Magazine article Information Today

Downsizing the Inbox

Magazine article Information Today

Downsizing the Inbox

Article excerpt

Ross Mayfield, CEO of Socialtext, was spouting numbers at the recent Gilbane Conference on Content Management in San Francisco.

He said about 90 percent of the collaboration in an enterprise occurs in email, and as a result, 75 percent of an organization's knowledge assets still reside within email clients.

Since Socialtext was the first commercial wiki platform, Mayfield made a pitch and claimed that users of his collaboration tools can reduce "occupational spam" (those nasty reply-alls) by 30 percent, making email productive again.

But I made the mistake a couple of weeks ago of retaliating against my computer. I switched it off for 3 entire days, wrote longhand in a journal again, and told my boss that I felt like a new man.

Of course, that was until the day of reckoning came as several hundreds of emails rolled off the server into my laptop client. That reminded me about my dinner a couple of years ago with open access (OA) advocate and prolific discussion-group host Stevan Harnad, who can single-handedly knock out more content in 1 day than all the users of Wikipedia combined. When we started talking about email, he asked what my pain threshold was: How many unread emails would it take for me to feel as though I would never catch up or feel guilty about not dealing with them?

I told him I could tolerate up to 100 pending messages before I felt I was way behind. Some messages require somebody else to act before I can answer them, some are works in progress, and some are reminders (and I'm OK with a hundred of those). Harnad agreed that 100 was about his pain threshold too.

Now, since I suddenly had 300 pending messages in my inbox, I could not get past the new messages pouring in marked "Urgent" to clear the backlog. It took a turbulent plane ride with my laptop jostling on a tray table and a long night in a hotel room to clean out the stack of incoming emails. …

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