In 1971, Ray Tomlinson sent the world's first email to himself in Cambridge, Massachusetts, just to see if it was possible. Today, 46 years later, email has become one of the most integral ways for us to communicate and engage with each other. In many ways, email is our oldest digital communication tool. However, despite technology's vast advancement over the last 40 years, email itself hasn't changed much. That is, until now.

Email has never been all that interactive as a medium. You receive a message with some text, maybe an image, and you either send a similar reply or you don't. Even if the message contains a link, clicking that blue-tinted text merely sends you away to a new location, abandoning the email entirely.

But what if there was a way to truly interact through email? What if consumers could shop, leave reviews, and take actions directly within a single message? This is where "actionable" email comes in, completely reinventing what it means to open your inbox.

Real Action Through Email

As mentioned, most branded emails ask you to click through to an external website. When you do this, though, the website typically takes a long time to load, and the context switch can be jarring. Actionable email, in contrast, means recipients can interact without having to leave their inbox.

Companies like Rebel, for instance, are bringing email out of the Dark Ages with a platform that makes actionable emails possible for enterprise brands. Javascript, which powers most of the interactivity on the web, isn't supported in emails. Rebel's platform rectifies that so recipients can take quizzes, complete purchases, leave reviews, and more without navigating outside of their inboxes. You can see examples of the interaction brands are including in email here

If you've recently received emails from Home Depot or eBay, then you might be familiar with this level of interaction. Many of the biggest brands are focused on improving their customers' experience and making it easier for them to take the actions they need to.

There are a variety of tools emerging that are transforming the inbox. For example, Mixmax allows salespeople to use templates, embed calendars and maps, and track emails to determine if they were read or ignored. You can also measure how much each recipient interacted with the email so you can adjust future campaigns accordingly.

Today's consumers demand convenience -- they don't want to have to jump through hoops to engage with a company. As the backbone of modern digital communication, email is finally catching up to this demand. Instead of being just a vehicle for advertisements, future emails will be a valuable extension of a brand, offering the same convenience and functionality as its app and website. This change is a welcome one, and it's been a long time coming.