Archive for June, 2006

Scale for Measuring Email Overload from Microsoft Research

Friday, June 9th, 2006

Earlier this year I visited Microsoft Research and met with Marc Smith and a couple of his Community Technologies Group team members, Andy Jacobs and Danyel Fisher.  These guys are working on a lot of fun stuff having to do with new visualization techniques for email and incorporating social network information into these views.  They released an interesting product called SNARF that uses information about correspondents to help prioritize email.  We combine our own set of correspondent metrics along with a number of message and thread characteristic metrics in our ClearContext products for a somewhat different take on email prioritization.  Anyhow, that’s a discussion for another day…

Back to the main topic… Danyel just co-wrote a paper called A Scale for Measuring Email Overload.  This is, of course, very interesting to me because I’ve spent the last three years working primarily on this problem.  They came up with 8 questions and surveyed a number of users about how overloaded with email they felt.  Then they measured the email activity of those users and tried to link various user behaviors and email activity with levels of overload.  Not unexpectedly, they found that those users distracted by frequent email notifications and those who kept trying to review and pick out emails to deal with were more likely to feel overwhelmed by email. Interestingly, they found high volumes of directly addressed email did not necessarily lead to greater feelings of overload.  A number of other factors also did not seem to affect email overload.

We have added the email overload scale questions to the 2006 Email Usage Survey we’re running at ClearContext.  That blog entry contains a link to the current survey and a link to analysis of last year’s survey (Please respond and link to the survey – the more data we can get, the more interesting the analysis will be). We ask a number of questions about the type and volume of email people receive as well as the types of techniques they use to deal with email.  By adding the 8 questions to the survey, we’ll be able to see if our respondents show the same correlations between email behaviors and feelings of email overload.  I’m especially interested in the level of correlation between people using methodologies like Getting Things Done and Total Workday Control and their feelings of email overload.  Were the correlations in Danyel’s paper applicable to a broader cross-segment of users?  Stay tuned and find out!

Productivity monkey wrench – Word/PDF

Friday, June 2nd, 2006

Just a short comment about something very annoying I just read. 

Brian Jones – Legal Issues around PDF Support

"Adobe didn’t like that we provided the save to pdf functionality directly in the box"

Sure, Microsoft does not exactly have a flawless record when it comes to standards and APIs and interoperability and such.  But the fact of the matter is, everyone uses Word and everyone uses PDF.

When I see big companies doing things that make it harder for people to work with market-leading standards/formats, it always boggles my mind.  In our information overloaded world, we already all face enough challenges being productive.  Tossing in extra steps to convert between formats that are dominant standards just makes no sense to me.

Hopefully Adobe will see the light here and we’ll end up actually seeing this integrated functionality.  I know it’s something that would be useful to me.  As Brian asks, I’ll be letting Adobe know.  I hope you all do too.