Posts from February 2005.

Email Usage Survey Update

Thanks to everyone who has taken the survey so far.  We’re at over 200 responses and and have given out over 20 free licenses (math experts might note that one in ten respondents gets a free license).  The responses are still coming in, so we’re going to keep the survey open for another week or two and publish the results here shortly afterwards. 

If you’re interested in the results of this survey, please help us get the best possible results by taking the survey yourself and forwarding it to anyone who might be interested.  Here are a few interesting facts we’re seeing so far.  Keep in mind that the respondents group is largely comprised of tech-savvy individuals who are involved to some degree in the blogging community.

  • No surprise that pretty much nobody has a single email account anymore.  Most have 4-6.
  • Among our respondent group, slightly more people have Gmail webmail accounts than Hotmail or Yahoo accounts.
  • Most people get at least 50 emails per day.  And many people get well over 100 per day.
  • Most of that email is work-related, leading many people to constantly check their email.
  • Even with all the anti-spam products out there that this group is using, spam remains the single most frustrating thing about email.

Thanks again for taking part in this survey.  We look forward to sharing and discussing the full results shortly, especially some of the more innovative techniques people are using to efficiently deal with the neverending onslaught of email.

ClearContext 2005 Email Usage Survey

In our post "Email is the Killer App; It’s Killing Me" we discussed the results of an informal email usage survey that we conducted in 2003.  We felt it was time to update the results and invite you to take the ClearContext 2005 Email Usage Survey.  Containing various questions on email usage patterns, tools, etc., the required portion of the survey should take less than five minutes to complete.  We also hope you take advantage of the free-form questions to provide more detailed feedback about your email use and challenges.

The more people who complete this survey, the better and more interesting the results will be.  So, all links to the survey are appreciated and please forward this information on to anyone who you think might be interested.   

As an added incentive, we will be offering a coupon good for $5 off the purchase of ClearContext Inbox Manager to every respondent.  A number of these survey respondents will be selected to receive a fully licensed version of the product for free.

Thanks in advance for your time and we look forward to hearing your responses.  We will post the results to the survey in our blog in the coming weeks.

ClearContext 2005 Email Usage Survey

ClearContext Product Plan

Our initial ClearContext Inbox Manager release was designed in large part based on information we gained from interviewing many email users and taking surveys of these individuals (see our design whitepaper for more detail on this).  Now that we have a product in release, we get a lot of great information and feedback from our users.  As we mentioned in a previous blog post, we’d like to share our product plans with you to make sure that our product development priorities are closely aligned with our user’s needs. 

We really need your help and feedback to build the best product possible.  Our development plan is largely driven by user requests, so comments on this post will definitely make a big difference in our product direction.

We’ve broken this information into a few sections – v1.1, Incremental Features, Future Functionality, & Additional Products:

ClearContext Inbox Manager v1.1
These are largely changes that have been requested by users via support emails or posts in the forum.  We have also made a few bug fixes and performance enhancements and added a few new features.  Most of these items are currently in testing and we hope to release as many of them as is feasible in our upcoming release within the next few weeks.

New Functionality / User Requests
File Thread toolbar button
Allow Multiple Parameters in AutoAssign rules
AutoDetect for Upgrades
User editable results in Contact Analysis

User Interface / Usability
Additional Fields Available for Grouping in Views
Keyboard Shortcuts
Topic Drop-down Listbox Auto-fit
AutoFill Topic on AutoAssign
Topic overwrite option on Autoassign

Performance Enhancements / Bug Fixes
Topic Assignment Issues – bug(s) related to topic assignment while message open, etc.
Improved MAPI Error Handling
Background Processing and other general performance enhancements
AutoAssign Domain Rules – malformed/non-standard domain support
Improved filtering of non-critical contacts in Contact Analysis

Incremental Features
These are additional feature/functionality improvements which we won’t be able to include in our upcoming release but we intend to release soon thereafter.

