. . . And now for something completely different. David Stephens's approach to managing e-mail, which I posted about yesterday, is an enterprise-level solution to an enterprise-level problem. What about those of us -- l'Archivista among them -- who just can't seem to manage their personal e-mail appropriately? I've got a couple of personal accounts that are filled with sales pitches, listserv detritus, and other stuff that I really should delete, but I've got generous storage quotas and a finite amount of time. I've also got pretty decent search capability, but the volume of junk is starting to affect my search results. I recently needed to track down a Continental e-ticket and had to wade through a bunch of old Continental sales pitches before I could find it. Urgh.
For some of us, a new service, GiveBackMail, may help. GiveBackMail displays a new advertisement each time a user sends, opens, or deletes a message, and the service makes a small donation to charity each time a user performs one of these actions. At present, GiveBackMail allows users to earmark their donations for one of seven non-profit organizations working in a variety of areas: cancer, education, conservation, animal welfare, people with AIDS, microlending, and victims of the recent tornadoes. GiveBackMail hopes to add additional charities, and account holders can suggest charities that might warrant inclusion.
GiveBackMail users have the option of routing one or more of their existing AOL, GMail, Hotmail, and Yahoo accounts through GiveBackMail or setting up a separate GiveBackMail account; if they opt for the latter, they can keep their existing e-mail addresses and their correspondents will be none the wiser. Users can also the service to post updates to their Facebook or Twitter accounts.
A recent New York Times article notes that GiveBackMail's business model seeks to redirect users' eyeballs: instead of viewing ads served up by AOL, Google, Microsoft, or Yahoo, GiveBackMail wants you to route your e-mail through its servers and to view the ads it displays, and its charitable donations are designed to induce you not only to reroute your e-mail but also to change your e-mail management practices.
The Times article also notes that GiveBackMail is built upon the embedded-giving model that myriad corporations have recently embraced. If you purchase something or do something, a portion of the purchase price or corporate funds (up to a certain amount) will be donated to a specific cause. As Laura Starita points out, we should all think critically about this model, which can render "philanthropy subject to the retail cycle," undermine donor trust by failing to communicate how donations are being used, corrupt the desire to give by melding it with the desire to acquire, and paper over problematic environmental, labor, or other practices. However, if you're comfortable with viewing a few ads, think that the prospect of directing small sums of money to a non-profit organization will motivate you to clean up your inbox, and keep in mind that using GiveBackMail won't make you any sort of activist, then you might want to check it out. Moreover, GiveBackMail supplies monthly statements outlining how each users' donations have helped the charity he or she selected, which ought to help users feel more confident about the service.
I recently registered with GiveBackMail, and I found the process simple. I have only one complaint: I discovered only when I first attempted to register that GiveBackMail cannot be used to manage free, basic Yahoo e-mail accounts. GiveBackMail works only with Yahoo Plus accounts, but there is no mention of this fact anywhere in the "How It Works" or "Features" sections of the GiveBackMail site. I can't determine from the GiveBackMail site whether GiveBackMail works with the free versions of AOL, GMail, or Hotmail.
Undeterred by GiveBackMail's inability to help me get a grip on my Yahoo accounts, I set up a separate GiveBackMail account and plan on using it for a few routine things. GiveBackMail is currently in beta mode, and, as the Times points out, there's always the possibility that Google or one of the other big Web e-mail providers will undercut GiveBackMail by replicating its view-an-ad-make-a-donation business model, so I'm not 100 percent certain I want to make it my primary account at this time. However, so far I've been pretty pleased with GiveBackMail. Its interface is simple and intuitive, and it seems to do what it's supposed to do -- enable me to send, receive, organize, and delete messages and keep track of contacts -- without any hitches. Moreover, at least in the short term, I've gotten better at deleting all those useless messages . . . .