I was pretty excited when I learned about HEY, because it’s been a long time since anyone did any real innovation in email, even though email remains a major part of our lives. Gmail was the last innovator, and I put that in the past tense because that service has received only minor tweaks in the past decade, and its really significant ideas were implemented fifteen years ago. I decided to drop the hundred bucks necessary for a HEY account, and since then I’ve continued to work in my existing email setup while forwarding all my mail to HEY, just to give it a corpus to work on.

You need to do that because HEY requires some training to learn your email needs. Whenever an email comes in from a new sender, HEY doesn’t put it in your inbox — which it, rather unfortunately, calls your Imbox — but rather asks you what you want to do with emails from that sender: decline to receive it (at which point it disappears), file it along with receipts and other businessy things in what HEY calls the Paper Trail, move it with newsletters and the like into the Feed, or send it to the Imbox. HEY remembers your decisions for each sender and in the future follows your instructions. So there’s a good deal of training to be done at first, but over time that lessens. I’ve been dropping in a couple of times a week to work through the arriving mail, so if I do decide that I want to employ it full-time it will already be largely usable.

It’s a brilliantly designed service, I think, elegant and attractive and efficient, and I think the appeal increases in proportion to how badly you feel punished by your email. HEY basically says, “Throw out everything you have ever thought about email and do things our way.” It offers very few options to customize the service, and it can only be accessed through its website or its apps: basically you can follow the HEY way or there’s no HEY for you at all. And that’s not a criticism! — a controlled, uniform experience is really the whole point of the service. If like me you have worked hard over the years to develop a system for managing email, and that system works reasonably well, then you might not want to discard all that work to embrace a different system. But if you’re feeling defeated by email, then HEY is likely to be a really good answer.

There’s one main reason why I can’t now use HEY: All of my email, from all the accounts I have, are channeled into Gmail: from there I can reply to messages using the address to which they were sent. When I get a message at my Baylor address, especially if it’s internal, I need to be able to reply from my that address, and Gmail spoofs that address adequately. That allows me to have all my messages from all accounts in one place, organized using the same set of rules — rules which are also, by the way, applied equally on all my devices, which is not true of, say, Apple’s Mail app. (Even after more than a decade, you can’t set any rules at all in iOS, which is frankly ridiculous.) If I were to shift from Gmail to HEY, I’d have to go back and forth between HEY and another email client, which would be annoying. But if HEY ever implements the reply-from-the-account-to-which-the-message-was-sent option (RFTATWTMWS, as I like to call it), then it might be a real option for me.