Things we love: Hand-drawn illustrations in email

The Boys & Girls Clubs draw some attention with the hand-drawn email look.

You know that warm-fuzzy thrill when you spot one hand-addressed envelope in your stack of mail that's otherwise bills and ads and statements and pizza coupons and whatnot?

Do you ever *not* open that hand-addressed envelope first?

Hand-drawn stuff is warm and personal. And in the mass-blasting, digitized and technical world of email marketing, it's especially compelling. After all, if we're all drawn (shameless pun) to the hand-written envelope among our stack of mail, an email with some hand-drawn design might also be more likely stand out in a crowded inbox. I've been looking for an excuse to highlight the lovely illustrated design in this email featured here from Boys & Girls Clubs earlier this fall.

More hand-drawn appeal from Sweet Leaf Tea.

I also love this hand-drawn "send to a friend" granny in Sweet Leaf Tea's newsletter.

How could you add some hand-drawn love to your next campaign?

+ Try replacing your standard icons or photos with illustrations.

+ Add a little hand-crafted texture to your plain email background.

+ Or come up with something entirely different. Find the chronic doodler in your office and report back with your own hand-drawn email masterpieces.

We even incorporated a variation of this handmade approach with our own December email campaign, which you can see here.

Want more handmade email inspiration? Take a look at these Emma customers:
The Button Company, United Kingdom
Pigeon Toe Ceramics, Portland

The Brainiac Guide to Welcome Email Automation

The year in email marketing

A few of our favorite 2010 email marketing trends, from integrating social networks to breaking design rules.

Among people who love debating inconsequential things, there's a bit of debate over whether we should consider 2010 the last year of the "aughts," or the first year of the "teens." While we're not particularly keen to join in that argument (both teams can get pretty fierce), there's no denying that, for email marketing, 2010 felt like a transitional year. Gone are the days of considering email strategy separately from social media strategy, and gone are the days of thinking of email as "that mailbox you have at your desk." As email becomes increasingly fluid, conversations about inbox behavior and audience engagement have woven their way into familiar discussions about sending frequency and open rates.

As we move into the new decade (or maybe we've been here for a year already?), here are some of the trends we saw in the past year.

Social Network Integration: Savvy email marketers have been synchronizing their email with social media for a while, but in 2010, the two truly became inseparable in the eyes of most marketers (not to toot our own horn, but it's also the year that we introduced our powerful Social Sharing tool). While email is still the most profitable marketing channel available, the way we use email is changing, and the best way to keep your email strategy relevant is to make sure it's suited to how your audience is communicating.

A school integrates email and social media.

Integrating your email and social strategy means recognizing that your followers engage with your brand on different channels for different reasons, and working across those channels to keep them engaged. You can do something as simple as tweeting a link to your email newsletter signup screen (or including a "follow" link in your emails), and it can grow to include multi-channel campaigns.

The best part? You don't have to be a tech wizard, a marketing guru, or a web, um, medicine man to be great at social media. In fact, some of the most inspired campaigns we've seen have come from smaller businesses and community groups who know how to stay close to their audience. Take this campaign, from Somerville Public Schools. Gathering everyone's favorite quotes about education on Twitter, then sharing those quotes in their next newsletter? Brilliant! Oh, and incredibly easy and affordable, too.

Blue Ocean Ideas encourages feedback.

Email-to-Blog Comment Links: Marketers also have been finding ways to bring the one-on-one direct communication power of email into other, more community-oriented spaces this year. If, like many companies, you sometimes share your blog content through email, invite your readers to join the discussion.

Blue Ocean Ideas, a Maryland-based full-service branding and design firm, does this in their blog and email series, "The Weekly Idea," where they share an idea with their readers and invite them to contribute their thoughts. But when Blue Ocean shares these ideas via email, they take one easy extra step to invite discussion: Following the content of each email, they post a link to that blog post's URL with the title, "Comment on this week's idea." It's simple, and it brings their audience into the conversation with one easy click.

