Should Emails Expire? Yes and No
Most commercial email that’s sent is never deleted by recipients. Moreover, most commercial email content is only relevant for a fairly short period of time—say, weeks tops for the vast majority of it. As a consequence, mailbox providers currently store and maintain access to a tremendous amount of old and completely irrelevant email. That’s costly for them and an ecologically senseless use of electricity during a time of escalating climate risk.
For those reasons, the issue has been raised as to whether marketers should be allowed and enabled to schedule the emails they send to delete themselves. Even if only instituted for future emails, it would stop mailboxes from filling up with even more messages of limited long-term value.
We already have a good starting point for this process: the schema that’s used to tell Gmail and other mailbox providers when the deals in our emails expire. That schema could be used by all senders to set reasonable expiration dates for their messages, when applicable. This is a mechanism that wasn’t available when the idea of auto-deleting emails was first raised around 2012.
However, many of the barriers that stopped this idea from gaining traction a decade ago are still problems today. Let’s talk about those, plus an alternative approach to solving this problem.