To let you fly through your maybe emails at record speed, and actually make use of the knowledge flowing through your inbox.
What are ‘maybe’ emails?
You know, subscriptions and strangers.
They’re sometimes brilliant - so you can’t just junk them - but mostly not.
If you want to stay on top, speed and clarity matter… Skim to surface the gold!
How did we end up here?
Our inboxes are ancient. The whole infrastructure kinda sucks.
Your inbox is stuffed with emails from every part of your life. And all you can do is click click click your way through them tediously, in the order they came.
In short, the inbox is overwhelmed and there’s tons we can do to improve it.
Breef is the missing part of your productivity stack
Email tools have long since solved handling human interaction (the answer is to treat them like tasks) and unsubscribing from junk.
But there’s a third, unsolved, email activity that eats our time…
Breef makes it effortless to keep up with unread maybe emails.
Who makes Breef?
It’s a side project of Andy Mitchell (who for over 15 years has made ActiveInbox - the earliest task management plugin for Gmail).
Switching to I…
It’s something of a labour of love, scratching my own itch.
It’s been quite a slow start. I began tinkering in October 2020. Mostly I loved the nerd challenge of making the infinite scroll, but I’d also hit 20k unreads and having interviewed Gmail users for years, knew I wasn’t alone in this pain.
So the biggest challenge was against my own psychology and intuition… it was extremely hard to figure out whether it should be a generic productivity tool (centered around reading speed), an inbox organizer (splitting the inbox into topics), or a much more niche project to make use of newsletters.
And “newsletters” didn’t exactly inspire confidence as a niche. In 2020, only real tech nerds and folks in the Creator Economy knew newsletters were interesting again. For everyone else - including my nearest & dearest loved ones - the idea that Breef might be some kind of “newsletter reader” yielded something between unbelieving stares and outright mirth.
But what ultimately settled it for me was:
All high functioning people I’ve spoken to struggle with reading their inbox
And knowledge in general. We feel guilt, we feel we’re missing out, but we’re drowning and still ignore so much.
I signed up to 100 newsletters
I wanted to see if they were as good as promised. And sure, quite a few were garbage, but the gems - oh the gems - they made it all worth it.
So Breef became “how can I take the pain away from staying informed?”
From there, it has been pure development-by-itch-scratching. “Hmm, maybe the infinite scroll would make it easier to skim read - IT DOES!”. “Hmm, now I’m skimming, I’m not remembering any of this, it’s a waste of time… maybe taking note summaries will make it worthwhile - IT DOES!”. (And about 3 other ideas that didn’t pay off of course!)
See the finished features on YouTube (in 1 min)
Infinite Scroll through the inbox
Really slick feeling to skim non-human emails
Commands to clear the inbox
As you skim with Infinite Scroll, there’s now an action for every email: read later, reply later, save it, reply now. All of them remove it from the inbox.
Bonus: it also integrates with ActiveInbox to set reminders, due dates and projects on emails.
Split the inbox into topics (e.g. ‘Colleagues’, ‘Marketing Theory’)
Too bug-ridden: it was too much of a fight against Gmail’s UI to stabilize. The concept is really helpful though, as it separates the human emails from the broadcast ones, and then breaks up the broadcast ones into areas of focus. One to maybe revisit if we make our own dedicated app.
Capture note summaries of newsletters
Makes newsletters feel worthwhile, now we can learn
Still to do
Make the Knowledge Base and notes searchable
Hypothesis: it’ll make newsletter reading even more powerful. You can catch ideas now that might be useful later (e.g. “launch techniques”), and then when the time comes, search back through all your newsletters and notes.
Backup and synchronize notes between computers
Hypothesis: this is a must for people who use Gmail on multiple machines. And actually for anyone that wants backup. At the moment, your notes are stored locally.
Highlight worthwhile gems while you scroll (with social data)
Hypothesis: Some newsletters can still be extremely long, which makes even skimming it a big task. Highlight key sentences, or the whole email, to say “slow down here, other people thought it was worth it”.
Round up the best newsletters you missed (with social data)
Hypothesis: because we often fail to check out newsletters, things get missed. And it’s too overwhelming to ever catch up. So a fun way to round up the best issues we didn’t open (based on our previous viewing habits + wisdom from the social community’s analytics), maybe with a time limit (“Catch up in 10 mins!") would make sure we never miss out.
As a nuance, I’m imagining you could drop into any label or search in Gmail, and catch up just that.
Discover the best newsletters
Hypothesis: there are brilliant newsletters out there, but most people don’t have a clue. Or the energy to find them. By using engagement tracking (across all users - with privacy opt in of course), Breef can detect which newsletters are “gems”, and give you personal recommendations.
🐞 Bug: Sometimes the wrong email body is shown during Infinite Scroll
This is a problem in the underlying software library I use (i.e. not my code 😛). I’m going to have to rewrite scroll without that library to fix it.
🐞 Bug: Sometimes Archiving stops working during Infinite Scroll
I haven’t figured this out yet, it seems random. As a workaround, all you have to do is restart the scroll.
The ‘some day’ pile
Integrate notes to other tools (e.g. Notion, Roam)
Hypothesis: notes are more useful if they’re centralized with everything else in your life system. Right now, it’s not Breef’s ambition to be your life system. So integration is probably needed.
Help newsletter writers get feedback
Hypothesis: Because “inboxes are ancient” writers don’t really know if we’re reading their emails, which I expect is terrible for motivation. And it’s hard to improve if they don’t know what people do or don’t like. Breef could potentially give them those insights, to write better & better material.
Got feature requests?
Tell me! firstname.lastname@example.org