Slave Mode for Multiple client Exchange Configurations
Reply Management
–    Auto Notify on Replies
–    Change in priority once replied to
–    Thread expiration / “unsubscribe” on reply
Topic DDLB Enhancements – Better UI for management of large folder hierarchies
Advanced AutoAssign Rule Management UI
Integrate AutoAssign Functionality with Outlook Rules
Import/Export of ClearContext autoassign rules
Advanced View Management and customization capabilities
Prioritization of All Outlook Folders / Compatibility with Search Folders

Future Functionality
These are mainly large new areas of functionality that we will be tackling in future major releases of the software.  A number of these features extend the software well beyond inbox prioritization/management into a full-fledged productivity tool.  We have not definitively prioritized these features and encourage discussion/feedback on which of these areas you feel are most important to address.

Message Content Analysis for Message Function
–    AutoAssign Topic, Priority
–    Suggest What to Do With Message (Convert to Contact, Create Task)
–    Adaptive Learning / A.I.
Automated Attachment Processing (documents, photos, etc.)
Workflow – Automates Task and Calendar Management, Integrated with Email
IMAP Support

Additional Products
These are a more few product ideas we have in our longer-term plans.  Which of these we focus on will be largely based on user demand.

Corporate/ Exchange Server Integration – Port core Inbox Manager functionality (prioritization, scoring, topics, etc.) to Exchange Server for application on both individual email accounts and on emails/threads across the organization.

Mobile Extension – Port core Inbox Manager functionality to mobile devices to allow functionality such as downloading of only high priority messages.

Vertical Customization – Job-specific customizations for fields such as Sales, Financial Services, Project Management, etc.

As we mentioned above, your feedback is the critical factor in our product planning process.  We are very interested in your feedback on each of these areas.  We have a fair degree of flexibility in our development schedule regarding most of these items and our final prioritization of these features will be largely based on the feedback we receive from our users.  We’ve posted this information both on our blog and in our Features/Support forum.  Please respond in either of those places or feel free to email us comments at support [at] clearcontext.com.  All responses are greatly appreciated.

We’ll be updating these lists and providing more detailed timeframes as we gather more information from all of you and approach our release dates.

Email Overload on NPR

The NPR Morning Edition has aired two segments in the last week or so on email overload; Businesses Find Ways to Manage E-Mail Overload on February 2nd and Overcoming E-Mail Overload at Work on February 9th.  Both segments last about five minutes and discuss the ways business users are trying to cope with the barrage of email they receive.   This morning’s segment has an interview with John Porcaro from Microsoft; we linked to his post on Microsoft Email Culture a couple of weeks ago.  The most interesting fact came from the February 2nd segment (we’re paraphrasing here):

The average business user receives 16,000 messages a year.  What else do we do 16,000 times a year?  Blink.  Basically, we live for email.

Fascinating.  Both segments are posted on their site and worth a listen.  There are also some decent tips on handling email posted alongside the February 9th audio file.

ClearContext Design: Thread Organization & Automated Filing

A number of our users have asked for additional information on the "behind the scenes" functionality of ClearContext.  This is the final installment in a series of posts summarizing ClearContext design concepts.  For more detailed information, see our whitepaper Designing a More Effective Inbox.

In addition to message prioritization, ClearContext provides the ability to group and label email conversations within the inbox and an automated filing system that takes into account threads rather than individual messages.

Thread Organization
For the purposes of the ClearContext Inbox Manager, we define an email thread as an initial email and all related responses.  This is also referred to as an email conversation.  Within the user’s prioritized inbox, all of the responses in a thread of emails with the same subject are grouped next to each other.  This is done automatically within ClearContext default views, giving the user a quick view of all related inbox messages.

Automated Filing
ClearContext supports topic assignment to email. Responses to that email (both sent and received) are automatically marked with the same topic. Buttons are provided on the Outlook menu bar to automatically file entire topics and/or individual messages within the ClearContext Filing system.  In addition, ClearContext can be configured to save sent messages into the appropriate topic folder.  This saves the user the hassle of trying to locate information in the Sent Mail folder.

For further automation over received messages, the AutoAssign feature in ClearContext allows the user to set up rules for incoming messages. Based on factors such as sender, title, and/or keywords, incoming email can be automatically assigned a Topic Name and/or a Priority. In addition, a rule can be set to automatically file messages meeting these user-configurable criteria.