Expanding the "Special Event": Around this time in previous years, if you'd mentioned "Cyber Monday" to a relative or neighbor, the odds are good that you would have been met with a blank stare, or possibly a slap in the face. But now Cyber Monday has entered the common vernacular as a sales event holiday for online retailers ("Black November," an also-ran term for extending the holiday sales frenzy throughout the entire month, didn't fare so well in 2010, but keep an eye out for it in 2011).

Email played a critical role in Cyber Monday sales events — according to a report by Responsys, Cyber Monday set a new all-time record for promotional email volume for the fourth year in a row. Some retailers, like Home Depot, even went for the controversial "double dip" strategy of adding another Cyber Monday promotion the following week.

Groupon developed a separate holiday program.

Around the holidays, when promotional email volume spikes sharply, some savvy marketers went the extra mile to let their audience know what they could expect over the next few weeks, effectively turning the entire holiday season into one prolonged email-driven event. Ever ahead of the game, Groupon even took the liberty of creating their own fictional winter holiday.

"Grouponicus" emails come separately from standard Groupon emails, and they feature decidedly holiday-oriented promotions (and a characteristically strange mascot, "Groupo" the snake-tailed bird). You can even opt out of "Grouponicus" mailings with one click while remaining subscribed to your standard Groupon messages. It's their way of offering extra holiday specials while letting their audiences know that this email volume boost is temporary and seasonal.

The holidays were far from the only extension of the "online event" that we saw this year. As retailers seek creative new ways to drive sales, marketers tried out some new tactics, like the Gap's "descending discount" 3-day sales event — act on the first day for a 20% discount, the second for a 15% discount, etc. They also revisited some tried and true methods, like the "2-hour" sales event for early responders.

Bending the rules with email design: When it comes to email marketing, there are "Do's," like keeping your most important content towards the top of your campaign, there are "Don'ts," like sending files as an attachment to your emails, and then there are those practices that fall somewhere in between. They can be risky, they don't always work and many email marketers who prefer to play it safe avoid them altogether. This year, we saw some savvy email marketers take some interesting risks with their email campaigns. Take animated GIF images, for example. They don't load consistently, and many of your readers won't see any animation in their campaign — just the very first image in the animation series. But for those readers who are capable of viewing animated GIFs in their email client, they can add a splash of style to your email. Nine West took this risk in a fall campaign, dedicating half of their email content to an animated GIF of a rotating shoe. Not all of their readers saw any movement here, but the ones that did were treated to a snazzy, runway-style reveal of their flagship fall boot.

Another oft-cited design issue is email campaign width. In order to be viewable in every inbox, the general consensus is that you should keep your email campaigns around 600 pixels wide (this is becoming even more relevant in the era of mobile viewers, smaller viewing areas demand narrow campaigns). But not every marketer wants to feel bound by pixel width, and some marketers decided to go wide — really wide. This email campaign from London's Le Cool Magazine did away with pixel width limitations and vertical orientation entirely, opting for a horizontal, magazine-style email experience. It's a bold move, and one that certainly caught our eye. But email, and the web in general, remains a vertical scrolling experience, and while there's always room for dreamers, it's not a switch we'd recommend for everyone.

More trends of note:
Those are just a few standouts we've noticed in a year of email innovation and experimentation — see our previous blog posts about the changing landscape of email for more, including our commentary about Gmail's Priority Inbox and Facebook's mail announcement.

Did you experience any of these trends yourself? Did anything new catch your eye in the past 12 months? Let us know in the comments section, and we'll keep the conversation going. It's sure to be more fun than the "aughts" vs. "teens" debate going on in the break room.

Holiday subject lines: What works?

December is one of highest-volume email months of the year. According to the Email Stat Center, the most popular days to send holiday and post-holiday emails are: 21 days before Christmas, 14 and 10 days before Christmas and the 26th of December. So how are your emails going to stand out in the crowd?

