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4/14/2015
10:50 PM
David Wagner
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10 Astonishing Email Habits

The world's biggest study into our email habits reveals some strange behaviors we might want to consider breaking.
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(Image: Shani Heckman via Flickr)

(Image: Shani Heckman via Flickr)

The world's largest study on email was conducted by Yahoo Labs recently, and it revealed startling facts about how we use email. Examining more than 2 million users and 16 billion emails over several months, the Yahoo Labs researchers have given us the best picture we've ever had of the way we work and the way we communicate with email.

Yahoo email has more than 300 million different accounts. Many of those accounts are not run by humans or are not currently being used. To ensure that only human interaction was studied -- rather than bots or automated email --  the study focused on what the researchers called dyads, pairs of people who exchanged multiple emails in "reciprocal interactions."

Basically, they narrowed the scope of the study down to people who were using email to have a conversation. For privacy reasons, they also only studied accounts which had opted into this type of research. That left researchers with roughly 2 million users, who sent about 187 million messages to each other out of a total subset of the 16 billion they received or sent from Yahoo accounts or commercial accounts. Yes, 16 billion. Due to Yahoo policy, the researchers could not track personal emails from other email services. Their study also excluded social media notifications.

Even with all those exclusions, you can see the researchers had a giant source of data to draw upon. Though, admittedly, it meant that their sources were prone to certain biased behavior. They were more likely to interact, for example, with those with whom they have already corresponded than they would be with the entire subset of all of their email. Still, it makes sense to watch these types of relationships more than those between corporate or social media accounts, which are often one-way affairs.

The study gives us fairly amazing insight into how we use email, how often we respond, the size of our email interactions, and what causes threads to end or to go on. Fankly, some of it is hard to believe. Check out the most astonishing findings of the Yahoo Labs email study and tell us whether or not they line up with your own email habits.

David has been writing on business and technology for over 10 years and was most recently Managing Editor at Enterpriseefficiency.com. Before that he was an Assistant Editor at MIT Sloan Management Review, where he covered a wide range of business topics including IT, ... View Full Bio

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Broadway0474
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Broadway0474,
User Rank: Ninja
4/16/2015 | 11:02:02 PM
Re: Two minutes?
LiTan, is that because managers like to have a paper trail? They go down the hall, talk to their people, instruct them on things, make certain decisions ... there is no proof. But if this all goes down in an email chain, with appropriately CC'ed parties, everyone knows what was decided, and if people forget, these emails can be dredged back up.
zerox203
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zerox203,
User Rank: Ninja
4/15/2015 | 8:54:23 PM
Re: 10 Astonishing Email Habits
Like you said, Dave, this is a mix of surprising and not-so-surprising facts. Maybe that it takes us about a day to answer most e-mails, or that young people text faster than old, is taken for granted - but the sheer size of the survery is what makes it valuable. It's not limited to this or that segment, and it's a noticeable difference across huge numbers of people. I browsed through the full study, and there were a few other tidbits in that category - for example, people respond more slowly and with fewer words to e-mails received on the weekend vs. weekdays and also ones received in mid-day vs. in the morning. To your concerns about whether this included business use, I'd wager a lot of that is workers trying to keep work out of their hair on weekends (and when they're itching to get home). Again, not the most startling revelation, but it paints a picture of the way people are still using e-mail today.

A couple of other things; As for the short length and quick response times listed here (which, you're right, one would think are more for SMS), I do have some friends that insist on communicating through e-mail this way. They don't user Twitter or Facebook - but, I'll admit, I find them as much of an anomaly as you do. I do get the impression that e-mail is used this way more commonly for quick communication with friends in lots of Asian (and maybe European) cultures - did the Yahoo study only cover American customers? I also appreciate the perspective from KJENSEN and dried_squid, and you guys are right; This study says nothing of how satisfied people are with what they got/get out of those quick responses, or how productive those ten-e-mail-long threads actually were. I would definitely like to know all of that, but I suppose it's a little outside the purview of this study.
jastroff
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jastroff,
User Rank: Ninja
4/15/2015 | 6:54:33 PM
Re: Yahoo
Of the three email systems still popular, Outlook, Gmail and Yahoo, Yahoo has the worst interface and a high inability to do good message handling. I'm leaving out AOL mail, because I can't remember it anymore....

