Why I Recommend Using Spike for Email, Instant Messaging, and Video Chat (Fan Review)

Background

I care deeply about the people in my life. I value my relationships with them. I cherish in-person, face-to-face conversations. In my personal and professional life, I rely on video conferences, email, and instant messaging. In some cases, I might communicate with you frequently, in others once in a while. Like it is for many of you, written communication is a fundamental method of correspondence integral to my life. Email, text chat, and video calls help me stay connected with people, especially during this pandemic.

Email

I’ve been using email since I was a kid. Back then, a university Unix computer I had access to used to send and receive emails in daily batches using technologies some of which are now obsolete: a UUCP to SMTP gateway. SMTP, or the Simple Mail Transport Protocol somehow not only still survives but thrives as the mechanism underlying email delivery worldwide. What’s great about email is that it is an open standard in the public domain. The system of email isn’t owned by any company, government, or other organization or person. You can switch and transfer your emails from one service provider to another, be it Gmail, Outlook.com, even AOL! Yes, somehow @aol.com as an email service still survives too.

Instant Messaging

Instant messaging, or chat, on the other hand is almost always a proprietary service on closed networks. It has been so since ancient days when people used AOL Instant Messenger. These days, people send instant messages on iMessage, WhatsApp, Signal, Telegram, Slack, and other services that are not interoperable. They lock you in to their platforms and make it impractical to move your past messages to another chat service.

You can use your email from almost any Internet connected communications device you have access to, including someone else’s computer or phone that they let you use. Unfortunately, your instant messaging services are typically limited to only one phone at a time. In other cases, IMs are still limited to some of your devices.

Video Chat

Video chat apps like FaceTime, Zoom, Google Meet, Google Duo, Microsoft Teams, and Microsoft Skype are also proprietary and not interoperable, even when they are owned by the same company. For example, Google’s own Duo and Meet do not interoperate. Microsoft’s Teams and Skype have limited interoperability.

Lack of Interoperability

While Slack offers some integrations with other types of communications platforms, and some instant messaging platforms now enable video calls, generally almost everyone has to deal with email, instant messaging, and video chat on separate services that provide none to insufficient interoperability.

Why do I have to use one set of apps for email, another incompatible set of apps for instant messaging, and yet another incompatible set of apps for video chats?

Shortcomings of Email Clients

Documenting the shortcomings of email clients would fill a book. I won’t repeat them here.

What if email could be made easier? Sleeker, more intuitive, and more innovative? What if it could be redesigned to be more user-friendly? What if email could help boost your productivity instead of constraining it? What if you could use the same service and the same user interface for email, instant messaging, and video calls?

You can!

Enter Spike

For the past year and a half, I’ve been using an email app called Spike, and I find it to be the greatest innovation in email since Google launched Gmail 16 years ago. I know that’s a bold statement but there’s a good reason why. Spike helped me rediscover my appreciation for email. Staying in touch with friends, family, colleagues and coworkers via email has never been easier, and if you take my advice, you might rediscover your fondness for email too. Here’s why.

A Single Inbox and Repository for Email and Chat

Spike makes email easier with features similar to those in Slack, WhatsApp, Telegram, and other instant messaging apps. It even has real time response typing indicators when both sides are using Spike. This means that I can choose to use conventional email when I need to go into detail or rely on chat functionality when I need an instant answer.

Spike chats get saved in the same place as email which makes it easier to find information in my messages. Having everything in the same inbox is ideal since I get tired of constantly switching between multiple apps on my iPhone, Android phone, iPad and iMac. With Spike, everything is laid out in a single place, so I can send my friend a quick message about dinner and then compose that mission critical email to my colleagues at work. However, the more people onboard the better it works—which is why I encourage everyone I know to use Spike.

Messages Organized by People

The biggest benefit of using Spike is the intuitive organizational feature of having my emails organized by people (instead of by conversations as Gmail does).

Thanks to the default mode of viewing messages by people (just like your favorite chat app), I’ve found a raft of past emails from people that I had missed. This can happen for a number of reasons (so sorry if I missed your mail!), and whether it’s due to information overload, travel, vacation, or just lack of time, Spike keeps me better connected with you by organizing your messages intuitively!

Unlike other email apps I’ve used in the past, Spike doesn’t rely on clunky folders or labels to organize messages, so I no longer lose important information. In fact, it simply splits messages into “priority” or “other” inboxes, meaning all my important communications are front and centre and a single click takes me to less important messages.

This is such a useful feature that it’s difficult to express how much of a difference it makes in my day-to-day, however, compared to other email clients that either have only one inbox or too many inboxes to check it’s like night and day! Just two inboxes: “priority” and “other” work optimally for me.