A well-crafted subject line can certainly help. Because not everyone turns their preview panes on by default, your subject line is your chance to persuade a reader to open and read rather than move on or delete. Read on for five ideas to enhance your holiday subject lines…

1. Identify yourself and provide an enticing teaser.
In all of my examples, you'll notice that I include the business name in the subject line. In the split second you have to grab a reader's eye, associating your name — or, more importantly, your connection to the reader — may be just the thing that makes your email stand out. Not only that, entice your recipients with a glimpse of what's inside. If your subject line is too vague, readers may ignore your email. Provide enough description that they'll want to know more.

So-so subject line:
Popular Gifts from The Forest Shop

Much better:
Our Top 8 Gifts of the Year | The Forest Shop

2. Call attention to what's unique.
We see it all too frequently — emails introduced as, simply, 'Holiday Sale – Shop Now.' Your products and your holiday sale are unique, so your subject lines should be, too. Make sure to highlight something special about the sale and include details about the sale's length. Your recipients are likelier to act if there's a sense of urgency.

So-so subject line:
Shop Bluebell Boutique's Holiday Sale Now

Much better:
Bluebell Boutique's Holiday Sale: 3 Days Left + Free Shipping

3. Introduce a spin and offer email subscribers something special.
Often, holiday emails focus on what the recipient should do. What about what you can offer the recipient? Consider providing a special discount or perk for your email subscribers. (You could even segment your list by 'member since date' if you'd like to send to your most loyal customers.) Something as small as a free cup of coffee, BOGO offer or exclusive downloadable content could do the trick.

So-so subject line:
Take 20% Off at The Candy Shoppe

Much better:
From the Candy Shoppe to You: Free Gift + 20% Off

4. Encourage participation that may not lead to a sale.
It's easy to focus on the bottom line when sending holiday emails. But remember that your emails are also about building relationships. A customer may not purchase from you now, but they'll remember you next time if you've hooked them. Allow your recipients to choose the best promotion that fits their needs. Or include a holiday survey to gauge interest in particular products or upcoming events.

So-so subject line:
Take Our Holiday Survey

Much better:
Choose Pet Store's Next Promotion | We want to hear from you!

5. Personalize.
Did you know you can include personalization tags in the subject line as well as the body of the campaign? Surprise your recipients with a personal touch — one that's totally proper, of course. While most subscribers are wise to first name personalization, you can personalize by any member field stored in your account. Consider a subject line that calls out city, company name or the month they joined your list. Get help with personalization here.

So-so subject line:
Happy Holidays from Berney's!

Much better:
To our friends in [member_city]: Happy Holidays from Berney's!

What will work for you? Find out and let us know…
Most email marketing rules will bend to suit your needs and the reading habits of your audience. To find out what really works, save two versions of the same campaign and change just the subject line. Export your entire audience to Excel, split the file in two and import into two split groups. Send to these groups and see what kind of effect the subject line has on your open rates, click-throughs and shares. And if you've got a successful subject line to share, by all means, let us know!

Announcing this year’s Emma 25 honorees

Folks at Pawsitive Works and Mother Hubbard's Cupboard, two of this year's Emma 25 honorees.

These small non-profits are doing big things.

We're so pleased to unveil this year's Emma 25 honorees today. All of the 300-plus groups that participated in our seventh-annual event are deserving, and we were inspired by the innovation and dedication we glimpsed while reading through the applications.

As with previous years, each of our honorees will receive an Emma account, custom stationery design and a lifetime of email and survey service, all at no cost.

These 25 groups on this year's list contribute a whole lot of goodness to the world:

  • An Indiana food pantry branching out into gardening and cooking classes.
  • Artists in New York encouraging inner-city teens to express themselves.
  • A group in Idaho bringing shelter dogs and at-risk kids together.
  • An Arkansas non-profit installing solar energy panels in low-income communities.
  • Counselors in Oregon teaching parenting classes for as little as $1.
  • An Austin group suiting up disadvantaged women for their careers.

