by Mike Masnick

The Cure To Email Overload Is... To Make You Waste Time Rating Emails?

from the not-particularly-compelling dept

Email overload is an issue that's been around for quite some time, and there are plenty of ideas on how to fix it with various prioritization schemes. However, it's become pretty clear over the years that most people tend to work out their own kind of system for managing email overload -- and trying to introduce some totally new behavior that everyone has to agree on is pretty much bound to fail. The latest attempt seems even more problematic than others. It involves a complicated system where everyone on an email system is given some amount of an artificially limited "currency" that they can "spend" to determine how important an email they send is. The recipients keep the associated currency, but can then send some currency back to the sender based on how much they value the email. In other words, instead of wasting all your time figuring out which emails to read, you now waste even more time trying to figure out how much you should value each email you send or receive... and it still doesn't help you determine which emails are really all that important any faster. And, of course, there's no indication what happens when you have a new important email that you need to send out when you've already "spent" your currency. It's not like there's a finite number of important emails out there. This idea doesn't seem like a solution to information overload so much as it seems like an increase to the overhead in dealing with email. A recommendation for those who are looking to solve overload problems: you should be looking to take away hurdles, not add them.

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Feb 2007 @ 7:09pm


    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Mike, 28 Feb 2007 @ 7:09pm


    That solution sounds so convoluted I don't even want to read it again, let alone try it. So it works like the stupid "mark as important" thing in Outlook, but you get a limited number of exclamation points. What's the point? If it's an email from someone I know, I'm going to read it no matter what the "serio" is, and if it's spam, I'm going to delete it no matter how "important" they mark it.
    Now, if I have some important business that I need to send to a bunch of family members, and I use up all my "serio" credits, does that mean I don't get to send any more "important" emails for some period of time? Do I get completely cut off from sending emails???
    Anyone who works with IT knows people quickly learn to ignore all the cues you throw at them, anyway.
    And how exactly does this reduce spam??? Are spammers supposed to be put off by the fact that they need to send all their emails as "low priority" or something?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Neal, 28 Feb 2007 @ 7:47pm


    I'm for an anti-currency solution. Everyone is given a finite amount of email currency per day but it's spent when others spend too little time on your emails or delete them unread.

    If everyone reads and keeps your emails, or spends some minimum amount of time reading them, then you lose no currency. If you spam, or forward every cute thing you see to everyone, or cc everyone on everything then as people delete your emails unread (or shortly after opening them) you're docked sending points.

    For instance, everyone would be provided with 100 new sending points per day. Points would NOT accrue beyond 100. Points could go negative though, and there would be no negative limit - meaning that you could accrue a worth of -100, -1000, or -100000000 points.

    As long as your net worth was positive you could send unlimited emails, but as your emails were deleted unread, or so quickly they couldn't have had any value, your worth would decrease point by point until it went negative. Once there you simply couldn't send another email until your worth became positive again... at 100 points per day.

    A new spammers might get a huge run off, but they'd soon (hours or a couple days) go so negative they couldn't send again in their lifetime. Idiots, beginners, and email wasters would swing one way and then the other until they learned to make better use of email - making sure it was clear, interesting, important, and wanted.

    The 100 points would simply be a buffer that protected us against our occassional shortcomings, or our mail-mates, allowing us (or they) to make some mistakes without affecting our sending ability.

    Yeah, we'd have to get the whole world on board for it to work, but what the hey.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    The Swiss Cheese Monster, 28 Feb 2007 @ 8:21pm

    Nothing like solutions to problems that just make more work for everybody.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    misanthropic humanist, 28 Feb 2007 @ 8:40pm

    I have a special filter

    I have a pretty foolproof system that works for me. It's called my brain. This marvel of evolution (or Gods wonderful creation if you must insist on that) is able to decide in a glance of less than 100ms whether an email is worth reading or rubbish.

    If I'm alert, properly caffinated and in the right mood I can chomp my way through a few hundred emails in a minute, more than one a second.

    With one glance I can see everything I need to know and the slowest link in the process is hitting the delete key fast enough.

    If I recognise the sender and the subject seems interesting I read it.