Sleek Interface and Integrated Calendar

Every day I use it, I’m impressed by how Spike makes email so much better, faster, and easier to use. In fact, Spike is exactly what email needs at the moment, representing the most necessary innovation since email was invented. This is true for Spike’s most basic elements, and the beautifully designed interface makes email management slick and streamlined, whereas most email clients are overly complicated and difficult to use.

One of the biggest surprises for me was having the calendar as part of my inbox. Most email clients overlook this addition, but it’s saved me so much time. Now, I can manage my digital communications and real-world commitments from the same place, and it’s just one click away from my inbox. It’s such a simple integration that I’m surprised more apps aren’t doing it.

And More

Spike has video chats.

Spike also has a built-in document collaboration. I wrote this blog post in the Spike word processor, instead of Google Docs, MS Word, or Apple Pages.

It even has tasks and to do lists built in.

This blog post is a fan review

The screenshots I used in this blog post were supplied by the Spike team because I didn’t want to post screenshots of my own emails. I wrote this with the Spike team’s involvement. As a happy and vocal user of their product, I’ve gotten to know them and become a friend of the company.

I don’t have any financial interest here. I’m not an investor in Spike. Spike has not paid me any money, not given me any gift, nor any discount. Spike has not offered nor given me any other special benefits. I’m a fan, power user and an informal advocate of Spike in my personal capacity. I do not even have an affiliate program in place with Spike. If someday in future I have any financial connection with Spike (neither I nor the Spike folks have any such plans at this time), I will update this blog post to mention that.

In case you are wondering why I wrote this blog post, it is because I like Spike so much that I want my family, friends, and coworkers to use it. The network effect will make all our personal and work lives better and less stressful. You should give it a try today by downloading the Spike app here. It is free for personal email accounts.

Benefits of Using IRC or Group Chat & Video Conference During Incident Management

When a team of engineers is dealing with a real-time incident, such as a system outage, troubleshooting a problem or dealing with a malicious hacking attack, having excellent communications is critically important. The appropriate communications tool can make a world of difference in dealing with the issue and learning from it afterwards. As important as the engineering work itself is, lack of good communications is what often gets tech teams in trouble.

You should enable real-time communication in certain collaborative tasks. This will reduce unnecessary email traffic and clutter, enable people to to focus better on their tasks,and minimize time wasted in bringing each other up to speed When multiple people are working together in real-time on a near term collaborative task, such as:

  • Crisis Management
  • Troubleshooting
  • Dealing with hacking attacks
  • Build and deployment
  • Web application migration
  • Upgrade or maintenance
  • QA testing

Many companies use a phone conference and/or email to assist in real-time while the collaborative activity above is ongoing. Since Email is not instantaneous and real-time the way a group chat application is, and since email is not a suitable medium for quick questions, and quick one-line responses, smart teams use a real-time group chat tool like IRC (Internet Relay Chat) to enable and facilitate real-time conversation. Benefits of using IRC or a real-time textual group chat tool instead of email are:

  • Tech managers, project managers, crisis managers and new tech people joining the effort can quickly catch up with what has been going on (in any level of detail they want) by reading the IRC history transcript so far. This is a much faster and efficient way than using email or pulling someone away to talk in person asking what has been going on. (If email were to be used instead of IRC, a new person joining in would have missed the previous emails on the topic.)
  • When an engineer working on such a collaborative task steps away for a while and comes back, they can quickly catch up on what transpired while they were away by reading the IRC history transcript.
  • Email is not cluttered by short back and forth messages with lots of text to read and filter
  • The IRC transcript can be used for the post incident retrospective and report (“post-mortem”).
  • Unlike a phone-only conference, the IRC transcript can be read and analyzed to learn lessons from this incident. For example:
    • Analyze what problems the team ran into
    • Analyze what worked and what didn’t
    • Analyze how well people collaborated and communicated
    • Timelines of events

I can personally attest to the above benefits. Over the past 15+ years, my development and operations teams in different companies have regularly used IRC to great advantage. Tools like Wikis and blogs are great for collaboration, documentation and sharing information on projects. An group chat like IRC is an indispensable tool for real-time collaboration.

2013 August Update:

With multi-participant video conferencing becoming commonplace thanks to Google Hangouts, I have updated this post to include video conferencing combined with group text chat.

The rest of this update has moved to its own blog entry titled ‘What I Learned During the Hacking Attacks of August 28, 2013.’

2014 July Update:

I now recommend organizations to consider using Slack. See my 2014 July comment below.