Inspired by Twitter, Shortmail Limits Messages to 500 Characters

Q: I spend way too much time alone with my inbox, sorting through notes and responding to email. There has to be a better way to cut back the amount of effort I expend in my messaging client so that I can focus elsewhere.


A: It's just after noon and I've already received more than 100 email messages since first logging in today. You probably have, too. And it's almost crippling. Some of those messages are important, sure; but most of them just pull you away from your work and slow you down, taking up more of your precious time than they need to. Notifications of direct messages on Twitter, press releases, Facebook events, spam, e-newsletters that I've signed up for but rarely have the time to read, and a note from my mom.

Email is unavoidable because there's plenty of good that comes from it -- if you don't let it take up your entire day. Shortmail, a new mailing system released by the Boston-based 410 Labs, aims to help you reduce the time you spend reading and writing messages. In the process, it will keep you on-point.

Clearly based on Twitter, Shortmail features a character counter that tracks how many letters and spaces you've typed into a message. And you better keep an eye on it: You're limited to 500 characters on Shortmail. So, too, are those people who message you. If you send a message that exceeds the 500 character limit to a Shortmail user, you'll receive a note asking you to cut it down.

"[The] length limit on messages is long enough to express most coherent points or ask a colleague a question, while filtering out much spam, newsletters, promotions, and dissertations," 410 Labs said in a statement obtained by Fast Company. "Thus your Shortmail inbox becomes the place for the to-the-point messages in sizes and quantity you can digest and respond to quickly."

Shortmail doesn't just make email easier by limiting the length of messages, though. It's user interface is incredibly simple, too. There's a search box, account menu and messages; gone are the chat windows and ads and other buttons and options that you've grown accustomed to with Gmail, Yahoo, AOL or one of the other major messaging services. Because Shortmail works with both IMAP and POP3, you can graft it onto your regular email client if you prefer to keep the clunky interface you're already familiar with.

If you're a Twitter user, then Shortmail has already created an account for you; it's just waiting to be claimed. If you want to try out the service, visit Shortmail's website and open your account; the address will be your Twitter handle at (My address, for example, is

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Image: Shortmail.

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Nicholas Jackson is a former associate editor at The Atlantic.

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