    If the subject line isn't filled out I will probably drop it in the wastebin even if I do recognise the sender. I expect people I know or do business with to use the tools available correctly. If it's important they will send it again or contact me by another route. If anyone ever asks me if I got an email they think I should have read I just tell them the spam filter ate it and that they should probably fill out the subject line properly.

    If I don't recognise the sender AND the subject line seems irrelevant it goes right into the wastebin. Anyone who wants to contact me urgently or on important business wouldn't use email.

    If I don't recognise the sender but the subject seems relevant I mark it for looking at later if I get time.

    If it's from a mailing list I subscribe to it gets filtered into the appropriate box anyway.

    If it CONTAINS LOTS OF CAPITALS!!! - spam, it goes in the bin
    If it is "offering" me something - spam it goes in the bin
    If the first sentence doesn't make sense - just bin it anyway

    I take great pleasure in dropping emails that don't meet my standards. If I delete something by mistake I can always retrieve it from the wastebin anyway.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    bish, 28 Feb 2007 @ 8:49pm

    In English,

    the word 'email' is pluralized as 'email.' What are they teaching you kids?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    |333173|3|_||3, 1 Mar 2007 @ 12:24am

    Flaw with the anti-currency model:
    If you send an email to someone which is just a one-liner reply, which they can easilyu read and remember in a few seconds, they are likely to reduce your points by deleting it even though it was valid and relevant. Also, in schools, there are likely to be plenty of emails which are just a bunch of links, which get opend all at once and the message deleted. In my IT class, we used to send blocks of code to each other, but we would not keep the emails, same with anything with a large atachemtn. All these would reduce your points by a lot, but woudl eb vailid email.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Mike Orr, 1 Mar 2007 @ 1:04am

    Simpler, and automatic alternative, but still no g

    I once came up with the following:
    1st N times you get email from whoever, it comes through (and you set N, usually at 1 or 2); If you reply - Sender gets his "allowance" increased; If you don't reply, sender runs out of allowance after N messages to you, and his mail is thereafter deleted on reception.
    Then, mailbox can be sorted/filtered by sender's current allowance, so 1st-timers and spam are at top (or bottom) and whoever you have actual multi-message exchange with is clearly separated;

    This gives 80%-90% of the benefit of the complex scheme described, and is completely automatic, no hassle to user. Moreover, you don't need all the world to comply (or even know about it), it is all by receiver email client;

    But -
    1. You still can get lots of spam, except spammer needs to change sending address for each message - not too hard (tough that will usually get you senders such as Joe-123456, easy to spot)
    2. You still need to go through your inbox looking for spam and deleting it. (auto-delete of low-scorers will delete any 1st-time sender, probably an overkill ...)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Samart Aase, 1 Mar 2007 @ 1:51am

    Dumbest idea I've ever heard!

    Dumbest fuckin idea some a-hole who just got an AOL account ever came up with. Take this f'n fake stack o hundreds and shove it in ur cockhole.

    No really..great idea

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Enrico Suarve, 1 Mar 2007 @ 2:58am

    Way to miss the human side

    Some great techno ideas on paper in this but they all miss the human side

    What about when you send a mail to several people - I get mails which directly concern a project I am working on which need attention. I might be one of several people to get the mail ranging from my dire need to people who were included just in case

    To me its urgent 10/10 - to Frank its useful info 5/10, to Bill down the hall its barely worth a 1/10 - who's right?

    And mail rules to consign someone to a sin bin forever as they sent a few mails which weren't fully read are just daft - given the amount of shite my boss sends me about the state of the company which really don't interest me his mails would be consigned straight to the bin after a week, only problem is occasionally he sends me mails letting me know the deadline for my expenses has changed....

    Like MH says - sometimes you just gotta read em and use your brain

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Jack, 1 Mar 2007 @ 6:01am

    I am Jack

    I am Jack's pyramid scheme.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Nasty Old Geezer, 1 Mar 2007 @ 6:38am


    E-mail postage or 10 cents or so would cure a lot of e-mial problems. Here's the kicker -- I get paid the 10 cents for every e-mail I get, pay 10 cents for every e-mail I send. For friends, family, etc. it pretty much nets to zero cost. For businesses, if it's not worth 10 cents of revenue, they won't send it out -- and spam dies quickly and quietly.

    This is not some fake thing, it would be real money. Imagine a spammer having to come up with $100,000 to send out a million e-mails from the botnet.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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