How we interact with email

I remember when I was young, my mom used to write all of her friends letters on real paper and put them into the mail.  She would get handwritten responses that she could keep and treasure.  We could identify the letters from this friend by the foreign stamps and from that one by the color of ink she habitually used.

Many people have written about the lost art of writing letters.  I don’t want to argue the merits of that topic right here, although a handwritten thank you card can work wonders.  It is always interested me to read the letters between historical figures.  You can get a better picture of the people behind the public persona by reading the conversation between two people. If you have those paper documents, you can keep an archive.  This archive can then become the basis for understanding and illumination.

Today, what I want to discuss is how we can manage our communications today, especially email.

For a while there, it seemed that email was totally fungible.  I don’t have my emails from 1999 or 2000 or even 2004.  Yes, I know that they are probably out there somewhere on some archive in at old ISP (remember this for when you write something that you shouldn’t have), but certainly not in a place that can be accessed easily by my biographer in 50 years.

Google Mail has changed this for me in a big way.  It can be the same with other on-line, cloud based email services. The search capabilities and large storage capacity of these services allow you to search for old correspondence in a way that is much more helpful than reading those old piles of handwritten letters.  Don’t remember the site that had that neat financial tool?  Just search your archived mail.  How did we resolve that board question?  Review all of the relevant documents from one screen. Google gives you over 7 gigabytes of storage (and counting) in each mailbox, so that you can keep all of your emails in one place.

The challenge with this is that besides search, the tools available to help you mine the information in your Gmail archive are limited.  Sure, there are labels and filters.  Labels are great in the abstract, but as you get significant amount of mail, it becomes difficult to tag each email before archiving.  Filters can help with the labeling, but you have to know the circumstances for which you need a filter before you need a filter.  I’m sure that there are a lot of you organized types who put both to good use.  But me, I’m not so much on the organized side of things. So, what can one do?

We tend to think that the young among us are most technologically centered.  They can quickly adjust to different tools and utilize social networking to the max to achieve their goals.  However, it is interesting to note that several of the young entrepreneurs that I am mentoring have mentioned in recent meetings about the difficulties that they have responding in a timely fashion to the deluge of emails that they receive every day.

The reason that this came up was in relation to an article I read on Gigaom about Why Email Clients Need to Change?.  My email box does not look like Alistair’s, but I have the same types of problems with an email deluge. His ideas on adding features to our email clients that help us make better use of both our incoming mail and our archived mail make a lot of sense to me.

How do you manage your email?  Do you keep everything or are you a deleter? Would the tools mentioned in Alistair’s article be helpful to you?  Do you have any others that you want to add?

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