Finding Email in a Multi-Account, Multi-Device World

CHI, pp. 1200-1210, 2016.

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In this paper we present findings from an in-depth qualitative field study which takes a new look at how email management and retrieval occurs in today’s multi-account, multi-device world

Abstract:

Email is far from dead; in fact the volume of messages exchanged daily, the number of accounts per user, and the number of devices on which email is accessed have been constantly growing. Most previous studies on email have focused on management and retrieval behaviour within a single account and on a single device. In this paper, we exam...More

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Introduction
  • Despite the ongoing debate in popular media on whether email is dead1, forecasters predict that the number of messages exchanged per year will grow at an average rate of 3% over the four years for both business and consumer purposes [19], suggesting that, for the foreseeable future, email is here to stay.
  • Regardless of the managing strategy used, there is a trend toward users receiving and retaining more messages [21], reinforcing email’s role as an important digital archive
  • Given this archiving role, understanding how people manage and retrieve email is more important than ever.
  • Previous work has found that how messages are managed is inextricably linked to how users expect to be able to find any given message or set of messages in future [38]
Highlights
  • Despite the ongoing debate in popular media on whether email is dead1, forecasters predict that the number of messages exchanged per year will grow at an average rate of 3% over the next four years for both business and consumer purposes [19], suggesting that, for the foreseeable future, email is here to stay
  • We present an in-depth qualitative study with 16 diverse participants who took part in a week-long diary study
  • Work versus Personal Email We found that work email continues to provide a central archive for work-related tasks, as a key part of knowledge work and in support of structuring tasks, creating documents, and controlling the workflow of tasks
  • This confirms that email archives continue to be an important hub for working life
  • In this paper we present findings from an in-depth qualitative field study which takes a new look at how email management and retrieval occurs in today’s multi-account, multi-device world
  • It is clearly important that we have access to and engage with email through a variety of devices, yet when it comes down to it, finding email on handheld devices such as phones is still seen as difficult. Some of this is doubtless due to the need to intertwine work email with the tools of work which mainly reside on the laptop and
Methods
  • In order to get in situ data and maintain high ecological validity, the authors opted for a mixed methods approach which included a weeklong diary study, with pre- and post-interviews.
  • The authors defined ‘retrieval’ for users as a range of behaviours in support of finding information, messages or attachments including: entering keywords in the search bar; accessing one or more folders; glancing or scrolling in folders or inbox; and sorting email based on metadata.
  • Some activities would be more like goal-directed search in pursuit of a particular piece of information, whereas other activities such as scrolling or glancing through collections of messages might involve behaviour which would be more like scanning or browsing
Results
  • A total of 239 diary entries was recorded, averaging 15 entries per participant over the course of seven days.
  • During the first interview, participants completed a total of 42 finding tasks, averaging almost three each.
  • Participants listed having on average three email accounts each (Min: 2, Max: 9, Median: 3).
  • On average people had four devices each (Min: 2, Max: 7, Median: 4), including smartphones, tablets, laptops and desktop PCs, and all participants had devices from a mix of platforms (i.e. Windows, Apple, Android, Linux).
  • Two participants had a smartwatch: P1 had a Pebble, and P11 had an Apple Watch
Conclusion
  • To the best of the knowledge, this study is the first to provide insights into how people retrieve information across work and personal email accounts, and across devices.
  • Work versus Personal Email The authors found that work email continues to provide a central archive for work-related tasks, as a key part of knowledge work and in support of structuring tasks, creating documents, and controlling the workflow of tasks.
  • This confirms that email archives continue to be an important hub for working life.
  • The authors may well see email evolve not as a stand-alone application, but as a tightly integrated set of communication and archiving functions within more flexible applications and services
Summary
  • Introduction:

    Despite the ongoing debate in popular media on whether email is dead1, forecasters predict that the number of messages exchanged per year will grow at an average rate of 3% over the four years for both business and consumer purposes [19], suggesting that, for the foreseeable future, email is here to stay.
  • Regardless of the managing strategy used, there is a trend toward users receiving and retaining more messages [21], reinforcing email’s role as an important digital archive
  • Given this archiving role, understanding how people manage and retrieve email is more important than ever.
  • Previous work has found that how messages are managed is inextricably linked to how users expect to be able to find any given message or set of messages in future [38]
  • Methods:

    In order to get in situ data and maintain high ecological validity, the authors opted for a mixed methods approach which included a weeklong diary study, with pre- and post-interviews.
  • The authors defined ‘retrieval’ for users as a range of behaviours in support of finding information, messages or attachments including: entering keywords in the search bar; accessing one or more folders; glancing or scrolling in folders or inbox; and sorting email based on metadata.
  • Some activities would be more like goal-directed search in pursuit of a particular piece of information, whereas other activities such as scrolling or glancing through collections of messages might involve behaviour which would be more like scanning or browsing
  • Results:

    A total of 239 diary entries was recorded, averaging 15 entries per participant over the course of seven days.
  • During the first interview, participants completed a total of 42 finding tasks, averaging almost three each.
  • Participants listed having on average three email accounts each (Min: 2, Max: 9, Median: 3).
  • On average people had four devices each (Min: 2, Max: 7, Median: 4), including smartphones, tablets, laptops and desktop PCs, and all participants had devices from a mix of platforms (i.e. Windows, Apple, Android, Linux).
  • Two participants had a smartwatch: P1 had a Pebble, and P11 had an Apple Watch
  • Conclusion:

    To the best of the knowledge, this study is the first to provide insights into how people retrieve information across work and personal email accounts, and across devices.
  • Work versus Personal Email The authors found that work email continues to provide a central archive for work-related tasks, as a key part of knowledge work and in support of structuring tasks, creating documents, and controlling the workflow of tasks.
  • This confirms that email archives continue to be an important hub for working life.
  • The authors may well see email evolve not as a stand-alone application, but as a tightly integrated set of communication and archiving functions within more flexible applications and services
Tables
  • Table1: Average number of folders/labels (with standard deviation), excluding P10 who did not distinguish between work and personal accounts
Funding
  • Examines how people retrieve email in today’s ecosystem through an in-depth qualitative diary study with 16 participants
  • Found that personal and work accounts are managed differently, resulting in diverse retrieval strategies: while work accounts are more structured and email is retrieved through folders, personal accounts have fewer folders and users rely primarily on the built-in search option
  • Uncover barriers and workarounds related to managing multiple accounts and devices
  • Argues that it is increasingly important to understand user’s current email retrieval and management practices across devices and accounts
  • Presents an in-depth qualitative study with 16 diverse participants who took part in a week-long diary study
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