Community & Support

Where we make ActiveInbox with you

Imminent plans for perfecting service robustness

September 12th, 2014

The vigilant amongst you will spot this post is (less than) coincidentally following a morning of server downtime.

We’ve been with the same website hosts for many years, and while their support staff are marvellous, we’ve been prone to bouts of downtime (in solidarity with them, I don’t think it’s entirely their fault – ActiveInbox probably pushed the limits of what they could handle).

A few weeks ago we began the move to Amazon. We started with the most dangerous bit: moving the data over. This is now safely stored on Amazon’s servers.

The ActiveInbox-serving and website parts of the server will also move to Amazon this month.

In addition to providing world-class robustness, they offer a suite of complimentary services, to give us more options for providing temporary cover if the worst happens, and to be notified to wake us up if the servers go down over night.

Which just leaves me to apologise. I’m incredibly sorry for this morning’s downtime, it’s one of the few things in running ActiveInbox that can cause chest-clamping periods of stress, knowing that it’s affecting all of you.

Right — I’m going back to working on 5.1 now (I’m hoping to get the next Beta release out today).

ActiveInbox 5.1 is on the way folks!

August 29th, 2014

We released the Beta of ActiveInbox 5.1 on Thursday morning and we’ve already had a huge amount of productive feedback on it. Andy is feverishly working on improvements already and the team is buzzing about the prospect of the finished version coupled with an imminent release of the AIB mobile app!

There are several big new features based on votes from our feature request survey in June, and there has been a big design push generally to de-clutter the interface, and make things faster, sleeker, smoother, prettier, … you get the picture.

Our brilliant founder was up early in the morning on Beta launch day to do the notorious ‘ice bucket challenge’ on a windy Brighton beach. A classic bracing start to a long day’s work. I’m posting the resulting video here without his knowledge, so lets hope he doesn’t notice too quickly and take it down!



Disclaimer: Living in Brighton, by the sea, we’re obviously immune from any criticism of callous water wastage.

Scheduled Downtime: Tue 22nd July, 9:15BST, for 30 mins.

July 21st, 2014

Hi everyone,

Just a heads up – we’ll have intermittent service for about 30 minutes tomorrow morning, at 9:15AM BST (it may affect ActiveInbox detecting your Plus account, being able to save Preferences, saving To Dos & Notes, and saving changes to the order/rank of emails – but it’ll clearly tell you when it cannot reach the server, so you won’t be deceived into thinking something worked that didn’t).

This is the beginning of us moving to a more robust server set up, so it’s a little upfront pain for long term gain.

ActiveInbox up and running after a Gmail change

June 9th, 2014

Hi everyone,

I’ll go into a little more detail in a second, but the important thing is:

ActiveInbox 5.0.12 is working fine again. You can get update instructions at the Install page.

I know some of you were deeply frustrated it went down, so I’d like to clarify a few things to hopefully put your mind at ease.

We’re built over Gmail, which has great benefits (like making an already world-class mail client better), but is prone to break when Gmail changes every few months.

Our commitment has always been to fix ActiveInbox within 48 hours of any Gmail change, and this time we managed it in about 24 hours.

To be honest, it probably would have been faster than that, but despite becoming aware on Sunday, we couldn’t see the change in our test accounts until the early hours of Monday morning, and so I couldn’t experience it to fix it.

(There was also a compound problem for an hour, where our server went down at 7:00am BST. I believe this was caused by our server being overwhelmed by the automatic warnings sent to us when a Gmail change occurs. I’m waiting to hear from our server company on the exact cause, and then I’ll figure out a way to stop that particular situation occurring again).

I’d like to say a thank you to everyone who broke the news that a change was happening, and a special thank you to Lisa for trying to keep everyone aware of what was going on during Sunday while I frustratedly waited for the change to come to us.

Little patch for ActiveInbox [5.0.11]

June 4th, 2014

Hi everyone,

A very quick post – I’ve just pushed 5.0.11, which fixes:

  • The Today view could not be opened (but the Radar was still working!), after a Gmail change.
  • Send and Move Next wasn’t always moving older, and sometimes didn’t actually send (only if you held down a keyboard accelerator like Alt, so thankfully it didn’t affect many people). Thanks mz for help on this.
  • Google Hangouts couldn’t be shown at the same time as our sidebar

I believe this is all the critical issues!


In Chrome, it should have auto-updated by now – just refresh Gmail (if that doesn’t work, go to your Extensions list in Chrome, and ask it to refresh all extensions, then refresh Gmail).

In Firefox and Safari, if it hasn’t auto updated yet, go into your Extensions list and ask for it to update extensions, then refresh Gmail.

Why we’re raising the price and dropping freemium (but we are introducing referrals!)

May 21st, 2014

I like to be really transparent with how we make decisions, and as I’ve not updated the blog for a few weeks, I think this is a ripe time to share a big one!

We’ve always said we’d raise the price when we released V5, to reflect the increase in functionality; and we’ve been slowly rolling out the new price over the last few months.