We could go on. Actually, we do go on over here, where you can see the full list.

Oh, and we really appreciate the way so many of you helped us spread the word through your blog posts, tweets, email campaigns and conversations. Thanks for supporting this program – we couldn't do it without you.

Meet the 2010 Emma 25 honorees.

Meet our Portland medal winners

At our Portland launch party this month, we created a special set of our Emma medals that we like to hand out to customers and friends now and then — this new set features Portland-centric themes such as Hopheadedness, Puddlewonderfulness, Open Sourcery and Pedalocity. Then we asked party-goers to nominate their own medal ideas, and they wowed us with topics ranging from Portland's hipster scene to our local vineyards. We're awarding the winner $500 to donate to a local non-profit.

Meet our medal winner and the two runners-up:

Rachel Wilson
Rachel, admirer of trees.

Rachel Wilson took the cake with Tree Huggery, calling to mind Portland's green landscape and love of all things outdoorsy. Rachel is a three-year resident of Portland and lives in St. Johns with her husband and dog, Digby. She's donating her winnings to the Special Education department at George Middle School in North Portland, where she is a teacher.

Max Kirchoff
Max, devotee of bacon.

Max Kirchoff, pictured with his pup, Godzilla, is a web developer who's making a foray into winemaking. His medal idea gave a nod to Portland's pride in all things bacon, thus earning him our runner-up spot. Max is also an avid biker and runs Trees By Bike here in town.

Mike Paccione
Mike, Team Skinny Jeans.

Mike Paccione, our second runner-up, gave us a chuckle with his mention of the city's proclivity for skinny jeans. Mike's daily bike commute drops him off at the Art Institute of Portland, where he is the Alumni Coordinator, and twice a week at Portland State, where he teaches public speaking.

Thank you, Portland, for participating and partying with us in the bside6 building.

5 Emma customers & their holiday campaigns

The holidays will be here and gone before you know it, but that doesn't mean you have to let them pass you by without planning your email strategy. It's true that a little holiday planning goes a long way. Take a look at these five Emma customers and how their past holiday emails have supported their brands and creative goals. And they've even had some fun along the way!

+ HeyDay sends holiday gift guides.

HeyDay campaign

HeyDay, a lifestyle and home decor store in Bozeman, Montana, began sending Emma campaigns in 2008 to about 500 customers. By this fall, their list had more than tripled in size, and they now send monthly newsletters and special promotions to roughly 1,700 subscribers.

Last year, they saw traction with a series of spirited holiday gift guides. Forgoing traditional holiday colors, the guides instead featured their brand colors — lime green and powder blue — and an assortment of colorful gifts. Gift Guide #1, sent on December 1st, presented quirky hostess gifts, and Gift Guide #2 on the 8th featured whimsical gifts for children. Their third Gift Guide, sent on December 15th, offered 20% off any purchase and highlighted affordable stocking stuffers.

The appeal of HeyDay's holiday gift guides is in the unexpected — not just in the appearance of the guides but also the unconventional gifts.

In short: Holiday gift guides can break the traditional mold. Find a format that's true to your brand and products. And remember to stagger sending times — a few days to a week apart — so that your subscribers' inboxes aren't inundated with too much mail.

Visit their website
View their gift guides for all occasions

+ Folks at Prince Market Research poke fun at themselves.

Prince Market Research

Prince Market Research in Nashville, Tennessee, is a research firm that helps clients analyze and improve their brand, products and customer communications. Emails from a group of researchers are going to be serious business, right? Not always, according to the researchers at PMR. They've got a sense of humor and don't mind being silly.

Check out their 2008 holiday campaign — that's a fine-looking bunch of "know" men and women. Their 2009 holiday campaign adopted the same antics, this time featuring researchers that jingle-bell-rock.

