Why the decision to eliminate a key feature of Wunderlist is hard for me to understand
By Dirk Verburg
I am very interested in personal effectiveness and am using a number of apps to ‘hack’ my personal productivity level:
- Grammarly – Unbeatable to spell check anything I type in a brower. Great integration with Google Chrome
- Small Pdf – A small Swiss gem, shrinks pdf’s to manageable sizes, and does so much more
- Google keep – Great for keeping notes. Again: available on all platforms I am using. Not the best (Evernote has much more features but useful version are not freeware; OneNote is clumsy if you write entries in more than one language)
- Wunderlist – Great activity tracker. Available on all platforms I am using: Apple, Android, and my Chrome Web browser
The core of my IT set-up, however, is Microsoft Office. Both on my Windows PC at work, as well as on my Mac for private use. There are programs in Microsoft Office I love (Powerpoint and Excel), programs that are good (Outlook), and again others I consider to be ‘ok’ (I find Word for instance hopelessly complicated).
Strangely enough, my ideal is the same as that of tech giants like Microsoft, Apple, and Google: stay within a single ecosystem.
The reason is that, unlike some, I am not paranoid about the evil intentions of big tech companies, and my interest to deal with the lack of interoperability between these different ecosystems is zero.
In this context, the Microsoft ecosystem (on an Apple OS and Apple hardware platform though!) would make most sense to me – however, Microsoft makes this impossible.
OneNote, for instance, is a great alternative for Google Keep, because it offers much more functionality. However, the lack of auto-language detection is a disaster for people who, like me, work in different languages. It means that every time I switch to another language than my default one, the text I am typing is underlined in blue (for spelling errors), until I indicate that for this ‘note’ I am using another language.
The second and more serious issue I have is Wunderlist.
Wunderlist (Wunder is the German word for miracle) is a great app to track activities. Even the free version is fantastic: completely cross-platform (Apple, Windows, Android), possibilities to share activity lists with other users, and a powerful option to send emails with actions to your activity list by simply putting ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’ in the address field.
My favorite ‘hack’ was to put ‘email@example.com’ in the BCC (blind copy field) of emails that I needed to follow-up on. Every email I needed to monitor (e.g. when I asked people to take action, or when I asked for information) was recorded as an activity when sent to this address. Twice a day I looked through the list and knew what I needed to follow-up on.
Unfortunately, Wunderlist was acquired in 2015 by Microsoft, who wanted to incorporate this in their ToDo app. For years, when Microsoft was beefing up the functionality of ToDo, Microsoft allowed Wunderlist and ToDo to peacefully co-exist – until December 2019… Last Friday when I accesed the app on my iPad, I received a message that my time was up, and that Wunderlist would be disabled as of May 6, 2020.
Ok, all good things come to an end, so I loaded ToDo. Thanks to a great import feature, I was able to import all my actions and was soon up and running again… until I wanted to send myself an action item the same way I did with Wunderlist, namely simply sending an email to ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’ with the action in the Subject line.
After searching for some time for a solution on the web, I discovered that this crucial feature had not made the cut from Wunderlist to ToDo!
Microsoft claims it has implemented a much better feature: flagging emails. Great stuff, if this (1) fits your personal workflow (it does not fit mine) and (2) if the following statement on the Microsoft site does not pose an issue for you…
’Note: This feature is only available if you’re using an account that’s hosted by Microsoft, such as an Outlook.com, Hotmail.com, or Live.com account. It’s also available if you’re using an account hosted by Microsoft but using a custom domain.’
What does this mean? It means ToDo is useless for for instance Gmail users, and for people like me who like to send actions directly to their action list, rather than sending an email first, and then flagging this email later.
Apparently I am not the only one, the web is full of people complaining that the email@example.com hack disappeared. For instance, todo.uservoice.com contains more than 290 comments and more than 3.200 votes of people expressing that this lack of firstname.lastname@example.org makes the app useless to them.
For me personally, this means I just need to look for another app (sigh), but as someone interested in business, the more interesting question is why Microsoft decided to do this.
I wished I could have been a fly on the wall in the meeting when the decision was discussed and taken. Why did the product managers gathered in meeting rooms in the Microsoft HQ deliberately decided to make ToDo only meaningful for people firmly in the Microsoft ecosystem who wanted to adopt their personal workflow? Surely the idea is to attract more (non-Microsoft) customers in Microsoft’s ecosystem, rather than pushing existing customers away?
Perhaps the idea was to force non-Microsoft mail users to adopt Microsoft mail. However I do not think product managers in Microsoft would be so naive to expect Gmail users, and users of other email services, to move ‘en masse’ to Outlook, in order to retain a crippled version of a feature that made Wunderlist so brilliant.
The alternative explanation is that Microsoft is not interested in ToDo as a stand-alone product, and only wanted to incorporate the Wunderlist technology in its own product for (potential) MS Office users to make this offering more attractive. That would of course mean the end of ToDo as a stand-alone commercial product.
I honestly do not know. If you have any thoughts or ideas, please let me know by leaving your thoughts in the comment field below.
I am also open for recommendations about other action tracker apps I should switch to. On one condition though: they need to have a feature similar to ‘email@example.com’.
Perhaps there is hope though. Christian Reber has asked Microsoft if he could buy Wunderlist back. If he succeeds I am happy to act as his first customer!
Update March 31, 2020: Migrating to Todoist
Since two days I am working with Todoist. It works more or less in the same way as Wunderlist, except now I need to have the (paid) premium version of the app in order to have my killer feature: the possibility to send action items by mail to my action list. Unfortunately, the migration feature did not import all my data from Wunderlist (e.g. notes). So, if you plan on purchasing Todoist, I recommend you to install and migrate all data to ToDo as well, in order to create a repository for your legacy actions…
Credits: Picture at the top by Microsoft