Posts from March 2005.

What tools are being used to improve the email client experience?

Post 3 in our 2005 Email Usage Survey Series. (Post 2: What Are All These Emails We’re Getting?)

In our last post, we discussed the type and volume of email people are receiving.  Users are adopting a variety of measures to efficiently deal with this email volume and the ever-increasing amount of knowledge that ends up locked in email datastores.  In this post we’ll discuss some of the tools being used to help manage all this information.

Given the large number of users who mentioned spam as a problem (almost half of the respondents receive 25% or more spam email), we were a little surprised to see that only about 60% of respondents have installed anti-spam software.  We had expected this number to be higher, especially among our fairly tech-savvy respondent group.  We imagine there may be a number of users who do not use a client-side anti-spam product, but work at a company that has server-side anti-spam tools installed.  As for the anti-spam tools themselves, no product emerged as a clear favorite.  Cloudmark, MailWasher, McAfee SpamKiller, Norton Anti-Spam, Postini, and SpamAssassin were among the more popular products.

Search functionality within native email clients is clearly lacking, as almost two-thirds of survey respondents use a search tool in conjunction with their email.  The two most popular by far were Lookout, an Outlook-specific search tool purchased by Microsoft last year, and Google’s desktop search; both used by 27% of those using search tools.  Copernic, MSN, Yahoo!, and X1 were other tools with over 5% share (13%, 9%, 8%, and 6% respectively).

When it comes to email tools, users are definitely focused primarily on optimizing their email management, rather than their communications with others.  Automated contact and address management tools/services were not very popular, used by only 12% of our respondents.  The most popular tool, used by two-thirds of that group, was Plaxo.

Over a third of respondents use other types of tools in conjunction with their email client.  The two most popular email add-ins were Newsgator (to manage RSS feeds in Outlook) and Netcentric’s GTD plug-in (an implementation of the Getting Things Done productivity methodology).  Other popular add-ins included ClearContext (email productivity, inbox management), Anagram (automated data entry), Onfolio (RSS, content management) and You Perform (email utilities).

We have posted graphs of these results here.

Users are clearly looking beyond the email client for solutions to help them manage their email and developers are definitely embracing Outlook as a platform.  In our full report next week we’ll discuss how users are taking advantage of these tools and a variety of techniques to help efficiently face the challenge of keeping up with email.

Version 1.1 Release and Group By Views

We are pleased to announce the formal release of ClearContext Inbox Manager v1.1.  We have updated all the requisite documentation on our main site, including our User Guide and Product Data Sheet, which can be found on the Additional Information page.  Thanks to those of you who downloaded and tried out v1.1 in early access.  There have been no changes to the code since that release.

At the suggestion of several users (see this forum post), v1.1 adds new fields that allow you to take advantage of native Outlook date grouping functionality.  To install these views, you can download them from our Downloadable Views page.  Alternatively, for those of you who have already customized your views and/or would rather make the changes yourself, here are step by step instructions to implement grouping:

1.  Select the ClearContext view you would like to change (i.e. By Day or By Week).
2.  Go to the Customize Current View dialog via the View menu item in Outlook (View > Arrange By > Current View > Customize Current View in Outlook 2003).
3.  Select the Group By… button.
4.  Uncheck "Automatically group according to arrangement" if it is checked.
5.  At the bottom of the window, change "Select available fields from:" to ClearContext.
6.  Set "Group Items by" to CC-DisplayDay or CC-DisplayWeek (for the By Day or By Week view, respectively).
7.  Select Ascending or Descending, depending on which order you would like dates to be displayed in.
8.  Click OK.

Once you have made these changes, save the view from the ClearContext Options menu (Tools > Options > ClearContext > Views > Save).

View_group_by_large_1Please note that these views only work on v1.1 or better.  If you have recently upgraded from a previous version, you must force a re-score of all messages (via Tools > Options > ClearContext > Scoring and adjusting a slider) to utilize this functionality.

If you have questions about these views and/or additional suggestion for future releases, please see our Features & Support Forum.

Edited to include a screen print of the Group By Week view.

What are all these emails we’re getting?

Post 2 in our 2005 Email Usage Survey Series. (Post 1: 2005 Email Usage Survey Overview)

Email overload is something we are all keenly aware of, so it was no surprise to see the numbers of emails people are dealing with on a daily basis.  About 50% of the 300 survey respondents receive between 50 to 250 messages per day.  Almost 15% of the respondents receive over 250 messages per day.  But what are all these emails we’re receiving?

One of the most startling facts was that spam continues to account for over 50% of the email received by over 30% of those surveyed.  Even with users, companies, and service providers adopting anti-spam measures, this clearly continues to be a very serious problem and a major time and resource sink.

For the majority (62%), it’s the workplace that is filling their inboxes with mail.  For 35% of users, work-related email accounts for over 75% of their email.  However, there is clearly a glut of unnecessary email being sent.  38% of users describe the majority of this email as non-critical.  And being cc’d on emails accounts for a significant (25% or more) portion of the email received by 30% of respondents.  In fact, 13% of email users report that over half the email they receive consists just of messages they are copied on! 

