Step 2: Analysis of Literature Review

5 hours down into the competition, we’ve completed our initial literature review. We had divided the literature material among ourselves such that the same paper / article was read by two people, who then listed down the key-points / findings on sticky notes and organized them on our big white wall. The motive was to be able to connect the dots and be able to bring out a bigger holistic view of the challenge that we have.

To summarize the major conclusions and insights in a paragraph, we’ve concluded that email no longer stands to be a means of communication as it was initially conceptualized  20 years ago.

In Frighteningly Ambitious Startup Ideas, Paul Graham quotes,

“Email was not designed to be used the way we use it now. Email is not a messaging protocol. It’s a todo list. Or rather, my inbox is a todo list, and email is the way things get onto it. But it is a disastrously bad todo list.”

The reason is added functionality (or complexity) since the service is now seen as a task management + information storage tool. The term ‘Email Overload’ has been used consistently across different articles and papers explaining how there has not only been a humongous increase in the volume of email, but in the time spent by users in managing them as well. Things like filters, labels, archives, prioritization, reminders, mailing lists. social networking, instant messaging, threads are just a few terms to indicate how email services today are more than simply electronic – mail. What’s interesting is that all these features in a single service cater to a variety of users – from children to corporate professionals, from grandmothers to college professors. Thus, features and their usage are based on context which throws importance on customization.

We came across two terms – cleaners and keepers. Cleaners are the people who transfer future task/event information from email and keepers are the people who keep future task/event information in email. We found that the differences between these two user groups could be attributed to differences in flexibility of closure and in email experience. Flexibility of closure is defined as the ability to hold a given visual percept in mind so as to dis embed it from other well defined perceptual material.

Another term that consistently came up in literature review was the ‘One touch model’ which talked about a hypothesis that emails should either be labelled into respective folders or deleted. This hypothesis has been proven false, because a majority of users are reluctant to delete / label their emails due to different reasons such as inability to comprehend what label to apply or preference to keep email in inbox as a future reminder.

In one of the papers, the author has presented his approach to visualize email thread, Thread Arc. First, he discussed major key qualities to be considered which conceptualizing and designing such visualizations: Chronology, Relationship, Compactness, Stability, Scale, Attribute Highlighting and Interpretation. Later, he compared Thread Arc with other visualization techniques such as Tree Diagrams and Tree Tables for bushy and narrow threads. Thread Arc was found to be better of the three for most of the parameters.

Another view that exists is,

“An inverse proportional relationship between your attention span and the type of media you’re watching”

Context is also important while marketing. So it can be useful if using all the data processing technologies available today, companies can know about how much engaged the user is in the media and provide ads accordingly. Also, Consumers are no longer inactive but also active participants in creating and sharing content due to rise in social media. This can be beneficial to marketers if they can harness the potential of active consumers.

The future of email as some of the big shots like IBM believe lie in social integration. Studies by IBM in February 2013 suggest that email with embrace a combination of social media, mobile and cloud based services in the coming few years. Social tools can increase the productivity of corporate employees as they provide an engaging platform. Companies can save huge amounts of money if the familiarity of the UI is universal. It encourages knowledge sharing, reduces application switching and ensures consistency in user experience.

Here is what Neha Gupta, a senior research analyst at Gartner has to say
“Very soon, you won’t be able to see email and social networking separate. Email will …have more flavor and will be more integrated.”
In another article, the author argues that email has not changed significantly in last 8 years since Gmail which introduced conversation threading, gigabyte storage, speed, powerful search, and lots more. There can be many significant improvements. Some of those have been listed down with the name of the application –

  • Efficiency improvements: MailBox
  • Smarter understanding of regular emails:
  • Better workflow integration: We Love Mail, MailPilot
  • Better attachment handling:
  • Social integration: Rapportive
  • Prioritisation and analytics: TripIt, EasilyDo

The brainstorming session of our literature review has helped us plan our next step: conducting a qualitative + quantitative user study to be able to gain further insights in this domain.

We have chalked down our plan for our user study – we would be splitting into groups. One group would be conducting one on one interviews with different type of users – professors, students as well as corporate professionals. Once done, this group would conduct a small focus group to be able to trigger off further pain points.

The second group has already begun working on an online questionnaire for a quantitative study targeted for a much wider audience, mainly to be able to gather statistics related to email usage, their preferences and pain points.



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