Lotus Notes was always the best -- still is, at IBM and other places
jastroff
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jastroff,
User Rank: Ninja
4/15/2015 | 6:50:11 PM
Re: email
>> Email remains the best app ever, even though I get too much of it.

 

Amen!
Thomas Claburn
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Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
4/15/2015 | 4:30:23 PM
email
Email remains the best app ever, even though I get too much of it.
Li Tan
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Li Tan,
User Rank: Ninja
4/15/2015 | 2:45:16 PM
Re: Two minutes?
It's really hard to control how long you spend on email on day to day basis. Especially for management people - the managers rely on email quite a lot even though we have other convenient communication method available.
dried_squid
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dried_squid,
User Rank: Moderator
4/15/2015 | 2:39:18 PM
thanks yahoo
    Thanks yahoo. Disclaimer: I do not work for yahoo. I do not own stock in yahoo.

    I do yahoo.mail and flickr. I pay. Forget when I started. I've been online since CompuServe and the 8086.

    I'm older, a boomer. I use emails for letter writing - 250 words or more. Before the internet and email, I wrote fountain pen letters to my mommy and my unrequited love. I don't twit. My cell does not have internet.

    I like the way the study was structured. Thanks for the background information.

    I see email+internet+hypertext as today, and the future. I learned HTML and CSS and do plain text emails, as well as zips of small hypertext docs, 5 or 6 files - *.html, *.css, *.jpg, and/or *.pdf. To me it's cheap, portable, and reusable. I don't understand why more people don't spend a few hours to learn how.

    I also do hamburgers at home. And I go out, both plastic tray and white tablecloth.

    I'm not an el cheapo, an environmentalist, or a Luddite, but to me, email+internet+hpertext is low dependancy, long lasting, and local archives which are easy to search. So ... why not?

    As for longer, later responses. I don't care - to me, at least it's a step up from lurking.

 
KJENSEN3760
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KJENSEN3760,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/15/2015 | 11:44:32 AM
Email Use
I found the summary results expressed to be consistent with what I've observed over the past 30-some years when I began using email in 1984 while in the military working on special computer projects. Even in the early years of email use primarily in the government sector people treated email nothing like the electronic version of letters that they were designed to be, they neither paid attention to grammar or proper sentence structure and certainly not spelling--so began the texting form of communication before phone texting ever came into existence.  Since I began my early military experience in communication and signal analysis predating 1984 we had our own form of "texting" between operators using teletypes and, of course, the military used a lot of acronyms (actual acronyms which the private sector in business seems to have no concept of).

It seems to me that the very application and habits in email used in their personal emails people have applied to their business communications.  When typed (hard copy) business correspondence was done there was at least some methodology applied to ensure that it didn't go out without some kind of scrutiny of the content before others received it.  But when email proliferated the written form of communication it seems that any caution or scrutiny to ensure a professional content went out the window for presumably the sake of a more timely response.

When it comes to communication today people don't seem to care about the journey or the story behind the headline, they prefer the headline or byline more than how someone came to that conclusion or rather their thought process.  We prefer making assumptions to get to our conclusions rather than knowing what someone's thinking might be--let alone any related facts, if there are any.

Shorter or more brief communication doesn't necessarily translate into more effective communication--only faster communication, something the study apparently wasn't designed to necessarily show.  I would say that our communication habits through technological advances hasn't necessarily improved or become better, at least from my experience.  I think I will be sharing some of the study's findings with my other senior managers since it seems to support what I've been trying to impress upon them while preparing the next generation of business leaders and managers within the company.
rjones2818
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rjones2818,
User Rank: Strategist
4/15/2015 | 10:51:45 AM
Re: Yahoo
Yahoo has in the hundreds of millions of e-mail users.  It's in their best intrests to know what their patrons are doing.
Number 6
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Number 6,
User Rank: Moderator
4/15/2015 | 10:11:46 AM
Yahoo
Unless Yahoo is going to use the results of this research, was this really the best use of time and resources for a struggling company?
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