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The mail pile and the most important of them

Again on my mail story!

I hate going to vacations for a simple reason. After coming back I need to read whole pile of mails in my Inbox. The pile rises at rate 2,000 per week or more.

Even on typically busy nights, number of new, not aut0matically filtered mails exceed 300 in the Inbox. [Nice way of saying “Good Morning, Bhushit!”]

The first question is, where should I start?

The earlier algorithm  I pointed out is terribly misfit in such conditions.

How do I know which mail thread may need my attention the most?

I believe I have an answer. I hope someone in mail client community implements this way of calculation: (weights may change)

  1. Mail threads directly addressed to me – 3 points, me in BCC – 2 points, me in CC – 1 points, me in the list – 0.5 points
  2. Mail threads in which my reports are also marked in To, CC or BCC – 1 point, mails in which only I am the recipient – 2 points, mails in which I am a part of a bigger organization group – 5 points
  3. Mail threads with ‘!’ mark – 5 points, mails without ‘!’ mark, mails with down priority – 0.5 points, mails with no priority – 1 point
  4. How many mail threads were responded in the thread – count is the score

Now count the score of each mail thread and sort threads by that score.

I am sure this will help most important threads to float on the top.

The “Next” e-mail

If you are a manager like me, Outlook is your most frequently used program [followed by Excel. Excel is not a focus here.]

Outlook is an old interface. Very few changes have happened to Outlook interface. So you see a lot of ideas here that relate to Outlook.

I receive hundreds of mails in a day. Naturally one develops strategies to cope with this kind of traffic. If you read this blog carefully, you’d bet that sorting is my favorite way of organizing data.

[Filters are handy too. However, filters are useful only for non-participatory threads. With dozens of projects and products demanding attention, often one misses important mails because they are auto-filed by filters.]

Here is approximately how I go about addressing my daily flood of mails –

  • I read the top mail of the bunch
  • If it doesn’t demand my attention, I sort my Inbox by Subject and mark the whole thread as “Read” and file it in appropriate folder
  • Else, if it demands my attention, I go down the thread and then take appropriate action
  • Next mail

So far, so good.

However, this is a terribly inefficient way of reading mails.

At times, I need to go to the “Next Sender”, “Next time”, “Next topic” and so on.

Outlook provides just “Next by the current sorting order” button.

Why can’t the “Next” button be broken up for common fields?

Are Thunderbird / Zimbra guys listening?

Need for multifaced communication

We have it in Object Oriented Programming! We call it “private” and “public”.

We just don’t have it properly  in the communication applications.

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We can mark a calendar and attach documents. Once we attach a document, everyone can see it.

What if I want to attach a document (like an employee’s review) for my view only?

It must pop up with the appointment – for me only.

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And I can CC and BCC a mail. But I can’t do the following:

If  I have to set context of the mail to some senior member like: “John, here is the problem person Jack. We need to make sure he understands how to deal with this kind of situation.”, I need to send two separate mails – the second one being explicitly to John giving the context and another including Jack, which is my public face.

Why can’t my single piece of thought, be expressed as as single piece of communication with different faces?

When a technology falls out of fashion

… it stops getting attention of developers.

E-mail is one such technology.

She was the darling of early days of internet – and is still the workhorse (or “work-mare”) of the corporate world.

When web applications boomed, innovations in E-mail clients severely lagged those in the browsers.

Even the cross-pollination of ideas from browsers to e-mail clients have stopped.

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Take for example the concept of history. [I think history is handled very crudely even in browsers. However, that is a different matter.] Why can’t a mail client also have  a history? With dozens of folders and Outlook-breaking number of rules, I forget when I filed a particular mail that I read a week before.

Unfortunately, e-mail clients are stuck in 1990’s where you can either have folders or history but not both.

Then the question arises, should history be maintained by the (disk-loaded) servers or the (thin, probably mobile) client? Both have tradeoffs. I’d leave it to designers to solve.

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Closely related to the concept of the history is the “back” and “forward” buttons. There are “up” and “down” buttons in an e-mail client that bank on the current sorting order of mails but nothing in the client remembers the past of “mail-browsing history”.

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Once we talk of back and forward,  we may also want to talk about multi-tabbed mail browsing and the “Oops!” button 🙂

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Another such example is favorites. There are flags in e-mail clients but favorites are missing.

Why can’t the mail client learn my favorite folders and keep them handy for moving mails? In some clients, there is a favorite area where I can move my favorite folder but the interface to it is so unintuitive!

Also, why can’t the client itself run the statistics and decide which folders are the most favorite?

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And did you feel the need of that “stop” button of the browser in a mail client? I have!

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And what happened to those “downloads”?

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The only one button I don’t think we need is “refresh”.

 

Can someone make these ideas a reality?