We also took the more controversial decision to remove freemium for new users, making ActiveInbox a trial/paid product only.

I’m going to briefly explain why we chose to make the changes.

The primary reason, if you’re short of time, is that when we can increase income, we can make ActiveInbox better. It’s no secret that as a bootstrapped company, we’ve never actually made profit: every cent we earn goes back into developing the product (and the company). And this is especially true now that we have three world class developers contributing, and two intuitively gifted designers on retainer.

The price is easy enough to explain, for all new customers we are now $39.95/yr (our only price rise since we began charging in 2010). Everyone who supported us in our early days (i.e. originally paid $25/yr) will be grand-fathered into still paying $25/yr as a thank you.

Ending freemium was a more difficult decision, but ultimately the data backs it up.

Our main reasons are:

  • I never felt comfortable with the worse experience for people using ActiveInbox Free.

    It had to have annoying reminder boxes for missing features, and it was, of course, *missing* features: that means people on Free forget all that it can do, and are not getting the benefits that we so excitedly spent the last few years building.

  • Free users dilute support.

    We never complained about this: anyone who has written into us was appreciated, and almost everyone had an impact on improving the product. But as a bootstrapped company with limited resources, we don’t have infinite support resources, and it is unfair that Free users were getting equal priority as people who had paid.

    This point is more than just time spent responding to enquiries: we also make product changes when people write to us. The fair and right thing to do is prioritise product development for Plus customers, which isn’t as easy when we’re also supporting Free users.

  • Very few people actually keep using ActiveInbox on Free. (And of the people who wanted Plus, 85% of people upgraded within the first 3 weeks).

    This reinforces the first point, that ActiveInbox Free simply isn’t very desirable. I personally think I made the wrong choice with how we originally implemented freemium: my rationale was to restrict features in free mode to just things that help turn emails into tasks, and Plus was designed to help you get those done. But in reality, users forget what Plus does, and simply go on with a limited product.

    (A smarter decision may have been to make all functionality available, but restrict the number of tasks/projects you can create – but I really hate the psychological fear that induces… people seem to self limit their usage rather than spend money, whereas if you just pay up front, you’re freed from worry and can just focus on getting things done).

But the happy news is that we’ve also added two little pill sweeteners:

  1. If you didn’t get a chance to use ActiveInbox much during the trial, ActiveInbox will let you to extend it when you’re ready. And if you help us out by filling in a survey (that will directly influence how we improve ActiveInbox in V6), we’ll add another week to your trial.
  2. Plus users can refer a friend, and you both get an extra month of Plus. Just click the cube icon in the top right to bring down the ActiveInbox Menu, and then click the ‘Refer’ button.

Understanding the 3rd March morning downtime

March 3rd, 2014

Hi everyone,

My deep apologies for this morning’s downtime.

It wasn’t actually a problem with the app. Instead our server’s security certificate – the one that allows you to log into ActiveInbox securely – had expired and the new certificate had not come online.

This meant that some ActiveInbox features were disabled (principally the To Dos and Notes).

Renewing certificates is an annual process, involving multiple vendors, and to be totally transparent, is one area that we don’t have a deep expertise in. I accept total accountability for the failure.

As a remedy, next year we’ll engage a consultant with the required expertise to handle this for us, to prevent it happening again.


Delayed Communication

We didn’t first tweet it until 11am GMT. This is all rather mundane detail, but to be as transparent as possible… This morning I elected to work from home for a few hours, where there’s currently no internet, to allow me to deep-dive into some product work without distraction. Normally this is fine, but obviously today everything went wrong. Lisa, who’s not technical, finally realised the breadth of the situation at 10:30 and rose the alarm with me, at which point I came into the office. All problems were resolved by 12:30 GMT.

I’m totally empathetic that the lack of communication was particularly difficult, and as a remedy:
1) I’ll make sure my personal mobile is pinged if the server is unreachable.
2) Lisa will be emboldened to raise the flag sooner in future.

ActiveInbox’s Feature Dependency on the Server

ActiveInbox is in fact already modular, so that when the server communication is lost, the only things that *should* be disabled are To Dos/Notes/Ranking (i.e. the bits that absolutely need the server).

I gather that on Firefox especially, for some people ActiveInbox’s functionality loss was more severe. I’ll be extensively checking the failure mode.

I’m also going to increase our ability to communicate in-app during downtime, especially for notification that everything is ok again.

ActiveInbox 5.0 is going live

February 18th, 2014

(If you were on the Beta, please go back to the mainstream release to resume automatic updates).

After a year of trying and refining new features (with your feedback – thank you!), we’ve finally clicked the last couple of pieces of the jigsaw in place… ActiveInbox 5.0 is ready for all existing users.

What were those last two pieces? Speed & beauty!

ActiveInbox now feels instantaneous

Tom has been incredibly busy ripping out the battered, rusty old engine of ActiveInbox, and putting a brand new sports engine in its place.

I can’t stress how big a change this is… It’s not a simple bit of optimisation work (although we did that too), it’s 22,000 new lines of code.