Their holiday campaigns saw open rates 3-8% higher than their regular send-outs. You've got to wonder … what will they cameo as this year?

In short: Enjoy your holiday campaigns as much as your subscribers. Have fun creating them, and encourage participation from a team of colleagues.

Visit their website
Meet the researchers

+ Rosy Rings offers a special holiday discount to email subscribers.

Rosy Rings campaign
Rosy Rings is a by-hand candle-making company in Denver. Their story goes back 13 years, and they started using Emma about three years ago. With a loyal fan base and timely emails, they've had a consistent 30%+ open rate since they began sending. And they've set up trigger emails that are enjoying an incredible 70% open rate.

Receiving special email offers is one of the perks of subscribing. Last year's holiday campaign — a slice and dice created by an Emma designer — offered subscribers a 10% discount on holiday purchases. Sent on December 18, it served as a last-minute reminder to holiday shoppers.

In short: Offer your audience members something special this holiday season. They'll want to continue receiving — and reading — your emails if there's an advantage to being a subscriber.

Visit their website
Sign up to receive their newsletters

+ KUSC sends a Christmas-themed newsletter.


Classical KUSC, out of Southern California, is the largest public radio and nonprofit classical music station in the country. As such, they don't do anything small, including their holiday campaigns.

Their December 2009 campaign was created on a custom stationery designed by Emma's Jennifer Kasdorf, and each section — from a harpist's concert to a choral show to a Mexican Baroque concert — supports the Christmas theme. They also included a ticket giveaway for their Salute to Vienna concert.

In short: Whatever your company type, consider building a campaign with holiday-themed stories. Include holiday-inspired pictures, links to your favorite songs or sites, and news about what your organization is doing to celebrate the season. You'll win points with your fans for sharing in the festive spirit and thinking outside of the box.

Visit their website
Check out upcoming concerts

+ Valley Metro kicks off the new year.

Valley Metro

Valley Metro provides public light rail and bus transportation for the greater Phoenix metro area. They started sending email through Emma in early 2009 and have since sent more than 200 campaigns to their list of subscribers.

In January of this year, they sent a series of New Year's campaigns, playing with the idea of new year's resolutions and how they might relate to riding Valley Metro. Check out the first campaign here, which gained an open rate of 37% and click-through rate of 19%. The second campaign in the series was just as popular, with an open rate of 38% and an 18% click-through rate.

In short: If you miss — or choose to bypass — the December holidays, think about sending a campaign to usher in the new year. It's a great time to offer a new start to your subscribers and to freshen up your email strategy.

Visit their website

Are you in the holiday spirit? We hope these few examples will help you on your way to stylish holiday emails this year. If you have any ideas that you'd like to share, by all means, let us know.

Emma throws a party in Portland

Open Sourcery Queen Selena Deckelmann helps navigate the medal contest with a drink and a smile.

We officially launched our West Coast office with a bunch of friends and customers.

It seemed like high time to celebrate our second-largest Emma office, so we threw a party last week in this bike-riding, beer-loving, tree-hugging city of Portland that we're lucky enough to call home.

Granted, we've been in Portland since 2007, but we like to build something and then celebrate it, not the other way around. This was our big chance to throw open the doors and celebrate all the businesses and organizations that help make this an Emma town, and the party was a hit.

Our friends turned out in droves, and some of them like Ruby Jewel even brought us cool presents like bags of handmade salted chocolate ice cream sandwiches. Yes, it's true. We have the best clients ever.

Over gorgeous hors d'oeuvres from Simpatica, local Oregon wines and a keg of IPA from local brewmasters Hopworks, we lit up the night. We had such a good turnout that the keg was tapped by 9:00 PM. Party foul, we know, but a spur-of-the-moment beer run ensued to keep the hop-heads happy. The party kept rocking until midnight.

