General Musing

blaze your trail

Email Should Change

with 3 comments

In another article New York Times examines Email, Lost in E-Mail, Tech Firms Face Self-Made Beast. A number of large companies have looked at the problem and what they’re proposing scares me:

A Google software engineer last week introduced E-Mail Addict, an experimental feature for the company’s e-mail service that lets people cut themselves off from their in-boxes for 15 minutes.

This scares me because this engineer thinks the solution to too much email is still to read it, just at a later time. There is so much mail send to some people that this just doesn’t work as a long term solution any more.

What is needed?

  1. People need to read their important mail when it comes in
  2. People need to be shielded from unimportant mail
  3. People need to have the feeling that they can change the behaviour of the system when they choose

The reason people need to get their important mail as it comes in is that they should have the option of replying when they get it. The important mail should be presented so they don’t feel they are missing something. When somebody sends them a request which needs an answer asap they don’t want to discover it in an hour and feel more stressed than they would had they not received it.

They do need to be shielded from the mail which they feel is unimportant, or hinders their work flow. So pictures from co-workers or family, or requests which can be dealt with at a later date should be hidden from the worker when it is received and scheduled in your generic mail handling time.

To avoid people going back to the inefficient method of checking mail too often they should be given the capability to mark certain mail, senders and types of mail as more or less important. Mail that contains a Word document could be classified as more important than a pdf, and certainly more important than a gif or jpg. (Unless the later is in a signature, which I advise against.)

So what is actually needed is a method, other than regular priority marking, to judge the importance of mail. And it just so happens there is already a method to do this, which is in use today. We use it to judge whether a message should arrive in our mailboxes at all, a spam filter. If we can combine Bayesian probability with spam filtering to decide which to mail to remove from our mailbox in a Bayesian spam filter, what is stopping us from using it to tell whether incoming mail is important or not?

Bayesian Probability applied to Spam
(to be continued)

Technorati technorati tags: , , , , , ,

Written by Daniël W. Crompton (webhat)

July 10, 2008 at 9:34 am

3 Responses

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  1. Reckon a good indicator of how important a source is would be how swiftly one responds to emails from that source, topic, etc.
    i.e. I respond pretty quickly when my boss sends me an email – not so quick if some joker has cc’ed me on something I don’t even need to know about…


    July 10, 2008 at 5:04 pm

  2. Would you respond quicker to a mail from HR than one from a colleague? One from your boss or your boss’ boss?


    July 10, 2008 at 6:15 pm

  3. Great post as per usual. I really like this happy. Off to google to do more research.

    Mike Poplar

    November 8, 2009 at 12:44 am

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