The science behind email behavior is extensive, I’m sure, and not something that I purport to know much about, from a factual standpoint. Most of the email-based thoughts and assumptions I make throughout my day are driven by a fair bit of intuitiveness — with a dash and a half of instinct and a peppering of intelligence gathering.

I would hazard a guess that most people fall into my category — that is, if they think at all about email as anything more thhan simply a communication medium.

But not Kaitlin “Ducky” Sherwood. You can click on her name to read her full bio, but I’ll give you enough information to establish context. She’s written two books on overcoming email overload, was the first Webmaster at the University of Illinois (during the Mosaic creation days) and just recently earned an MS in Computer Science.

I got to spend an hour on the phone with her, aggressively asking for her opinion on email and cautiously tip-toeing into her thoughts on Email Center Pro.

Sherwood speaks with confident conviction about all manner of topics, but, for my purposes, focused most of her energy on email. Much of what was said centered around the idea that, as yet, the perfect email system doesn’t exist. And the reason for that is that no provider is meeting all of Sherwood’s standards — many of which have to do with efficiently and effectiveely moving through email in a reasonably organized way.

She chuckles at the notion of “Inbox Zero,” the popular concept that basically mystifies people into thinking they’ve properly dealt with all of their messages just by clearning their inbox. But, have they? Have they adequately addressed that communication channel, or have they simply shifted it from one place to another so as to better manage the guilt associated with 100 unread messages?

Sherwood argues for the latter, asserting that the psychology of seeing “0” as an Inbox tally is ggiven disproportionate weight in relationship to proper management of email as a communication vehicle — creating a false sense of security, if you will.

Much of that, Sherwood continues, is driven by the passionate pursuit of perfect filtering. Users constantly seeking to compartmentalize the various buckets of information flowing into their Inboxes chew up time that can’t possibly be recovered through the convenience associated with “more easily” scanning through those folders.

In essence, filters/folders/etc. are not effective means of organizing data — given the existence of an uber-powerful search function. Wiith the reality of virtually limitless data storage, it no longer makes efficient sense to try to organize things the way we needed to when filing cabinets held all of our pertinent paper work. Without proper paper management, I might lose a week looking for a single document. Now, I type “2006 tax returns” into the search bar and PRESTO!

In light of that, it’s comforting to know that an advanced search functionality provides the infrastructure for version 2 of Email Center Pro, which is scheduled for release in the next couple of weeks.

So, do the psychological aspects of email resonate with you? Do you struggle against the rising tide of email overload? What is your method for managing your inbox?

Jason Gallic
Product Marketing Manager
jason@paloalto.com

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