To spotlight all the things we love about Portland, we created a special set of our Emma medals, which are trinkets we like to hand out now and then. While our usual medals tout things like general awesomeness, we crafted medals for the party using Portland themes that touch on the city's vibrant cycling culture, the love of well-crafted beer, the rainy weather and the thriving open source community.

Behind the screen, Emma's Matt Thackston gives Cristine Norine a tour of the party.

We even opened up the floor for party participants to create nominees for their own favorite Portland-themed medal, and we're awarding the winner $500 to donate to the local non-profit of their choice.

Another party highlight was Cristin Norine's presence. She's a neighbor in our building (the BSIDE6 project), and she's living in a glass room gallery space in November to explore themes about how we communicate with each other in this Internet age. Guests were able to chat with her on Skype.

In short, last Thursday felt like the ultimate coming out party. We felt like the debutante at the ball, and we only have one thing to say: Thank you, Portland. We're so glad to be part of this amazing town.

Photo credits: Aaron Hockley

Navigating the new email landscape

Three tips for keeping up with email industry trends like Gmail's much-talked-about Priority Inbox.

If you've been an Emma client or an active email marketer for a while, you've probably got a pretty solid group of customers receiving your campaigns by now. In an email utopia, they'd all be opening and clicking everything you put in front of them, hanging on your every sentence. But if the industry averages published by people like the Email Stats Center are to be trusted, it doesn't really happen like that. A double-digit click through rate makes you some kind of email marketing superhero.

So are your recipients just not that into you? Or are their mailboxes so full of marketing messages that you're lost in the shuffle? Email providers like Gmail, Microsoft and Yahoo seem to think it's the latter, and all three are trying to do something about it.

Yahoo partner OtherInbox created Spring, an add-on application for Yahoo Mail that automatically sorts and files marketing messages into pre-defined folders. Microsoft quickly followed suit by introducing Sweep, a function that allows you to choose what you want to read and then sweep the rest out of your inbox and into folders of your choice. And of course, Gmail released Priority Inbox — and typical of Google's overall ingenuity, there's a new wrinkle. They're actually looking at Gmail users' interaction with the mail they receive and making some assumptions about what's really important to that person.

So what does this mean for you, fearless reader? Well, in short: It's time to get to know your audience better than you ever have before. Internet Service Providers are watching you – how you send, who you send to and what they do with your messages. It's time for you to dig into those response results and craft a thoughtful plan to reward your engaged audience members and re-engage those you may have lost on the way.

Don't know where to start? Here are a few tips.

1. Welcome new audience members. Starting on the right foot in any relationship is a good thing. Make sure your subscribers remember why they signed up and why your emails will be important to them in the future. You can read more about welcome trigger emails right here on the blog.

2. Reward your most faithful readership. Say thanks for the support that these recipients have given you. Keeping these most engaged members happy, opening and clicking makes for good-looking response results and helps you maintain a good sending reputation.

3. Learn to let go. Sometimes, it's just necessary. Search for people who haven't opened or clicked in the last six months and send them an opt-in confirmation email. (Here's how.) Let them know that you still want them around, but that you also want to respect their wishes if they decide not to receive your emails any longer. Those members who confirm their opt-in are reengaged and more aware of you than ever. Then you can remove the ones who choose not to confirm — and with them, you'll be removing a part of your audience that's dragging down your response numbers and potentially hurting your sending reputation.

If you need help getting started, just let us know — and don't forget to take a look at our Help section, full of tips for becoming a well-informed, responsible email marketer. If you're sitting there thinking "I've been doing this all along," feel free to share your story with us in the comment section.

The art of the short (holiday) email

Holiday Email
Try short emails that your audience can read on a smart phone.

As a savvy marketer, you know how important it is to send targeted, relevant emails, especially as the holidays approach. You know that a well-timed email alert to that new product line or sale can really drive your numbers. (It's not called "Black Friday" for nothing.) And no matter what your business or organization specializes in, you know how important it is to stay in front of your audience toward the end of the year.

