[Evolution] CHI'96 paper on mail usability and some thoughts

Hi guys,

Dunno if you've seen this, it's a good paper on email usability and some
recommendations to improve same...


Basically it says:

1. heavy mail users use incoming mail as a to-do list and appointment tracker
(I personally would add "as a reference bookshelf" as well in my case);

2. filing into folders doesn't work in a lot of cases; once it's out of the
inbox it's off the radar and soon forgotten about; and folder names are hard
to pick and remember;

3. users quite often do not delete mails in case they become valuable context
for an ongoing discussion, resulting in inbox bloat and an interleaved stack of
messages from threads filling up the inbox;

4. inbox bloat means important mails from a day or two ago soon scroll out
of the "main" window and are lost in the noise.

to fix these:

* it recommends threading (makes sense, and we know that). This reduces
the visual impact of inbox bloat and sorts 3. and 4.

* close links to PIM functions such as todo and datebook would be good to help
with 1.  (that's the plan isn't it!)

* vfolders should deal with 2.

A few ideas I came up with myself during reading it:

* I previously added some code to ExMH to colorise messages, and used
the colours as a way of differentiating "todo low-priority", "todo high-pri",
"support mails", "pals chatting", etc.  This worked very well as a way to scan
a lot of mails and immediately work out the rough categorisation without having
to read and parse the from and subject.  (unfortunately the code stopped
working in the next ver of ExMH and my Tk knowledge wasn't good enough
to fix it!)  Helps with problem 4 and aids scanning.

* up to now there's been essentially 3 states for mail messages -- "unread",
"read" and "deleted" (ie. not there anymore).  I would like to see another
state, "saved_as_context", which would be similar to deleted; ie. the mail
would not be visible to the user at all. However, if another mail came in that
referenced the "saved_as_context" mail, it would be possible (probably through
hitting a "view context thread" button) to see all of that new msg's context
mails.  This sorts out problem 3 in a nice way IMHO.  BTW it may even be
better to use "saved_as_context" instead of "deleted", ie. keep deleted
msgs around for possible context use, and purge them periodically.

* Retitling mails (ie. changing their subjects after they've been received)
would help deal with problem 1 as well -- e.g. changing a mail from "Re: help"
to "How to fix the latest Outlook worm" is obviously handy for future visual
message retrieval ;)

* It would be handy if an incoming mail can be converted into a To-Do list item
in the PIM interface; ie. right-click on mail, select "add to to-do list", and
that mail (and/or thread!) would be visible in the To-Do PIM interface in some
way (even just as a "see this mail" link a la the "note" attached to Palm To-Do
list items).  It'd also be cool if this went both ways so the To-Do list
position/priority of a mail was visible in the inbox view.

Anyway, these are some ideas I thought I'd throw in.  I'm pretty excited by the
possibilities of Evolution, and I'm looking forward to trying it out; after
reading that paper, I just had to share ;)

BTW I haven't used MS Outlook, so forgive me if Outlook sorts out these
problems and I just didn't notice -- ditto for Evolution too, I haven't had the
time to get it compiling yet! ;)


[Date Prev][Date Next]   [Thread Prev][Thread Next]   [Thread Index] [Date Index] [Author Index]