Nov 11, 2013 · 2 minutes

It's hard to build an email service that offers helpful reminders and notifications without irritating their recipients. We already get too much email from companies that treat our inboxes like dumpsters by filling them with garbage that we probably don't care about. Deciding to add even more to that pile seems counter-intuitive. But when it's used properly, email can be an effective tool that rewards the dumpster-divers who keep searching for treasures among the trash.

Heroku, the application platform company acquired by in 2010, is just starting to learn that lesson. The company is today announcing the second version of Postgres, its database-as-a-service product, and worthwhile email is an integral aspect of the update.

“With the first version of Postgres, we were really focused on making sure that the data was safe and more reliable as well as being more capable for app developers," says Postgres product head Craig Kerstiens. "So we focused on features, like fork and follow, that worked a lot like GitHub. But over the past year what we’ve seen is, more and more developers want us to give them even more direction and guidance.”

That guidance will be delivered, of course, by email. The new system will automatically warn users when their database is experiencing problems; check the implementation to see if a different configuration might save developers time and money; and otherwise help developers use the service without irritating them with inane updates. The treasure-to-trash ratio is about to change for the better.

“The main reaction from our customers was, ‘Can you send us more email?’ Which is totally strange for developers,” Kerstiens says. "Now there is a suite of notifications and alerts that you should get based on what you should be doing with your database."

The evolution of Postgres is similar to that of application analytics companies that are quickly becoming more than passive data collectors. These services have started using all of the information they're collecting to automate many tasks and allow their customers to focus on other, more important things. This latest update might allow Heroku to do the same, except it's focused more on helping developers through better communication than on helping marketers reach their audience on a variety of platforms.

"Developers want more guidance and instruction so that they can focus on their app's features instead of the nuts and bolts," Kerstiens says. (Again, that echoes the sentiment of companies like Appboy and Appsee, which are trying to help marketers stay clear of the nitty-gritty while allowing them to take advantage of new and improved technologies.) It just so happens that email is the best way to offer that guidance.

Digging through a cluttered inbox will probably still feel like the digital equivalent to diving into a dumpster. At least now some developers will know that there's some worthwhile treasure waiting beneath layer after layer of trash.

[Illustration by Hallie Bateman for PandoDaily]