Luckily, you also see the other side of the story because you're a consumer, too. Even as the daylight hours grow shorter and your to-do list grows longer, you're still likely interested in hearing from your favorite brands. (And you might even be planning to pay attention to the sale emails to assist you with the holiday mall stampede crawl.)

Still, the fact remains: Toward the end of the year, you're a little too busy to give the same amount of attention you normally would to each email in your inbox. Perhaps making a special, non-fat, gluten-free, vegan pumpkin pie for your picky sister-in-law is taking precedence over the shoe sale or non-profit request calling from your inbox. And your own email marketing audience is facing similar challenges.

So what to do? You embrace the art of the short, mobile-friendly email, that's what. Create a campaign that's easy to read on-the-go.

Here's how.

  • Keep your message simple. One large, obvious call-to-action will do better than multiple, smaller links.
  • Keep your message short — ideally, with no scrolling. It's a challenge, but it will be far more effective with busy recipients who only pay attention to your email for a few seconds before choosing how to proceed.
  • Keep your message narrow. If you have some flexibility, try keeping your campaigns no wider than 600px.

If you want to get fancy, consider fitting your campaign within the general mobile phone screen ratios. For example, the iPhone has dimensions of 2:3 width to height, the early Droid is 3:4, and some blackberries are 1:1. What does that mean for you? Don't make the height of the campaign much longer than the width (if at all), and make the font legible on a small screen.

One last trick is to give your subscribers a chance to tell you, "Thanks, but not right now." Email has a distinct advantage over some other marketing channels because you can respond to exactly what your subscribers ask for. Add a button to the campaign that says "remind me in three days," and use the list of clicks on that link to send a follow-up reminder.

Good luck reaching those busy consumers this holiday season (and even better luck finding that pumpkin pie recipe).

What to know about Facebook’s mail announcement

You may have heard that Facebook was deviously plotting the end of Gmail and others by creating an email platform of their very own. Well, we tuned into the announcement for a little more insight, and I'd like to share a few takeaways. Turns out email's still not dead (no surprise there), but Facebook would love to be the center of the messaging experience for their 500 million users.

What it really is.
The most important thing to understand is that Facebook's primary goal was to create a seamless messaging platform, and email is one piece of that. While it's true that all users will have access to a new email address, the goal is to fill a gap in an overall messaging system, which includes their mobile apps, instant messaging inside the application, texting and more. Email, therefore, helps round out a suite of options for communicating inside the Facebook ecosystem. (Oh, yeah — we called it an ecosystem.)

Why they built it.
They wanted to build a modern messaging system that eliminates the "friction" of traditional communication channels. In other words, they're simplifying the notion of a conversation between two people, without restricting the channel that the message goes down. For example, let's say I email my friend at her new email address. That friend happens to be logged into Facebook, so my message shows up in a chat dialog box. She responds to me in her chat window, and Facebook sends me her reply via email, since that's where my message originated.

What does it mean?
The announcement raises some interesting questions about the future of social media and how we might integrate different forms of communication. Still, HTML emails — like the ones you send in Emma — will probably be a challenge for Facebook. There's a lot of complexity rolled into how Facebook will decide how to route a message, so HTML seems like a difficult hurdle.

We'll plan some serious testing to see how their filtering and sorting works. Your messages will be sorted with something similar to Google's Priority Inbox, depending on your user preferences, so we'll have to see what that means in terms of even getting a message into someone's inbox, much less what folder it lives in once it's there. It's easy to see from the outset, though, that this system was built for users, not for marketers — all the more reason to make the content you send valuable.

They didn't talk about fan pages at all in their announcement, so many people have questions about whether becoming a fan of a brand is the same as adding someone as a friend and how that relates to inbox sorting.

We'll just have to keep everyone posted as they release it and we can test it more. In the meantime, we put together a graphic to help make sense of it all.

(Additional writing by Jim Hitch.)