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Email communication breakdown post-mortem

4 months ago

Between the 29th of October 2023 until the 2nd of January 2024, emails sent to joost@joost.at (my personal email) or various @freesewing.org email addresses went unnoticed. Since noticing the issue today I have gone through the backlog and set aside any messages that I need to deal with.

However, this is a manual and tedious process so it’s possible that I’ll miss a few. In addition, it’s also very possible that emails sent to me 2 months ago required a speedier response.

These emails would have included users asking for help, but also notifications about new patrons who’ve signed up or any donations FreeSewing received.

I’d like to apologize to all those who I should have been in touch with but didn’t. To be as transparent as possible, I will explain in detail what happened below, and outline the steps I’ve taken to avoid this from happening again in the future.

My email setup

To understand what happened, I should start by explaining my email setup.

I have historically used joost@decock.org as my personal email. It’s tied to Google in the way that is no longer possible today, using one of those grandfathered-in domain setups that they don’t allow you to have any longer. I don’t trust Google as far as I can throw them, but Gmail is the best mail client for my needs because I don’t want to spend my time carefully organizing email, I just want to search and find what I’m looking for. Nothing comes close to Gmail when it comes to that.

Furthermore, as an Android user, this primary not-really-gmail-but-still-a-bit Google account is also tied to my phone, and a host of other things that are important. In other words, I need to have some Google account, so this is it.

That being said, I don’t trust Google to not one day accidentally disable my account and I know full well that when that happens, I won’t have any way of getting it back because Google doesn’t do support. And I can’t even blame them as I’m not a paying customer. So I want a different email provider, one where I am a paying customer, and that provider is fastmail. I could have migrated the decock.org domain to it, but that poses two problems:

  • I still need a Google account
  • Some members of my family have a decock.org email address, so I would have to find a solution for them too and they are not too tech-savvy so that would have been a hassle.

So, a couple of years ago I decided to bite the bullet, bought the joost.at domain, and made that my primary email.

Obviously, my previous emails is still used by people and companies, and I have to keep the Google account active too, so now I have two inboxes to manage. I thought I had found a clever solution for that, and that’s where things went wrong.

It worked until it didn’t

I had setup my Google account to pull in email from my fastmail account via POP3. This worked great and since both mailboxes are configured to allow me to send email from both addresses, it’s transparent to my correspondents.

That all worked fine. But if I go into the settings and check that rule today, I see this:

The image alt goes here

Google stopped pulling in these emails, and somehow neglected to notify me of this. Because of this setup, I had not been checking my Fastmail inbox, so from one day to the next I didn’t see anything sent to my new email address.

At this point, you’re probably wondering why I didn’t notice. The answer is partially that I get a lot of email, but if I’m being honest, at some level I probably suspected something was off but I didn’t realize exactly what, and because I was busy looking into it was kicked down the road.

Going forward

Since I cannot trust Google to reliably pull in the emails from my Fastmail inbox, I will instead pivot to a inbox double-zero approach. By which I mean, I will manage both inboxes and apply inbox-zero as that’s how I do things.

Given my neglect of my Fastmail inbox, it had 100k+ unread messages in them. I went through the messages since the end of October and set aside emails that I need to follow-up on. Then I archived the rest and now am back on top of things, albeit with a small pile of backlog to deal with.

I am particularly sorry for those people who signed up as patrons or donated to FreeSewing and didn’t even get as much as an acknowledgment. I admit that this sort of administrativia is not my strong suit, but my response time is not typically measured in months.

Apologies, and I will try to do better this year.

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