“Email is the killer app; it’s killing me.”

In early 2003, we performed an informal study of email users to assess how many people were experiencing "email overload" and what efforts they were making to mitigate the problem.

For our study, we conducted interviews with high volume users from various job functions to gain insight into their use of the “killer app.”  92% of our group were Microsoft Outlook users.  Of those, 61% ran Office 2000 and 38% used Office XP.  (Outlook 2003 had not been released yet). About 47% reported utilizing corporate Microsoft Exchange servers for their mail service, 39% utilized POP3, and the rest accessed mail via IMAP.  Most of those interviewed are employed in the high tech industry in the San Francisco Bay Area and should be considered email “power users.”

It was clear from our survey that respondents were using tools available to them to get a handle on email, but few were achieving the results that they desired.  55% of our respondents reported using an anti-spam product to filter unsolicited email and 58% utilized some form of rules based processing to filter the inbox.  Given that the survey was conducted among technology professionals; we expect that these numbers are higher than in the general business populace.  However, despite our tech savvy user’s reliance on these advanced email tools, 66% of respondents indicated that they have problems addressing email.  One survey respondent put it best; “Email is the killer app; it’s killing me."

We also asked our test group what they needed to streamline email use.  Most responses centered on the presentation and filing of email messages.   Here are some quotes:

  • “I like to see emails by date, but also want to see connectedness (threads) through the email simultaneously.”
  • “Biggest issue – I want almost everything I receive, but need to prioritize for reading and action; sort and file in a simple and powerful manner.”
  • “I have 20-30 active threads at a time and getting those auto-filed would be a big help.”
  • “I use the flag feature… but it does not give me much in the way of prioritizing.”

The information from this survey played a large part in our design of ClearContext Inbox Manager for Microsoft Outlook.   Watch this blog in the upcoming weeks for additional detail on the how and why behind the product.

We’re currently preparing to do another survey to see how users are dealing with their email today – how much they receive, how much time they spend on it, what tools/processes they use, etc.  If any of you have questions you think should be included, please let us know.

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