The problem is familiar to many of us: you open the inbox of your email or your social media tool and see so many emails that you are not able to open and read all of them. Now you would like to apply a filter which separates the emails in those which you must read (Business Stream) and those which would be interesting to read, if there is enough time (Knowledge Stream).
Must-have or nice-to-have
If your customer is contacting you, you usually must read the mail and need to act. Most of the official business communication is of the type business stream (must-have).
If one of your colleagues or some partner of your external network is sending you some information which could be of interest to you, then it would be nice if you could read all of this information. However, sometimes you need to focus on more important or more urgent tasks and such mails might scroll down and remain unread. In email communication we have bad feelings if we no longer manage to read all the incomming mails. In social media communication like twitter or Facebook it is no problem to miss some feeds. There are too many anyway.
Most of the knowledge stream is of this nice-to-have category, as we are used to the fact that we cannot manage to have all the relevant knowledge for our work but are satisfied if we have just enough knowledge.
I was working in teams which used the subject-line convention that the first letter encodes the type of the mail:
- A: … Action needed (business stream)
- D: … Decision needed (business stream)
- I: … for your Information (knowledge stream)
This was very helpful but required a lot of discipline within the team and does not work with other people who do not know the convention.
Automatic colouring of emails
Most mail-tools offers the feature to display all emails in your inbox in a selected colour if they fulfill a certain criteria, e.g.
- your mail-address is in the to-field (not in the cc-field)
- your are the only recepient
- your boss is also in the to-field
Automatic filtering of emails
Most mail-tools offer the feature to filter the emails.
E.g. move all mails where the subject contains the words “IEEE” or “newsletter” to a separate folder.
These workarounds make our business life easier but are still not enough. Since 2005 I am waiting for a solution but have not seen one. I am looking forward to the Atos Zero-Email-Initiative: they need to offer a more mature solution for this separation of different types of communication streams. In my opinion this is mission-critical for the success of their initiative. And there are good chances to provide solutions which work at least within the enterprise.
- Analyse the different communication streams of a typical knowledge worker and his communication needs in more detail.
- Cluster those stream categories and the communication needs. Are the two stream category clusters must-have (business stream) and nice-to-have (knowledge stream) already enough? It should be as simple a possible.
- Design a desired functionality and a usability concept how those streams clusters can be identified and displayed to the user. Consider the migration problem.
In my opinion the sender needs to classify the communication manually. If the sender tries to send it without classification then the sender is reminded that is not classified. If it is sent anyway, then the recepient receives it as unclassified. If the sender is a machine than this classification can be done automatically (e.g. the workflow system of the procurement system will send out the notification to sign an order, classified as must-have).
This can work in a trusted environment, e.g. within an enterprise.
Please, let me know if you are working in this field or if you plan to work in this field or if you know about already existing research in this field.