, by adding the same infinite scroll technology to glide through emails. Use it to skim and see what catches your eye, or to triage your inbox into tasks faster.

It’s other super cool feature is…

Because we tend to psychologically avoid “massive piles of stuff“, it also has a really neat “5 Minute Catch Up” feature that, for any view in Gmail, surfaces the best emails you’ve missed. It even learns your taste over time!

^^ This video is just 1 minute, and does a great job of helping feel what Breef is about.

You can try it from https://www.getbreef.com (it’s free during beta, but will have paid plans later).

Project Formz reimagines “I need a reply” so you never have to chase people

This is super early stage:

  • I’m still working on the Proof of Concept for this.
  • It’s only for heavy business users who spend a lot of time interacting with people outside their immediate team (especially in other departments or companies).

But it came from a mental challenge I gave myself of “what would it look like if ActiveInbox was just its Waiting On feature (and no more)?”, partly because in customer conversations, you’ve all told me chasing is the true pain.

I realised that the act of tracking & chasing replies is a band-aid. A wasteful crutch.

It doesn’t solve the root cause of why we’re chasing in the first place.

Well, it turns out we chase because our recipients are overwhelmed. Their inbox is on fire. They lose track of us. Or ignore us for ages until they’re ready. But that leaves us hanging and blocked.

I think an act of kindness that ripples outwards is the answer: make it much easier for them to reply (and track things together if they can’t right now).

It’s really a simpler, kinder, more collaborative ActiveInbox.

If this sounds interesting, and you’d value it enough to pay a refundable $100 to be part of, and have a voice in, the beta, please email me: andym@activeinboxhq.com . (It’s a lot I know, but at first I really want to work with a handful of highly time-conscious professionals.)

Otherwise hang tight – I’ll talk more about it next year!


This was written by Andy Mitchell