While many people have told us that the personal email they receive is very important to them, it constitutes a relatively small portion of the email volume people have to deal with – for 50% of respondents, less than 10% of their email is personal correspondence.  Only 17% of users have over 50% personal email.

The remainder of people’s inbox is filled up with newsletters and mailing lists.  These emails don’t usually account for a large portion of email people receive, and these are also the emails that people find to be some of the easiest to deal with using rules and other filing systems.

We have posted graphs of these results here.

We’ll finish up this series with another post this week on email tools people are using and next week we’ll publish a full report discussing our thoughts on the survey, the challenges people are facing with email, and techniques to help manage those challenges effectively.

Jason Clarke’s ClearContext Review & View Modifications

Jason Clarke has written a thorough review of ClearContext Inbox Manager.  Ultimately he recommended us, but uninstalled the application.  Seems strange?  His reasoning is sound and shows that he put a lot of thought into the decision.  We greatly appreciate the time and effort that he put into looking at our product.

We suspect that, much like Jason, there are users out there who like the idea of ClearContext’s prioritization and topic management capabilities, but need to see their messages in received order like Outlook’s native Messages view.  To do so, we suggest modifying the ClearContext Prioritized View to sort by Received date.  ClearContext will continue to color code messages and topic assignment and filing functionality will remain intact, but the most recent messages will appear at the top of the inbox just as they did pre-ClearContext.

View_received_by_largeYou can download this view from our views page or make the modifications yourself.  In the ClearContext Prioritized view simply click on the Received tab at the top of the Inbox.  If you are using the Outlook 2003 Side Reading Pane, move it to the bottom (View > Reading Pane > Bottom), click on the Received Tab, and then move the Reading Pane back to the side.  Save the view at Tools > Options > ClearContext > Views.  If, at any time, you would like to return to the factory installed view, select Restore Original on the ClearContext Options tab.

2005 Email Usage Survey Overview

We have just started analyzing the responses from our Email Usage Survey.  The 300 respondents consisted of a pretty evenly divided split from each of the sponsor bloggers and ClearContext’s existing user base.  We’ll be posting our detailed analysis of the survey results in the coming weeks.

As a first step, we would like to share an overview of the technology people are using, the volume of email they receive, and the time they devote to dealing with email.  We have posted graphs of the results here.  Among the interesting facts we’d like to highlight:

  • 33% of our tech-savvy respondents have Gmail accounts, edging out Hotmail and Yahoo!
  • Having just one email address is quite uncommon; most have 2-6.
  • Over 60% of the respondents get over 50 emails/ day.  15% receive more than 250!
  • While spam remains the single biggest email problem, 40% of users are most challenged by email organization or overload issues.

In our next post we’ll delve into detail regarding the breakdown of different types of emails that contribute to the huge volumes of email that people face.  After that, we’ll discuss the strategies people are using to handle this email and the tools / technologies they are using to help them.

Email Usage Survey is Closed

We have closed the ClearContext 2005 Email Usage Survey and are starting to tabulate the wealth of information we have received.  Thanks to everyone who took the time to complete the survey.  In particular, thanks to those who helped make the survey possible, including The Office Letter, OfficeZealot,, The Office Weblog, Omar Shahine,  and Ed Bott.

We had over 300 responses, 260 of which gave their email address to receive a coupon towards the purchase of ClearContext Inbox Manager.  Congrats to the 26 recipients of free licenses: Jeff M., Michael M., E.L., Mark G., Mark I., SV, Scott S., Dwayne, G.P., Jim Y., D.S., Alan D., Perry, Steve N., Reagan, S.M., J.C., Doug, lk, MM, Vance, M.SGM, Jason, k, mj, and william.

Results of the survey will be posted shortly.

ClearContext Inbox Manager v1.1 Early Access Release

We’ve completed testing on ClearContext Inbox Manager v 1.1 and have posted the executable here.  The official public release will be in about two weeks after we’ve completed work on documentation, website updates, and a host of other release-related housekeeping duties.    In the meantime, we’d like to offer you the ability to download 1.1 in advance of the official announcement.  The changes in this release are described in our previous Product Plan Post.

If you have any questions regarding this release, feel free to ask us via email and/or post on our Features and Support Forum.

Outlook as a Platform

Buzz Bruggeman is writing an article on Outlook as a platform and looking for feedback. Take a look and let him know what you’re doing within Outlook and what you would like to see.  Omar Shahine and Marc Orchant are two of many who have written recently about the value of using additional tools within Outlook.  This is obviously a topic we’re very passionate about.

Outlook is for many the single application in which they spend the most time every single day .  It’s also increasingly becoming the place where people store their most important information.  It only makes sense that Outlook should become a platform for applications that deal with that information.  However, to really capitalize on this opportunity, the process of developing applications integrated into Outlook needs to become much smoother.  Browser developers acknowledged this in their world and created a plugin architecture designed to let developers easily extend a simple page viewing application into something much broader.  Hopefully as more and more software developers focus on building tools within Outlook and increased awareness is given to the concept of using Outlook as a platform, Microsoft will focus on making Outlook a more flexible, open, and stable platform on which to develop additional add-in applications.