So now when you load Gmail, click Action, set a due date, or change something in Active Results, it happens in the blink of an eye.

Beautifying ActiveInbox

A caveat: everyone who’s tried the beta has initially had a shock when seeing the changes. It takes about a day to get used to them. So when you upgrade, if you have an urgent desire to tell us about a visual tweak, please please sleep on it first! If it still bothers you after a couple of days, then let’s discuss it :)

With the help of the very talented James Beer of Logo Logo, we began making the interface absolutely coherent and so a joy to use (not just pretty!). I won’t bore you with every little detail, suffice it to say we did obsess over the little details.

Colour and Icons Have Meaning

Generally speaking, blue means ‘do something at your leisure’, and red is for the urgent Today or Overdue.

Also, if you set colours for labels in regular Gmail, ActiveInbox will make use of them.

We Defined ‘Task’ and ‘To Do’

We used to prevaricate on what to call a conversation that has a status/due-date, mostly calling them “to do”s or “active”. We’re now, rightly, calling them what they are: Tasks.

And by freeing up the phrase “to do”, we were able to stop using the ugly phrase “Next Steps”. Now a conversation can have a checklist of To Dos.

The Group By and Sort By menus are hidden until needed

We’ve been hearing that the Group By and Sort By dropdowns were confusing for new users, and were also just visually distracting for everybody else

So we did the kind thing, and tucked them into a menu icon where they can be expanded only when needed.

Other Things You Should Know

We removed the noisy/distracting cube that opened the Action Bar for each row in the Inbox. Instead, you now check the rows you want to change, and click the cube on the header bar.

Coming up next…

I’ll be mostly handling support for the next few weeks, smoothing out any remaining kinks.

I also want to keep tweaking the experimental Focus Mode based on your feedback, but we’re pretty much feature locked for the next few months. It’s time to spread the word a little!

On the topic of spreading the word, if you wish to write a review on the Chrome Webstore (or tweet out, or write something on your blog, etc.) it would be INCREDIBLY appreciated! We’ve never really done promotion, it’s all been word of mouth, and as our customer base grows we can afford more resources to develop faster – so it’s a very virtuous circle :)

FAST Beta now for Firefox (with Chrome updates) [] []

February 12th, 2014

We’ve finally got the FAST Beta ready for Firefox, AND have hopefully fixed all remaining critical issues in Chrome. (Again, if anyone suffers crashes with .66, please let me know asap in the comments).

You can get it for both browsers from

New Icons for Today/Overdue and Due Dates

I’m anticipating this to be slightly controversial but…

It’s been pointed out several times that as we philosophically don’t support deadline times*, the icon of an alarm clock is misleading (*we believe that if it has a time, it’s an event, and thus it belongs in GCal).

Thus we have switched to a calendar icon.

I’m not sure how I feel yet, I’m giving it a few hours to bed into my mind and get used to it, but I’d love your feedback (after you’ve had time to get used to it!). It’s unusual for something to go from idea into the public product so quickly, but I wanted to get your opinion asap.

Update 13 Feb 10:30 GMT: Loading Loop Bug Found

It seems one of my optimisations has caused an ‘eternal loading loop’ in the Radar (especially for Today), in some conditions that I haven’t fully figured out yet. Dale Holden has helped quite a bit so far, and I’m trying to figure out which optimisation caused the break. Hope to have it fixed by lunch time GMT.

Update 13 Feb 12:00 GMT: Released

I hope this update fixes the loading bug above. Hurrah, it does!

Update 13 Feb 15:30 GMT: Released

To try and fix Willem’s ongoing crashing issue, I created 800 tasks to test the most extreme case. This includes optimisations for those extreme cases.

Turn emails into tasks from the inbox in FAST Beta []

February 10th, 2014

Hello all!

I’ve just released a new update to the FAST Beta,

Restoring our Action Bar in the Inbox

I had hoped that we didn’t need to put our Action Bar in the Inbox, and it was removed early in our FAST Beta (partly because it was never 100% stable).

But it became clear from your feedback that at least some of you really needed it, so Tom & I found a way to bring it back.

There’s no longer a grey cube in each row, but if you check emails, you can click the cube in the regular Action Bar to give the emails a status, due-date and project.

A more robust Action Bar when composing drafts

Historically, we’ve had a problem where if you Compose an email, add a label & note using our Action Bar, then close the Compose frame and re-open it later as a Draft, the label & note is lost.

I found a much much more reliable method for handling this situation, included in this update.

Just to warn you, it still has a remaining weakness: if you refresh Gmail before re-opening the Draft, the label & note will be lost forever. I will solve this soon.

Speeding up the To Do & Note system

Troy & Mr Nelson were still suffering crashes despite all the earlier optimizations. I did some research, and concluded we could further optimize the To Do & Note system.

So, erm, I did!

You should notice it most when first loading Gmail, and if you were still suffering crashes going into the inbox in, they should no longer happen. (If you suffering any tab crashes at all, please let me know, as these are the last remaining critical issue stopping us launching it to everyone).

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