Government // Enterprise Architecture
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10/26/2012
08:29 PM
David F Carr
David F Carr
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How To Keep Email From Driving You Crazy

Never mind spam. How are we supposed to deal with the rest of our email?

10 Great Social Features For Microsoft SharePoint 2013
10 Great Social Features For Microsoft SharePoint 2013
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Has your inbox gone crazy, or are you the crazy one?

I've been testing a product called SaneBox, which promises to save me from inbox insanity, and it's scary to see how much it's slimmed down my Gmail inbox. This got me thinking more broadly about the problem of email overload, and sent me looking for clues about how others deal with it.

SaneBox is often compared with the Priority Inbox, a Gmail enhancement Google introduced a couple of years ago (still offered, albeit buried in the user interface). SaneBox takes a similar approach to highlighting the most important messages and letting the rest wait until you have time for them. One way SaneBox improves on the concept is by connecting to your social media accounts--or, in one enterprise variation, to your Salesforce.com customer list--to identify your most important contacts and make sure their messages stand out.

In other words, the software tries to whittle down your inbox to just those messages that you must attend to as part of your business, or which promise to bring in new business.

Those messages that don't make the cut go into an @SaneLater folder where you can review them as time permits. SaneBox also sends you a daily digest of all the email that got sidelined, so you can fine tune the filtering of what belongs in your inbox. In addition to Gmail, SaneBox works with Microsoft Exchange and other systems that support the IMAP protocol (required to let the SaneBox agent organize your email folders).

[ Running the Red Queen's race? Facebook Overload: Just Getting Worse.]

"This stuff is not spam. It's meant for you, but it's just not important," explains SaneBox's Dmitri Leonov, whose business card reads "VP Growth." With his system, "your inbox is reserved for what deserves to interrupt the day," he says.

Mostly, the stuff SaneBox shuffles to the side consists of newsletters, commercial offers and notifications like "so-and-so is now following you on Twitter!" In my case, this includes a good number of newsletters I no longer care about but have just never gotten around to unsubscribing from and notifications that I'd probably choose to turn off if I made time to log into all the websites that are generating them and poke around their settings screens. Beyond that, SaneBox classified as unimportant a number of newsletters that I do still read occasionally, time permitting, as well as some pitches from public relations professionals that I might or might not care about.

Few of these messages were spam by my definition--Gmail had already filtered out the worst of that--but almost none were urgent. One exception: SaneBox misclassified a reminder about some expiring GoDaddy domain registrations, which could have caused me some grief if I had missed it. In principle, if I used SaneBox over a longer period of time, I'd be able to "train" the software to understand better what I think is important. Leonov says the software doesn't actually read the content of messages, getting all the information it needs from header fields (to, from, subject, etc.).

If nothing else, this exercise showed me just how out of control my inbox is. I mentioned that SaneBox sends a summary of messages it has filtered out. The summary is sorted by the name of the sender and, in my case, it only makes it partway through the B's before Google truncates the message. After I clicked to see the rest, it took me a long time to scan through the rest of these messages. Of course, if they had gone to my inbox in the normal fashion, I'd have been wading through them anyway and might have missed the more important ones SaneBox highlighted for me.

Social network streams of status updates are sometimes touted as an improvement over email, given that you decide who to follow or friend, rather than being pushed messages by anyone who gets their hand on your email address. Proof of the value of enterprise social networking software is sometimes framed in the extent it diverts message traffic away from email.

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Deb Donston-Miller
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Deb Donston-Miller,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/1/2012 | 10:16:50 AM
re: How To Keep Email From Driving You Crazy
I totally agree on the "fear of misclassification" issue. If it's hard for me sometimes to figure out what in my mailbox is important and how to prioritize it, how can an app do it? I also agree with you on the need for the email interface getting better. My heart literally leaped, for example, when I saw that Gmail will now let users compose email messages in a new, floating window (sort of like a chat window) and see older messages at the same time. I don't know how aggregated time I have spent saving a Gmail message as a draft so I could check something in an older message. Baby steps, I guess!

Deb Donston-Miller
Contributing Editor, The BrainYard
Rosemary ONeill
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Rosemary ONeill,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/31/2012 | 2:09:54 PM
re: How To Keep Email From Driving You Crazy
I'm always tempted to try out the email inbox apps when they come out, but when it gets down to it, I just don't trust that they won't misclassify something important. I'd rather see a focus more on the user interface of email, making it easier and more intuitive to turn emails into tasks or tickler events. The gmail interface is fugly, and the Mail interface is pretty, but doesn't have the easy workflow tools I'd like to have. What's an email hoarder to do?
Deb Donston-Miller
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Deb Donston-Miller,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/29/2012 | 10:14:52 PM
re: How To Keep Email From Driving You Crazy
I am of the never-delete-anything school of email, and I have tried email management systems such as these before. I have not used SaneBox, but with other systems the amount of work that I had to put into the process was not outweighed by any benefits received. My saving grace has been Gmail's amazing search capabilities, its storage capacity and its Label mechanism. That has worked for me.

Deb Donston-Miller
Contributing Editor, The BrainYard

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