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Protocol Edition #2: Mailchain

Web3 Email - Hotter than Hotmail?

The Year is 2005 and a young DappaDan is checking his Hotmail address with tears of joy in his eyes. Why? Because he just got the invite of his tech dreams back then - a beta invite to Gmail. 2005 was the last time I was ever excited about anything about email or messaging. This is true even with all the new and shiny productivity apps out there trying to "reinvent the inbox". It was all marketing, no substance.

Enter Mailchain.

Mailchain is like one of those makeover shows you binge-watch on a hangover day. The type of show where a person's life changes from losing some pounds, cleaning their kitchen, or wearing new clothes. Email has been due a makeover since 2006. But here we are in 2023 still using it for user onboarding and communication in the world of Web3.

"Email for Web3" sounds like a half-thought-out hackathon idea (perhaps partially true). Or something you slap on a deck to twerk for some VCs. Explorers, let's go on a journey into Mailchain to see if it's the real deal or faker than those "Amazing Alpha Opportunities" filling up your Discord inbox.

Know Before You Go

As always, we at the Protocol Newsletter want to make sure your knowledge bags are packed for this journey. Here are a few resources that might be helpful for our newer travelers on this trip:

What is ENS?

What is RFC5322?

What Are Public and Private Keys?

What is Mailchain in 200 Words or Less

Web3 has a communication problem. And no I don't mean that people are socially awkward at conferences. The problem is as builders, we don't have any way to communicate with our users in a good way. We often rely on centralized Web2 services like Email, Twitter, and Discord. This opens us up to at worse, losing users who respect privacy and at best, some newsletter screenshotting you.

Mailchain is the answer. It is a communication protocol that enables Web3 identities such as ENS name, Wallet Address or Lens Handle to send and receive messages to other Web3 identities. The protocol also offers users to register account names ex ( Messages are in the RFC5322 format for MAXIMUM COMPATABILITY.

Users can send messages through the Mailchain UI or directly in your app by using the Mailchain SDK. Messages are encrypted once sent and include a key for the recipient to decrypt them. Decentralized storage provides, based on the recipient's preference, store these messages. The recipient can use any client they would like to read/write messages on.

While it costs to store these messages, individual users don't pay anything. Mailchain plans to charge a fee for any high-volume senders that go over a set limit like businesses. I didn't see what exactly this limit is but the initial price is will be at $0.005/message with hopes to lower it over time.

Will this will finally fix the Web3 spam and scam problems? (A Dan Can Hope)

Our First Stop - The Documentation

The first stop on our magnificent journey into Mailchain is the documentation page. This isn't a Web Design newsletter. We are here to talk about developer content. But I have to point out how sad it is that the 'Documentation' link missed out on the design love 😂:

Seasoned travelers will know that I appreciate good docs pages that have high-level concepts explained and architectures drawn. There is an opportunity here for Mailchain to deliver. The Whitpaper had some great breakdowns and explanations that could be easily transferred here. The 'Introduction' section answers the hardest question - "The Why" but not as well on "The What".

The growth of Mailchain will depend on its partnerships in the Web3 space. Messaging between identities is only as good as having something to talk about it. It is very clear from the offered tutorials that this is the approach. There are many tutorials around receiving notifications from various providers including Alchemy Notify. This is good to see how to start getting value out of Mailchain quickly.

There is a good starter tutorial about 'Sending mail via an API'. To avoid any confusion, this isn't via a Mailchain API but a local API you set up in the tutorial via Express. I say this because "We prefer you use the SDK" is written several times in the docs. The tutorial is also in video form for our movie-lover travelers out there but the link is missing from the documentation version.

Our Second Stop - The Whitepaper

The Mailchain Whitepaper is very approachable for both new and seasoned Web3 explorers. You don't need a PhD in Cryptography to get through it without getting a headache and ruining your day.

It does a good job of:

1) Presenting the Problem and how Mailchain aims to fix it

2) Showing how Mailchain completes the 'jobs to be done' of a messaging protocol. The Application, Registry, Storage, and Transport of messages.

3) Addressing user and dev concerns with messaging such as Privacy and Phishing

An interesting bit from the Whitepaper is about handling spam messages. Messages using Mailchain are end-to-end encrypted. This prevents anyone/thing from knowing what is in the message until it is received. Users will be responsible for setting up their own spam prevention measures like approved sender lists / block lists. It will be interesting to see how this plays out as the protocol grows and what tools are built to provide easy solutions to users.

Our Third Stop - The Developer Community

Being still a new protocol, I feel it a bit harsh to look at the hard numbers of Mailchain. But to be fair to future protocols, I will do it anyway:

There are currently 300 members in the Discord channel and the activity in the Dev-related channels is a bit quiet. That said, the team is very responsive to the messages. Most questions get answered on the same day and for most in the same hour!

The team at Mailchain seems to be making the right moves in terms of developer engagement. They have a Hack Pack on their site to suggest ideas and help get started quickly at hackathons. Out of complete luck, the same day I finished this newsletter they announced a hackathon with Developer DAO. Smart moves indeed.

Next From Mailchain

Some protocols have had specific milestones on their public roadmap. Mailchain's roadmap on the Whitepaper is the protocol template -launch, grow, decentralize. I would guess there will be more partnerships and integrations is a short-term step. This is a good way to increase activity and developer mind share. I'm not sure if Mailchain views its UI Product as a core product. If so, I would also imagine they add more features to that to make it more on par with messaging and email platforms people currently use.

If you are building anything that requires messaging between you and your users or user-to-user communication (which is like almost every app/service), Mailchain is worth exploring.

Email is Dead. Long Live Mailchain.

Thanks for our time together,

Your Guide - DappaDan ❤️

Until Next Time

While you wait for our next journey together, here is some other great Web3 content that you can check out travelers:

Mailchain x DeveloperDAO Workshop

Great Thread from @0ceans404 / Steph about the recent zkEVM Launch

Dev's Do Something Podcast - Lens Protocol with Nader Dabit