ClearContext Design: Message Prioritization

A number of our users have asked for additional information on the
"behind the scenes" functionality of ClearContext.  This is part 2 in a
series of posts summarizing ClearContext design concepts.  For more
detailed information, see our whitepaper Designing a More Effective Inbox.

Once contact analysis has been completed, Inbox Manager has the data it needs to complete inbox message prioritization.  ClearContext’s patent pending email prioritization process analyzes email and assesses a cumulative score for each individual message based on four factors:

  1. Known Addresses – ClearContext looks at the author of the email and assesses a score that is based on:
    • The priority assigned to the author of the message
    • The domain address of the author (in particular, whether or not the domain has been identified in ClearContext’s options)
  2. Message & Thread Priority – This score is assessed by looking at the priority manually assigned by the user to this email thread (if any), and by giving consideration to individual message priority set within native Outlook.
  3. Thread Participation – This factor is based on the number of responses the user has made within this email thread and whether or not the user is the originator of the thread.
  4. Message Directness – The score is based on whether the author’s name is included in the To: or CC: field and whether the message is addressed to the user only or to several recipients.

A composite score, made of these four factors’ sub-scores, is then assigned to an individual message.  Using these scores, ClearContext automatically prioritizes the inbox, placing those messages with the highest score at the top of the message list.  ClearContext color codes the messages to further show priority.  The default view places the most important email at the top of the inbox in red, medium importance in blue, low importance in green, and low priority/junk mail at the bottom of the inbox in grey.

The weight given to each of these factors is configurable within the ClearContext options window; allowing individual users to adjust the scoring algorithm to suit his/her preferences.  Within the inbox the user may adjust the priority of individual email threads, further enhancing the priority set by the application.  In this way, the inbox can be treated as a To Do list, with the user increasing or decreasing the prominence of an email message depending on action required.

Next Up: Thread Organization & Automated Filing

ClearContext Design: Contact Analysis & Maintenance

A number of our users have asked for additional information on the "behind the scenes" functionality of ClearContext.  This is part 1 in a series of posts summarizing ClearContext design concepts.  For more detailed information, see our whitepaper Designing a More Effective Inbox.

ClearContext automatically assigns importance to email based on message characteristics such as the sender of the email, user involvement in a thread, the priority assigned to the email, etc..  Automated settings can be overridden to designate certain senders or messages as higher priority. The result is a prioritized, color-coded inbox with the most important email appearing in red at the top of the message list, enabling the user to quickly view and address important messages.

To perform this prioritization, ClearContext goes through several processes to determine which email message is likely to be most important to the user, including an analysis of contact and email history and assignment of message and thread priority.  In this post, we present our Contact Analysis algorithm.

On startup, ClearContext’s patent pending contact analysis algorithm analyzes email history and email contact information (within the Outlook data store) to determine from which email addresses the user sends and receives the most email.  Email addresses are then prioritized according to volume, giving the user an accurate picture of his/her most important email contacts.

Contact priority is assessed in the following manner:
1.    All email addresses contained within Outlook’s address book are extracted for analysis.
2.    Email history is scanned to identify and extract email addresses that are part of the Outlook data store, but are not present in the user’s Contacts.
3.    A score is given to individual email addresses based on the number of emails received from that contact, taking into account the age of received email to ensure that more recent email activity is given a higher score than earlier activity.
4.    Additional weight is given to these addresses based on the number of emails that have been sent to that contact, taking into account the age of sent mail.
5.    A final composite score is calculated using the weighted score components.

ClearContext creates a prioritized list of contacts, placing those email addresses with higher volume at a higher rank.  The top percentile ranges of email contacts are placed into three categories, Very High, High, and Normal.  These values are assigned within the user’s address book.  If an address in the top percentile ranges does not exist in the user’s contacts, an entry is created in a special ClearContext Contacts folder within the Outlook data store.

Once this analysis is complete, the application uses this data, along with additional information about the message, to increase or decrease the priority of an email (prioritization details in an upcoming post).  The user can manually change contact priority within Contact records, further tweaking the automated analysis.

Watch this blog for future posts on Inbox Manager design.  Next up: Message Prioritization



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