Topicbox Review: Hybrid group messaging for teams

Fastmail leveraged its experience with email and web apps to create Topicbox. The hybrid group messaging service allows each team member the option to use email or discussion forums for the same topic thread.

Topicbox
9

What I liked most

  • Anyone familiar with email can use it
  • Good alternative to Slack and other complex team apps
  • It’s reliable and works well

Could be better

  • Doesn’t allow custom domain for web app
  • Doesn’t allow branding (colors and logo)

Who should use Topicbox?

I started using Topicbox for my HOA in December 2017. It solved several problems for us that no other solution could completely solve.

First, it provided unique email addresses that could be used for distribution lists for particular groups of people. That solved the problems of people:

Second, it created an archive for every message sent. All of the messages are copied and made available via the Topicbox web app. This allows members of a group to search for past messages even if they’ve deleted them from their email.

Third, it allowed people who preferred to only use email for communicating the option to do so. All email messages sent are copied and made available on the Topicbox web app, and all messages posted on the web app are emailed.

Fourth, it allowed people who preferred a consolidated and linear approach to communication – e.g., the use of a discussion forum – an alternative method to email.

Topicbox is made for any group that needs a flexible and inclusive communication service. It’s perfect for:

How easy is it for teams to use?

The HOA board I set up Topicbox for stretches across the entire spectrum of technical abilities (and inabilities). However, the common denominator – the thing that everyone can do – is email.

I was surprised at how quickly everyone was able to understand and use the service. The only thing each member needed to know was the email address for the group. Knowing how to use email is what makes Topicbox such an elegant team communication tool. Anyone can use it immediately.

For members that want more control and options over messaging, they can access the web app. The web app allows them to change their profile and security settings, modify message delivery preferences, and use a discussion forum to view, search, reply, and start new topics.

Group messaging

Communicating with other people on the service requires the creation of groups. Groups can be private or public. A public group has the same settings as a private group, but a public group makes all messages available for anyone on the internet to read.

Each group has a unique email address that is used to reach all group members. The group settings determine who can send messages to the group email. Topicbox has made the sending options flexible, and they include the ability to moderate and review some or all messages before they are sent to members and published on the web app.

Sending to the group

Personalized message delivery settings

Topicbox allows users to configure how they want to receive messages for each group. Members have the option to have every message emailed, only to receive a daily email summary, or not to receive any email messages.

One of the best features of Topicbox is its ability not to email you when you send an email or post a message on the web app. By default, it will not email you, but that setting can be overridden if you prefer to get a copy each time.

Topicbox delivery options

Deleting messages and groups

When Topicbox first launched, you couldn’t delete messages or groups. Fastmail created Topicbox, and the idea was that since it was email, the web app should maintain a permanent record of all messages sent. Early adopters, like myself, complained that it wasn’t desirable to keep groups and messages they no longer wanted.

I remember this taking the Topicbox team by surprise because it had been intentionally architected to save all messages permanently. After much consternation from customers, and perhaps being forced to make changes based on GDPR requirements, they rearchitected it to support the deletion of messages and groups. As of today, users with Admin rights can delete messages and groups.

Pricing

To get the most out of the service, teams will want to use the Plus account, which is $3/mo per user. If the service is used often and by all users, the pricing is very reasonable.

Topicbox also provides a more affordable plan for organizations that serve their community (non-profits, religious, and educational institutions) that costs $15/mo and comes with up to 150 members. The account comes with significant limits compared to the regular account, but can still be quite useful to a community organization.

More details about the service and its pricing are available at topicbox.com